“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.” These wise words were uttered by Confucius over 2000 years ago. And yet, we are still learning to live by them.
What he was getting at is perseverance — the ability to persist with a goal despite experiencing difficulties. Why is this quality so important for us? The answer to this is more complex than you may expect. Perseverance plays a crucial role in our lives for many reasons. But thankfully, you can still improve your perseverance at any point in your life!
If you have any goals you haven’t yet reached, or thought about giving up on them because of setbacks, you won’t want to miss out on the tips below.
- What is perseverance?
- Benefits of perseverance
- Are there any downsides to perseverance?
- 3 crucial reasons why perseverance is important
- Does perseverance alone lead to success?
- Real-life examples of perseverance
- 6 ways to improve your perseverance
- Wrapping up
What is perseverance?
What is perseverance exactly? Definitions may differ slightly, but researchers agree on the general idea.
Put simply, perseverance means finishing what you start and pushing forward despite setbacks and complications.
- Continuing to put in effort and practice.
- Learning from failure.
- Enduring discomfort.
- Seeing challenges in a positive light.
- Prioritizing long-term goals over immediate gratification.
Perseverance is closely related to many other concepts, including:
However, researchers agree that these terms are distinct and have their own definitions.
In particular, perseverance is a key component of another quality you may have heard a lot about: grit. This concept is defined as perseverance plus passion.
Benefits of perseverance
It won’t surprise you that perseverance has tons of benefits. After all, it’s hard to get anything good in life without working at it for a while!
So think of any goal you’ve already reached, and you can consider that to be a positive outcome of perseverance. It was surely part of the mix to some extent.
But there are also many important health and happiness benefits that come directly from perseverance:
Are there any downsides to perseverance?
Clearly, perseverance has tons of amazing benefits. But we can’t make the best of them without looking at the other side of the coin too. This means asking ourselves, does perseverance have any downsides?
Unfortunately, yes. Too much of anything is good for nothing.
While perseverance can help you achieve many goals in life, there are still some that will be “unwinnable”.
As researchers note, continuing to persevere in those situations can have potentially damaging effects. Sometimes giving up is a good thing: it lets you pull out of a losing game and avoid wasting time and energy.
Of course, it can be hard to figure out at what point persevering no longer helps you. There is no clear guide for this as the matter is entirely subjective and situation-specific.
To help figure it out, researchers recommend doing regular self-reflection. Ask yourself questions like:
- Why am I working towards this goal?
- Is it truly achievable? At what cost?
- Are the potential benefits worth this cost?
3 crucial reasons why perseverance is important
So why exactly is perseverance so important? Here are the top 3 reasons, backed by research.
1. It helps you reach your goals
What would your life be like if you reached all your goals?
Take a moment to picture it. This, in a nutshell, is what perseverance can do for you.
Now, perseverance doesn’t guarantee you’ll reach any goal — but it sure makes it much more likely to happen.
Several studies showed that perseverance is an essential quality for success in life. In fact, it’s shown to be even more important than raw talent and aptitude.
It’s a key component of learning and mastering any skill, from learning to speak to playing an instrument.
Without it, we’d get stuck at the first sign of difficulty and be held back by our anxieties. In other words, we would make no progress whatsoever.
Perseverance helps us reach our goals through two more side benefits:
1. Perseverance carries you through failures
Though nobody likes to admit it, we all have to face failure. It is never pleasant, but if you are perseverant, you can see it as a learning experience. And most importantly, you’ll be much more likely to try again in the future.
2. Perseverance helps you adapt
Life doesn’t just give you lemons — pretty much anything can be thrown your way. Perseverance helps you find ways to adapt to any situation and find innovative solutions to problems.
2. It improves your mental health
We’ve already mentioned above that perseverance gives a myriad of health benefits. But as mental health is crucial to our happiness, it bears repeating.
One study showed that people who were more perseverant were much less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. There are dozens more with similar findings.
However, as mentioned above there are limits to how much perseverance is still beneficial to mental health. Everything should always be used in moderation.
3. It improves your relationships
Relationships are perhaps the most important aspect of having a happy life.
And if they are to last long, relationships take their fair share of work. Deep bonds don’t build themselves — you have to put in the work.
Perseverance helps you improve your relationships in many ways:
- Work out problems.
- Find ways to communicate better.
- Adapt to the other person.
- Forgive each other (continue in the relationship despite setbacks).
Does perseverance alone lead to success?
All the above sounds pretty amazing. But can you really get it all just with perseverance?
Well, it can certainly get you very far. In fact, author and psychologist Angela Duckworth explains that natural talent matters, but perseverance is much more critical as a predictor of our achievements.
In her words:
Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another.
So it’s clear that perseverance is an important part of the success equation. But findings suggest it’s most effective with another crucial ingredient: passion.
Together, perseverance and passion make up what Angela Duckworth defines as grit. This means your continued efforts are fueled by a constant and strong interest in your goals.
A 2018 study commented that there have been very contradictory results on the link between grit and success. The authors proposed that it’s because many studies only reflect the perseverance side of grit, and neglect the passion aspect.
Through their own research, they confirmed that perseverance most accurately predicts success when the person also feels passion.
The bottom line? Perseverance will definitely help you find success. But it is most effective when you apply it to a goal you feel passionate about.
Real-life examples of perseverance
When we ask ourselves why perseverance is important, the best answer may lie in some real-life examples.
There are undoubtedly tons of people who have achieved amazing feats through perseverance. They all deserve to be mentioned here, but alas an article can only be so long.
So let’s have a look at just three incredibly inspiring people. None of them could have contributed to the world in the way they did without perseverance.
1. Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison is perhaps one of the most frequent examples of perseverance, and for good reason. Throughout his whole life and many setbacks, he continually showed incredible commitment to his passion: inventing.
When he was a boy, his parents pulled him out of school after his teachers called him “stupid” and “unteachable”. Things didn’t get much easier in his teenage years, when he worked and got fired from a succession of jobs.
But despite this hardship, Edison never stopped inventing. He obtained a total of 1093 patents throughout his career. Many of his inventions, like the light bulb and the alkaline battery, were groundbreaking. Even more of them were unsuccessful.
But Edison considered his negative results just as valuable as any positive ones. To him, understanding what doesn’t work was simply a part of finding out what does. In his words:
I have not failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways to make a lightbulb that won’t work.Thomas Edison
2. Jack Canfield
Like J.K.Rowling, Jack Canfield is an author who found great success thanks to perseverance.
He is the creator of the Chicken Soup of the Soul book series. He’s also a great motivational speaker, professional coach, and author of The Success Principles.
But his climb to success wasn’t without its challenges. Together with his co-author Mar Victor Hansen, he pitched the original Chicken Soup for the Soul book to over 130 different publishers. That means hearing the word “no” over 130 times!
To add insult to injury, their agent dropped them too after over 100 rejections. But Jack Canfield wouldn’t let anything stop him.
He and his co-author kept trying until they found a small publisher in Florida who was interested in publishing their book.
Now, there are over 250 books in the series that have sold over 500 million copies worldwide. Not to mention the countless lives they have inspired and changed for the better.
3. Steve Jobs
You always hear about the grind it takes to make it to the top. But the need for perseverance doesn’t end there, and Steve Jobs gives a perfect example of that.
Jobs became very successful at a young age. He started Apple when he was 20 years old, in his parents' garage. Within only ten years, the company had become a 2 billion dollar empire.
But then, Apple’s board of directors decided to take things in a different direction, and Jobs was fired from the company he founded. But instead of viewing this as a failure, he saw it as an opportunity for freedom.
He later even said that getting fired from his company was the best thing that ever happened to him because it let him think more creatively and re-experience the joy of starting a new company.
He then went on to found NeXT and Pixar. NeXT was then bought by Apple, and Jobs was rehired. He ended up helping Apple rebuild its popularity.
The main takeaway from this story is not that Jobs ended up back at the same company — but rather that he didn’t view being fired as a reason to give up. Instead, he learned what he could from the experience and kept working just as hard toward his dream.
6 ways to improve your perseverance
If at this point, you’re realizing that you’re not a particularly perseverant person, here’s some great news: perseverance can be learned!
Angela Duckworth, who researched and wrote extensively on grit and perseverance, says we can all work on our ability to persevere and become “grittier”.
She argues that this requires four key ingredients:
- Interest: defining and following our passion.
- Practice: working on our weaknesses, setting challenging goals, and applying feedback.
- Purpose: desire to contribute to the world.
- Hope: believing that our efforts matter and can improve our future.
Other research has uncovered a few more key practices that can help you build perseverance.
In a world centered around social media, it’s become easier and easier to compare ourselves with others. Who has the nicer home, the stronger relationship, the more expensive vacation?
Of course, this isn’t very healthy to begin with — but if you want to persevere, you have an extra-strong reason to toss this thinking aside.
A study found that students are much more likely to persevere when they are focused on personal growth rather than trying to do better than others. In particular, they are much better able to face obstacles.
So remember, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing better or worse than anyone else. We’re all at a different part of our journey, and you can’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle or end.
2. Break goals down into manageable components
Tip number two for improving perseverance is to break down your goals.
Research has found this to be a very effective strategy for perseverance. Students who created markers of progress for a long-term assignment made them much more likely to complete it successfully.
In particular, they:
- Understood the individual parts of the greater goal
- Worked through difficulties they had with a clear end in mind
This is well illustrated in Walter Elliot’s famous words:
Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.
3. Figure out your why
As we’ve seen above, perseverance is most powerful when combined with another key ingredient: passion.
Research supports this idea, but it makes sense too. If you apply your efforts to something you actually feel interested in, you’re that much more likely to work harder. More than that, you’ll actually enjoy doing it too!
Here's one of our articles on how to find your why, and why it's so important to do so.
4. Focus on efforts over results
If you’ve read Mindset by Carol Dweck, this tip will seem very familiar to you.
In fact, perseverance is closely related to the growth mindset as described by Dweck.
This mindset is basically the belief that you can learn to become better at anything with practice. Some people naturally hold this belief, leading them to work hard to improve any skill or personal quality.
On the other hand, some people see their skills and qualities as fixed. This makes them much more likely to give up — after all, what’s the point in trying if you can’t improve?
Dweck explains how a growth mindset is a valid approach for any aspect of our lives. As many examples in her book show, growth mindset people can and do become better at anything because they persevere and learn from mistakes.
But here’s the really interesting part: even though “fixed mindset” people aren’t naturally inclined to persevere, they start to do so if they are appreciated for their efforts rather than their results.
For example, instead of telling a student “you did so well on that test!”, a teacher would say “you worked so hard to prepare for the test!”
This kind of praise puts people’s focus on the actions that help them reach the goal, rather than whether or not they are there yet.
5. Ask for positive and immediate feedback
Ideally, we should be able to persevere on our own. But of course, a few kind words from someone else can be a great motivation booster.
And research has shown the best way to do this.
To help people persevere, feedback should be two things:
You can use this knowledge to help encourage your loved ones in their own goals. But what about you? If people don’t naturally do this for you, you could explain it to a close friend and ask them to be your private cheerleader.
6. Reflect on and revise your work often
One final practice for improving your perseverance is to reflect on and revise your work. This has been found to help people persevere and attain the outcomes they want.
In doing this, you can:
- Evaluate if you’re going in the direction you wanted.
- Correct course if you have strayed from your goal.
- Reconsider if your goal is still worth the effort.
- Reflect on what you’ve been doing and what’s been working best for you.
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It’s clear by now that perseverance holds incredibly high importance for all of us. The only question left now is, how do you plan to use it? You can apply it to any goal to improve your life. Will it be getting in shape and healthy? Or perhaps improving your relationships? Or maybe even finding a job you truly love. Whatever it is, perseverance will help you get there — the only guarantee for failure is to stop trying.
Are you naturally good at persevering through challenges? What's your favorite tip to share with others? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!