Developing Your Grit (or Some Ways to Stay on Task and be Organized When COVID-19 Disrupts Your Life)

Written by: Kate Walton, Alex Casillas, and Dana Murano
ACT Center for Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning

As we wrote last week, social and emotional skills include interpersonal, self-regulatory, and task-related behaviors important to successfully navigate the challenges of school, work, and home – including when life throws a curve ball, or in this case a global pandemic! One such skill is grit, which includes persistence, reliability, attention to detail, and goal-striving. A hallmark of grit is persevering, particularly when things get tough. COVID-19 is creating adversity for all of us and developing grit can help you deal effectively with this adversity.

Like many others, COVID-19 has probably disrupted your routines. You are probably learning and working remotely, your firm schedule is out the window, you are struggling to figure out how to remain focused with many disruptions and distractions, and you may have a lot of free time due to social distancing and cancelation of events. Alternatively, you may have much less time if you are trying to juggle work, home schooling children, and other home responsibilities. Without structure, we often feel like we have difficulty setting and achieving goals, we lack motivation, and we have difficulty staying organized and on track.

The good news is that there are a variety of resources and tips that can help you stay on track in all aspects of your life, and these resources might be particularly helpful during times when unpredictability and disrupted routines seem like a new normal. Below are several resources, some of which can be found in these longer lessons and activities culled from ACT’s SEL Assessment and Curricula solutions, designed to build grit in students and their families. We recognize that everyone is in unchartered, challenging territory these days, and we have adapted these activities so that they can be used as widely as possible to help individuals practice grit. These can be used by teachers now teaching in virtual classrooms, by parents now homeschooling children, or by any adult or child.

  • Think about your goals. . Even during tumultuous times, we can remain focused on our goals and/or set new goals that are consistent with what is meaningful to us. One might even argue that these are the times when we should try to focus the hardest on our goals. Two people may have the same goal but for different reasons. If we think critically about why we have certain goals in place, we are better able to evaluate which goals are really important and then will be more likely to achieve those goals. Use the activity in the full lesson download to prompt you to think about your goals or help you set new ones.
  • Overcome obstacles. Events like COVID-19 are bound to interfere with plans and goals. Rather than feel discouraged and give up, it is important for us to figure out ways to overcome the obstacle or “roadblock.” The downloadable lessons have an activity designed to help you learn how to reframe your goals so you can steer around roadblocks.
  • Manage your time. Particularly when our schedules are disrupted, and we don’t have a structured schedule to follow, it is easy to waste time and feel unproductive or unfocused—or even worse, spend a lot of time worrying. To avoid this, it is helpful to track how we spend our time and become familiar with time management tools. In addition to wasting less time and accomplishing more, this can ultimately lead to positive outcomes such as less stress and more time to focus on what is meaningful to you. Try the time management activity in the full lessons.
  • Plan how you will achieve your goals. Research shows that we are more likely to achieve our goals when we unpack them into smaller goals and create a reasonable timeline for reaching each sub-goal. This timeline may have to be adjusted as events surrounding COVID-19 unfold, and that is okay— plans and goals can be flexible. You can try an exercise to help you better plan how you will achieve your goalsin the downloadable lessons.


In addition to lessons and activities that are part of ACT’s SEL Curricula and Assessment solutions, below are a few more tips that could be useful.

  • Make to-do lists. Each day you could make yourself a to-do list to ensure you are still focusing on what is important to you and to help maintain some structure in your life.
  • Get organized. Think of at least one thing you can organize each week (e.g., your desk, your closet, the photos on your phone, etc.). This will keep you busy in the short term and will increase your organization skills in the long term.
  • Tackle that task. Is there something you have been putting off doing for a while? Now is a good time to get that done. It will be very satisfying to finally get that task done!
  • Plan for the future. Uncertain times and major life events often prompt people to think about what they want out of life. Think about the future and what is important to you. Where do you want to be? What do you want to have accomplished? Why? Think about whether you are prioritizing what matters so you end up where you want to be.


We are all feeling some effects of the current situation, which may last for a while; that’s the bad news. Here we offer good news: By practicing your grit skills, you can better navigate these unstable and unstructured times.

We hope that you find these resources and tips useful. In this series, we will continue to focus on social and emotional skills that can help educators, students, and their families cope with the challenges brought on by the current pandemic, as well as to develop the skills to manage future challenges more successfully.

Kate E. Walton, PhD

Kate E. Walton, PhD

Kate Walton is a principal research scientist in ACT’s Center for Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning. Prior to joining ACT in 2017, she was Associate Professor of Psychology at St. John’s University. She received her PhD in Personality Psychology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Minnesota in the Psychology Department’s Clinical Science and Psychopathology Research Program. She is interested in social and emotional skill assessment and development.