The ability to keep on keeping on, even when our efforts are met with disappointment or failure, is an ability that can make all the difference in the world. And that’s the definition of perseverance: to keep on keeping on.
It comes from being committed to your goal, and from believing in yourself and in your goal’s possibility. It borrows strength from resilience and optimism and brushes elbows with courage along the way.
Listen to the story of anyone who has reached a significant goal and you’ll hear a drama about someone who had to rebound from setback after setback along the way. There’s an old adage that says you can’t defeat a man who refuses to quit, and it’s as true today as when the words were first uttered.
Whether you’re working to master a skill that will qualify you for the next step up in your profession, or fielding interruptions from kids while you try to finish a household task, your success often hinges on your ability to refocus on your goal again and again. To give it one more try, and then another, and another still, is to walk the path that leads to achievement.
Angela Duckworth and her colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania looked at a trait they call grit, a combination of perseverance and passion, the sustained and focused application of a talent over time. And what their research indicates is that “the quality that distinguished star performers in their respective fields was not necessarily talent, but exceptional commitment to ambitions and goals.”
Perhaps more than any other quality, perseverance is what gets our projects out the door, lets us master our talents, and that turns dreams into living, breathing realities.
The Benefits of Perseverance
But perseverance does more for you than to help you master a skill or complete a project. As great as those achievements are, the ability to keep on keeping on serves you in other ways as well.
- It makes you trustworthy in other people’s eyes. They know you won’t quit when an obstacle comes along.
- It increases your sense of self-worth to take full ownership of the goal you set out to achieve. You accept that your destiny is in your own hands.
- Your commitment to your goal enhances its value for you and heightens your motivation.
- It leads you to unexpected discoveries and expands your knowledge, both about yourself and about the field of your endeavor.
How to Build Perseverance
Perseverance is a strength onto itself, and some people naturally possess more of it than others do. But everybody can build her perseverance muscles. As with all of our character strengths, attention to it and practice will take you a long way. The three steps below are tools that will build your perseverance and propel you to success.
The 10-Minute Practice
You can begin to practice with little things. Pick a project that you would really like to do and decide that you’re going to get it done, starting this week. (Pick one that you think you can finish in a couple of weeks at the most. If what you want to do is bigger than that, break it down into more manageable pieces.) Then make a commitment not to quit until it’s finished, even if you can work at it only 10 minutes a day. If you let yourself off the hook for a day, don’t let yourself quit altogether. Start on it again the next day.
That 10-minute commitment is important, by the way. You know that you can do almost anything for ten minutes, no matter how unappealing it is or how pressed you are for time. Ten minutes a day will move you forward; it will keep you in the game. And often, once you have begun the work, you’ll find yourself caught up in its flow and willing—maybe even eager!—to continue.
Develop Your Dream
Before you begin to work on your project, take time to imagine how you will feel both as you work on it and when it is completed. Imagine being engaged with it, and feeling the harmony, fulfillment, mastery or pride that will come with it. You might find yourself visualizing the stages of the work and how it will look when it’s done, and that’s fine, but what we’re really after now is a deep sense of the feelings involved. Set aside some quiet time and imagine those feelings as deeply and vividly as you can.
This is step one of the Resonance Performance Model developed by Douglas Newburg, Ph.D., based on his study of world class performers in fields ranging from art, to sports, to business, to medicine.
The next steps in the model involve preparing for the work, and planning how you’ll meet the inevitable obstacles and setbacks. As you do these steps, revisit the positive energy of the feelings you tapped as you dreamed about accomplishing your goal.
Cultivate Your Optimism
Positive psychology leader Martin Seligman found in his research that the difference between people who give up when faced with difficulties and the ones who keep on keeping on is how they think of good and bad events.
Optimists see negative events as temporary and narrowly focused. An optimist who gives a stumbling presentation, for example, sees that she had a really hard time with it, but that she also learned a lot and will do better next time. Pessimists, on the other hand, see negative events as set in stone and affecting everything. If a pessimistic youngster flounders at basketball, he concludes he’s no good at sports at all.
On the other hand, optimists see good events as long-lasting and affecting a wide range of their lives. Pessimists see good events as a one time shot, a fluke.
The key, then, is to listen to your self-talk and to work at intentionally moving toward an optimistic view of events, both the good and the bad ones. “By adopting the optimist’s explanatory style,” says positive psychology master Douglas B. Turner, the pessimist begins to challenge the sweeping statements they make about the bad things that are happening in their lives. Over time and with practice the pessimist learns to describe good things as permanent and pervasive. As this skill grows and becomes more and more natural the loud pessimistic voice softens.” And the ability to persevere in the face of difficulties expands.
Put it to the test for yourself. Brush off some abandoned dreams or projects, or choose a new one, and see what persevering will do for you. Bolstered by optimism and fortified with a strong sense of the positive feelings that achieving your goal will bring you, you’ll be turning the key to your success.
To learn eight more powerful ways to flourish in your life, grab your free copy of our Quick Start Guide to Positive Well-Being. It’s right up there at the top of the page.
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