Ep. 14 – Using Bitter & Sweet: How Grit Is a Superpower

Welcome to Fewer Things Better episode 14. Today we’re going to explore the concept of bittersweet and how grit can be a key tool in sorting through it. 

Let me start by asking you a question.

Would you rather win $1 million or earn $1 million?

Now if I ask my teenagers this, I’m pretty sure they would pick the “win” option. And so would a lot of adults, for that matter. And I get it. There is so much in life that is a toil that the thought of having something be easily attained is really tempting. 

The point of this question isn’t meant as an economic exercise. It’s a thought about the knowledge that comes along with the financial fruit. 

While winning a large sum of money is largely up to Lady Luck, earning it comes with a road map of how it was done. That map may be dusty and include several detours, but it’s also a collection of milestones and memories that brought you to the finish line of that win. And once you know how to earn your first million, you have those skills separate from any bank account balance. 

The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that having all the sweet without any of the bitter can quickly turn to empty calories. Delicious in the moment and of little sustenance soon thereafter. When processed thoughtfully, bitter can be recycled into grains of grit. 

Let’s look at a different scenario. Can you remember a time when you were the runner up, the second choice, or missed a reward that was almost in reach? 

Psychology research has explored how that near miss has potential to propel you even further next time – when used correctly. Feeling the feeling of loss leaves an indelible lesson on your brain. Almost all of us can quickly recall the sting of rejection, the weight of a broken heart, the might-have-beens, and the if-only’s. These setbacks often supply the fuel for persistence and perspective going forward. 

Grit is the primer so you can enjoy the reward later. You’re not supposed to skip this step. Yes, it is lovely to get the quick wins and the heart emojis. And it’s fun when you get lucky or win on the first try. But there’s a yin to that yang. 

Social scientists have looked at the means and methodology behind people’s perceptions of luck and grit. Luck, it often seems, is often in the brain (and ear) of the beholder. How we frame our fortunes, or misfortunes, sets in motion mental momentum. The language we use to explain and absorb an experience leaves a powerful imprint on the mind. 

You see, our brains are wired to look for patterns – to make sense of what was observed, felt, or perceived. In times of uncertainty, the brain will turn to language to look for clues. What is being said and suggested gets fed into the mental map as we consider our next steps or detours, or if we decide to take any steps at all. 

If you’re flipping a coin and assessing the frequency of the results, your logical brain will track the pattern, but the emotional center of the brain will search for nuance. Surely, it’s going to go my way this time, we think. When, in fact, the statistical probability of a coin toss is always 50/50 – until we make it mean something else. 

Disappointment doesn’t have to mean defeat. We can take a loss today and compost the parts of it that fertilize the mind and invigorate the action forward. 

How rich could life be if we harvested grit? If it was the formula for future rewards. What if we accepted the bitter today so we could savor the sweet a bit longer tomorrow? 

Grit is characterized as courage or character. It’s also the term for those small, loose particle of sand and stone. And that sand and stone sure feels like the feeling of grit when we are experiencing it in the bitter. 

What if we reframed regret as an emotional and intellectual investment? We think of it as a deposit of knowledge that strengthens our future insight and action. That we see every scrape of our knee as an opportunity to heal a little bit stronger. 

Grit only comes after the gravel of life shows up. It’s a gift with purchase alongside the sting of heartache. 

So the next time you find yourself marinating about the bad luck, the missed chance, and the linger of lost love – take that moment to acknowledge the sand and stone. Then turn around and look for the grit. 

Say thank you to the experience and dust off. Give yourself a chance to be creative, look for the shrapnel of strength, and get back up. 

You didn’t lose, you learned. 

You don’t have to start over, you get to start fresh. 

Grit doesn’t take away the bitter. Loss and grief are very real and go very deep. 

This isn’t an approach to getting over something, it’s simple a tool to help get through it. 

Grit is a guide. A mile marker on the journey. 

Every sting serves a purpose. And what you say next sets the Next course. 

Just like learning how to make $1 million, learning how to frame the experiences you have can be a very wise investment. 

One of my dear friends often says, “If not this, then something better.”

It’s been a well-used phrase for me the last few years as I’ve sorted the gravel from the grit and the sweet from the bitter. 

Grit can help shine a light as you look for the sweet in otherwise salty experiences. If not now, then next time. And as you look for the grit then, take care to take good care. 

Your brain is hungry. Give it some intellectual snacks in the
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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.