Success has many determining factors, including dumb luck. But I’ve been thinking of one lately that’s largely indispensable and totally learnable—persistence.
Have you ever felt like bailing on that one thing you know you’re supposed to do?
As a teen I picked up guitar and started a rock band. But it took a long time to sound better than cats fighting in an alleyway. I had good feel for the instrument, but I had scales and chords to learn, songs to memorize, and a sound to mesh with other musicians.
There were enough moments of frustration I could have quit and done something easier. I’m glad I didn’t. Not only did I develop my skills, but sticking with it taught me something essential about success in every other area of life, especially business.
The Importance of Persistence
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence,” President Calvin Coolidge supposedly said. The line actually goes back even farther, but the truth is indisputable.
We’ve all seen talented, smart, and well-trained people bottom out. Success takes something more—the willingness to keep going even when the odds are bad and our enthusiasm has waned.
Think of the developers of virtuality reality technology, tablet computers, or ebooks. After initial spikes of interest all of these faded as failures.
Yet today they are all going concerns—including virtual reality—because people kept working, tinkering, improving, and waiting. Finally the line of preparation and opportunity came together, and it can happen for us too if we stay persistent.
And the good news? Persistence is something we can all develop.
6 Tricks for Gaining Persistence
- Set goals. Some tasks are simply too big. Maybe you’re recording an album, developing new code for a website, writing a book, launching a new product, or taking your business into a new market. Dicing it up into manageable pieces is one way we can stay on task instead of getting overwhelmed.
- Keep the end in mind. Don’t just think of small goals. Think of the big win. What will persisting to the end do for you? If the reward is big enough, we can stay on task when the difficulties become discouraging. This trick has seen me through seemingly impossible circumstances more times than I can count.
- Improve your pace and renew your enthusiasm. If you can set goals, you can measure progress. Working against deadlines and milestones enables us to accomplish more, more quickly. And the progress we make can keep us energized for the long haul.
- Run and walk. When we’re working on a big project, it’s impossible to go all out all the time. But proper pacing improves endurance. Running coach Jeff Galloway has been teaching people to run marathons for years using his run-walk method. Alternating periods of intense effort with moderate effort can keep us going longer. The method applies in other areas too; we can go farther if we take breaks, go easy, relax, and rejuvenate.
- Kill the distractions. Exercising our determination is like exercising any other muscle. This relates to No. 4, but instead of taking breaks or going easy, the answer is removing the extraneous stuff working against our determination and wears us down. How many meetings, hobbies, projects, pastimes, even relationships are making it impossible to keep up our determination when it matters most?
- Change your self image. The most important trick for getting more persistent is to see ourselves as persistent people. When the urge to quit arises, the first and best response is that quitting is not part of who we are. We are people who stay the course, we deliver, we get it done.
Yes, there are good reasons to quit all sorts of things. We can all be grateful that Steve Jobs quit college, for instance. But he quit because it was pointless, not because it was hard.
When we have a calling or a dream, the most important factor to seeing it realized is persistence.
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