I have become fascinated with persistence. Time and time again, it seems to be the difference. It separates the winners from the losers. Those that really make something of themselves, from those that want more but never quite get there.
I wanted to better understand this trait with the hope of applying more persistence to my life, so I did some research. This article extensively covers exactly what persistence is, why it is essential, and what you can do to build it within yourself.
Understand these things, and you will be on your way to more success in your personal and professional life.
What is persistence?
Persistence is defined as:
“The fact of continuing in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition”
Don’t be fooled by the conciseness of the dictionary definition! Persistence is a powerful force and a learnable quality that can get you through almost any hardship in life.
As Winston Churchill noticed:
“All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope”
This certainly applies to persistence. Persistence is the consistent insistence that you will have what you are going after (a phrase coined by Dr Myles Monroe). It’s taking losses upon losses, and never letting them affect your ambition. It is having the courage and conviction to impose your will on the world; to see failure only as feedback and never as final.
Why is persistence important for success?
Persistence hugely increases your chances of long term success for a few reasons. Firstly, when someone is persistent they are able to move past failure and learn from there mistakes. Persistent people can take their failures as feedback and extract valuable lessons from their past, meaning they can improve their own skillset and wisdom over time.
Another reason why persistent people tend to attain significantly more success is because of the number of chances that they are willing to take. Whereas a person without persistence might take 1 “crack at the whip” before giving up, a persistent person might try the same endeavour a number of times until they gain success, each time learning and adjusting their course. This makes persistence an essential character trait for anyone chasing long term success.
Many incredible people have spoken of the power of persistence over the years. Often their words, although less objective and generalised than a definition, are far more memorable and powerful and manage to better capture the spirit of what persistence means.
Here are a few of my favourite examples.
“Energy and persistence conquer all things”Benjamin Franklin
“Persistence is to the character of man as carbon is to steel”Napoleon Hill
“Continuous, unflagging effort, persistence and determination will win. Let not the man be discouraged who has these”James Whitcomb Riley
“I don’t know if I discovered I had any talent. It was dogged persistence. I had to have the music”Bob Weir
“Young men- never give up. Never give up! Never give up! Never, never, never-never-never-never!!”Winston Churchill
Read also: 12 characteristics of a virtuous person
Which qualities along with persistence lead to success?
There are a number of qualities that people have accredited for their growth over the years. These things come up time and time again in the conversation about success:
To claim that we are all created equal sounds nice, but ultimately there is no denying the impact of a person’s intelligence on their long term success. Some people can just see things most of us can’t. Elon musk is out here like a supercomputer, while some of us can seem a bit more like those original Casio watches with the calculator!
A number of studies have been carried out to measure the effectiveness of using IQ to predict life success. To summarise:
- It is a far better predictor of success for students’ academic performance than it is for long term life success.
- IQ is more accurately correlated to performance in certain fields (academia and STEM) than it is in others.
- Personality traits such as conscientiousness can be more effective predictors of long term life success than IQ.
- There is still a level of debate as to the relevance of IQ, as the definition of intelligence remains ambiguous.
Individual strengths and weaknesses
We all have things we excel at and things we are horrible at. We also all have things we are drawn to, and then things that we despise. It’s part of the magic of life. This raises a few questions relating to our own paths towards success:
To what extent are you gifted? Is what you like to do the same thing that you are naturally good at?
Is the career path you are on aligned with who you are, what you like and what you’re good at?
To what extent is your natural gifting monetizable? Do you live in a society that would value your contributions? (The internet has really blown this question into pieces!)
Luck is something some people don’t really like to acknowledge. We like to think that the world is a fair place, there are rules that are followed, and you will get what you deserve. Wouldn’t it be nice!
The truth is rarely cut and dry.
Sure, the world is more fair now than it has ever been.
Sure, the world is most fair in the western world.
Sure, the internet has leveled the playing field all over the world to an extent.
But in a world of 7 billion people, with the top 1% of people owning around half the world’s wealth, of course there is going to be an element of luck involved.
Who you know. Right place, right time. Born into a wealthy country. Born at a time when the world was not at war. Having parents who really cared about you. Being fed properly as a baby. The more you think about it, the more crucial things you can think of that you had absolutely no control over.
Your attitude is how you generally think or feel about the things that happen around you. It is like a lens through which you view the world. It is not a simple mechanism and is influenced by a number of factors.
Your attitude is influenced by genetics, by the environment in which you were raised, and also by your own effort. Through conscientious effort, you can understand your own biases and feelings and work on viewing the world in a more productive and fulfilling way.
Your attitude affects how you think and feel, which ultimately affects how you act and the results that you generate in your own life. The most famous quote on the subject comes from legendary speaker Zig Ziglar:
“It is your attitude, not your aptitude, that determines your altitude”
Why Persistence works: control the controllable
As illustrated above, there are a number of things that go into the level of success a person can achieve in life. There are no guarantees, and there are aspects of it that you have no business trying to control.
The key is to focus on what you can control. You can control your attitude. You can think more positively. You can work more intelligently. You can take action to align your career with what you love. You can keep trying and keep taking opportunities.
These are facts, and they will only make your life better.
If you get a lucky opportunity, you can do what you can to make the most of it. If you get a bad stroke of luck, you can adopt a winner’s attitude and go even harder. Ultimately, the persistent individual is unshaken by a lot of the nuances and details of life; they stay driven and don’t stop until they’ve got what they were chasing.
3 examples of persistent people who didn’t take no for an answer
When Milton Hershey left school, he was unsure of what he wanted to do and so took an apprenticeship job at a local printing company. He found the work boring and repetitive. Hershey dropped his hat into a machine one day and was fired. Needing employment, he took another apprenticeship under confectioner Joseph Royer, where he spent 4 years learning the craft.
Between 1876 and 1883 Hershey worked from Philadelphia to Denver to New Orleans to Chicago to New York, in each place struggling with his own failing business or learning under other confectioners. In Denver, he learned how to make caramels using fresh milk, a skill that would ultimately make him his first fortune.
After the failure of Hershey’s second business, he launched the Lancaster Caramel Company. This was his first big success, and at one point Hershey had 1300 men under him. Hershey became interested in chocolate. He took the risk of selling his company for 1 million dollars, which he used to start the Hershey chocolate company.
Today, the Hershey company does over 8 billion dollars per year in revenue, making it one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world.
Jack Canfield worked from 10 pm to 1 am every night for a year to write his book Chicken Soup for the Soul. He was incredibly proud of his work and set about finding a publisher.
143 publishers, in a row, showed absolutely no interest. Jack did nothing but try and find a publisher of his book for 14 months, with nothing to show for it. But he persisted, and number 144 decided to give Jack’s book a chance. Jack told his publisher the goal of 1 and a half million books in 1 and a half years, and he laughed out loud. He responded that they would be lucky to sell 20,000 books in that timeframe.
That first book went on to sell 8 million copies in the US, and 10 million worldwide. The chicken soup for the soul entertainment company is now publicly owned, with a market cap of over 438 million dollars.
Sia was born into an artistic family. Her mother was an art lecturer, and her father was a blues guitarist. Sia loved the arts and saw them as a way to win the approval of her parents, so set her sights on becoming an actress. Sias childhood started out quite normal, but her father’s drug use and lifestyle got out of hand and he started to become aggressive towards his family.
By chance, Sia joined a local band whilst working at a café. It was obvious to everyone that she was gifted. But she was highly introverted and started to heavily rely on alcohol to give her the courage to perform with the band.
After 4 years, the band split up and Sia decided to move to London to be with her boyfriend and pursue music. Sia was stopping over in Thailand when she was informed on the phone that her boyfriend had been killed by a taxi. Sia was vulnerable and devastated and spent six years in London heavily abusing drink and drugs. She released two albums in that time, with neither performing particularly well.
Sia slowly built a name for herself across London with her unique voice. She was asked to contribute to some albums of other artists. The song “Breathe Me” featured on the final episode of the TV series six feet under, and became a viral sensation.
Sia did not like fame. She was heavily introverted. The more successful she got, the more she relied on drugs to get her through the day. At her lowest, shortly after she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she called a drug dealer and ordered “two of everything you’ve got, except meth and heroin”. She planned on taking her own life, but then decided against it and committed to getting better.
She started to write songs for other artists, her songs being sung by huge names like Beyoncé and Katy Perry. She loved sharing her music hidden from the spotlight. Eventually, she released an album of songs that she just did not want to give away. It was unbelievably successful; the song chandelier has over 2.3 BILLION views on YouTube at the time of writing.
Why you should be Persistent with your vision, but flexible with your strategies
The above examples illustrate a further point about persistence. When Churchill says never give up, he refers to attaining victory at all costs. Do not stop until you are successful.
“If you are going through hell, keep going”
That said, there are times when your strategy needs adjusting.
When Mr Hershey’s first company was failing, he did not try to keep flogging a dead horse.
He stepped back, kept learning his craft, and then tried something different. When his second company was also less successful than he wanted, he changed his strategy again.
This is a skill that will serve us all in life: to be persistent in our mission for success, but courageous enough to change our strategy when the situation calls for it. If you can have the self awareness and the courage to take 1 step back in order to take two steps forward, you will be a force to be reckoned with. Your time will come.
Action steps you can take to become more persistent
Persistence seems to be inseparably linked with discipline. You become more disciplined, you will become more persistent. Check out former Navy Seal Jocko Willink’s Discipline equals freedom concept if you are looking to become more disciplined in your life.
Having a powerful reason “Why?” is also sure to lead to more persistence in your life. It will drive you through hard times and energise you when times are hard.
“He who has a why can bear almost any how”Friedrich Nietzsche
Books are a great way to be influenced by persistent people. In my recent article “Too cheap for therapy? Read these books!” I go through my 5 favourite books relevant to self-improvement.
The reason why books are so cool is that it is always inspiring to hear real-life success stories of people like you and me who went on to do amazing things in the world. Filling your mind with this kind of material, whatever the source, will help you think more optimistically.
Another crucial component when it comes to persistence is the concept of a growth mindset. There were fascinating experiments done among school children by Carol Dweck and others on this topic. For those unfamiliar with the concept, check out Dweck’s Stanford alumni speech where she goes into detail about her research.