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The Ultimate Guide to Staying Persistent When You Feel Like Giving Up

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Young woman rock climber climbing at seaside mountain rock

This is a guest post by Amy. She writes on self-improvement and productivity at BrainyOwls.com. Check out the free email course that shows the Strategies of Enormously Successful People. The science-backed strategies and actionable tips are sure to take your life to the next level.


Pursuing your goals can be an immensely satisfying journey. That’s because it teaches you a number of things about life and also gives you wonderful expertise in your domain. It challenges you to perform your best, makes you hustle, and pushes you to overcome any obstacles or setbacks.

But lets face it:

It is not an easy journey. It takes lot of patience and perseverance to succeed. You find even the best of the people being depressed and dejected at one point or other during their success pursuit.

That’s because this world is filled with promises and stories of overnight success. And it’s disappointing when everyone else seems to achieve miraculous results while you are barely scratching the surface.

That’s where we all need the key ingredient to success: persistence.

Haven’t you seen that many times the smartest of people easily give up and quit their goals while seemingly mediocre people with barely any talent hustle and achieve massive success?

According to research, it turns out that talent has surprisingly little to do with success. Persistence, on the other hand, has a lot to do with it. One of the most common reasons we fail to reach our goals is that we give up on them way too soon and for all the wrong reasons.

So how can you increase your persistence?

In this guide, I’ll share with you several strategies you can use to better equip yourself for the long haul.

Early Phase of Growth:

Young plant growing in the morning

Before we get started with the strategies, we all need to know about “The Dip.”

When you first start on your journey towards your goal, you enjoy a very brief period of rapid improvement. For example, you can easily lose weight in week 1, or the first chapter of your book comes together flawlessly. Initially things will be moving towards growth.

It’s very easy to start believing it will all be this easy.

And then, the reality hits.

After that initial phase of tiny success, you start to feel stuck. Things may not go as smoothly anymore. You may start to face your first obstacle or a slight dose of disinterest.

This low place after the initial high is called The Dip, a phrase coined by Seth Godin.

According to him, this phase is where you encounter obstacles and scarcity, and things just get difficult. As you endure this phase and push your way through, you’ll achieve success and mastery.

Yet, most people who find themselves in the dip give up before they can get out of it.

Why?

The problem is that we expect quick results because we hear misleading stories of people who made amazing discoveries – Isaac Newton, for example.

We’ve all heard the story of the apple hitting him in the head, and BOOM! Gravity is discovered. The world is changed. Science is revolutionized. And all from a brief flash of realization from a teeny little apple.

It almost sounds as if Newton’s discovery was a flash of insight. Did he work hard at all to discover gravity?

To say that he worked hard would be a vast understatement. Newton spent the next 22 years with indisputable perseverance and unbelievable hard work before he finally discovered gravity. Not exactly the flash fiction tale we’ve been told throughout our lives, is it?

Newton exhibited true persistence, a key ingredient of success. It’s all about enduring this phase, and pushing our way to success.

So here are five ways we can increase persistence.

Idea 1: Choosing the Right Motives

Yellow boots on the road

The first way to improve persistence is to have the right motives behind your goals.

When goals are autonomously chosen, and pursued for their own sake, that itself improves your persistence.

Imagine a goal that genuinely reflects your own choices, values, and desires. You’ll want it more and will enjoy the time taken while working towards it, no matter how long.

Such goals emphasize growth and improvement, rather than focusing on proving or affirming something.

For example:

Starting a venture just to prove yourself to your family and friends will become intolerable sooner or later, leading to excessive stress.

However, starting a venture out of your passion or because of the zeal to rise in a particular domain can do wonders. A strong internal motive will help you stay more persistent when obstacles or setbacks occur.

You see the difference?  It’s the same goal, with different motives.

Here are some examples of goals motives you should avoid:

  1. Pursuing a goal so that others respect you.
  2. Chasing a goal to impress others or make them jealous.
  3. Doing something to become popular among the crowd and/or get attention from the press.

Research says that if you have these kinds of motives behind your goal, there is every possibility that you will underperform and quit.

Now look at these examples:

  1. Pursuing a goal because you are passionate about it.
  2. Starting a venture to grow as a person or to contribute to society.
  3. Doing something to live up to a particular lifestyle or gain freedom.

Can you see the motive behind these goals?

Such goals make you feel accomplished and help you remain optimistic about your journey, even if you still have a long way to go. This is a wonderful way to strengthen persistence.

This certainly doesn’t mean that if you select these goals, you are done. You’ll still face challenges with respect to perseverance and the zeal to work, but starting with the right motives in the first place will give you a better chance of staying persistent and dealing with any setbacks.

Whenever you have a goal, especially a huge one, you should be clearly able to answer the following questions:

  1. Why do you want to achieve this goal?
  2. Why is this goal important to you?
  3. Can you name three ways in which this goal will improve and transform you as a person, whether you succeed or fail?
  4. What is at stake to lose if you don’t give 100% or quit your goal before achieving it?

Having strong and clear reasons for striving toward a goal will help anyone avoid excuses, procrastination, and laziness. And it will increase persistence.

Action Step:

Answer the questions given above. There’s a worksheet at the end of this article that you can print to record your answers.

Idea 2: Having the Right Mindset

Another important way to increase persistence is to ensure that you have the right mindset. This idea was developed by Carol Dweck, a psychologist with decades of research on mindset. (More can be found in her book Mindset.)

According to her, people have one of two mindsets: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

During her research, she observed that certain people believe that their skills and intelligence are fixed by birth. She terms such people ‘Entity theorists’ or ‘people with a fixed mindset.’

And there is another set of people who believe that the intelligence and skills they have can be learned and developed. She terms such people ‘incremental theorists’ or ‘people with a growth mindset.’

(It should be noted that Ms. Dweck’s theory encompasses not only intelligence and skills, but a whole range of elements like personality, character, patience, and integrity.)

In short, people can have two mentalities:

  1. A fixed mindset, or
  2. A growth mindset.

For example,

A person with a fixed mindset may believe that he is not a good communicator by birth and that it will be that way forever. That belief in turn acts as an excuse to avoid practicing or enhancing his communication skills.

However, a person with a growth mindset believes that even though he is not a good communicator, there are ways to develop his communication skills. This enables him to try harder and develop his skills, even though he fails initially.

Your mindset depends on how you grew up, the school you went to, what your parents believed, and so forth.

Because of their predetermined nature, a person with a fixed mindset usually exhibits very low persistence levels. They believe that they have extreme limitations. They use excuses like “bad luck” or “destiny” when they haven’t reached their goal and feel like giving up.

On the other hand, people with a growth mindset have been shown to have higher rates of success and perseverance by believing they can develop the necessary skills  to overcome an obstacle or to reach a milestone. They take challenges seriously and work harder. They push through tough times in order to reach the other side.

Having a growth mindset is crucial for improving persistence.

I assume by now you have two questions:

  • Do I have a fixed or growth mindset?
  • If it is a fixed one, how can I become a growth-mindset person?

To both these questions, Carol Dweck has an answer.

Action Step:

  1. Head over to Carol Dweck’s website where there’s a short quiz to find out what kind of mindset you may currently have.
  1. If you do have a fixed mindset, don’t sweat. Because Ms. Dweck’s site has set of steps which can gently guide you from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

Idea 3: Attributing Your Failure to the Right Causes

Success loading

Psychologist Heidi Halverson says that attributing failure to the ‘right’ causes can enhance your persistence.

Now what does that mean?

It is common to have an occasional failure when pursuing a challenging goal. But often, we find people not only getting upset over these little setbacks but also labeling themselves as worthless, incompetent, or weak, or complaining that life has been unfair to them.

For example:

Say your business goal was to get 1,000 new leads in a year, but you’ve barely crossed 100. It’s natural to be upset…but if you attribute this failure to you being “a worthless business person” or “an incompetent entrepreneur,” how can you move forward?

After all, no one feels persistent when they have lost all hope for success.

However, if you analyze the situation and review what you have done over the past year, then maybe you’ll realize that you didn’t reach your goal because of a poor sales strategy or marketing campaign.

In this case, you attribute your failure to a correct and practical cause.

This will make you far more likely to persist and carry on with rectifying the issue.

“And it turns out that this way of thinking is not only better for you, but it is usually objectively more correct,” says psychologist Halvorson in her book Succeed.

Remember – if failure automatically means worthless, that means Einstein was worthless because he failed a thousand times.

This doesn’t mean you should be impractical. Some situations and setbacks are caused by factors that are out of our control. But that’s rare. Most of the time the causes of failures aren’t what you might think. Analyze the situation correctly. Getting emotional and labeling yourself rarely help in such situations.

Action Step:

Remember to never attribute your setbacks to fixed or unchangeable abilities or blame yourself. Try to attribute your failures to a more controllable factor.

Idea 4: Being Realistic About Success and Failure

Many people have an unconscious desire for overnight success.

People read all sorts of stories and case studies of how some random person made millions in only a few months. And they expect the same results. Maybe you, too, have fallen into this trap once or twice.

Such desires not only make people impatient and shortcut-minded, but also have negative consequences on their performance, judgement levels, and persistence.

People with such desires in their heart get devastated when faced with even a tiny obstacle. No doubt, we live in the age of instant gratification, and overnight success does look enticing.

But what you see behind the scenes of success are numerous incidents of rejection, failure, tears, sweat, and doubt. Even people like Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Sykes, and Pete Cashmore, who became millionaires at young ages, didn’t become successful overnight. They dedicated their time to years of learning and perfecting their craft.

People generally have a tendency to look at your accomplishments, but they never give a thought to the amount of effort that goes into them. That’s why it’s a wonderful idea to read biographies. Because that will enlighten you with the fact that every success story is only a by-product of persistence, determination, dedication to goals, passion, resilience, and hard work.

Many people make the mistake of giving up too early because they fail a couple of times.

How many times have you been rejected or failed before giving up on something? Ten times? Fifty times? Have you ever failed a hundred times and still not given up?

As a 65-year-old man, Colonel Sanders started with $105, lived out of his car for two years, and was rejected 1,009 times trying to sell his recipe for fried chicken before he made his first sale of five cents. That was the start of KFC.

It is said that Thomas edison had 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb.

If we talk about numbers, overnight successes are very rare and the odds of us achieving one are less than one percent.

Not only does hoping for easier success make you less persistent, it will also make you less likely to succeed. Psychologist Gabriele Oettingen from New York University has done a lot of research on this.

Studies can be found here.

As pessimistic as it sounds, she says when you believe your road to success is tough and difficult, you are more likely to achieve your goal.

Why?

Because people who believe their goal pursuit will be difficult are naturally more inclined towards putting in more effort. They are more likely to take action than people who expect overnight success. They expect work hard from themselves, and that’s exactly what they do.

It might look rocky and unpleasant, but it is actually quite practical. And it can be a wonderful way to be more persistent.

Action Step:

Start today by reading a biography/autobiography of any successful person like Abraham Lincoln or Ben Franklin. And look at how they overcame their pains and obstacles before rising to such great heights. These people can become your mentors at a distance and fill you with confidence.

  1. Read shorter versions of life stories at least a couple of minutes a day, if you think biographies are too huge. Try an app like Blinkist.
  2. If your commute to work is long, it can be wonderful time to read or listen to audiobooks. Many motivating biographies in audio format are at audible.com.
  3. If you have kids, tell them these inspiring stories. This will not only inspire you, but also hugely benefit them in the future.
  4. Use the worksheet at the end of this article to record a few things you have learned from your favorite personality.

Idea 5: Surrounding Yourself with Those Who Have Done It

successful casual business woman using laptop

We like to think we’re all unique, but we’re inevitably influenced by those around us. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. When you hang out with successful people or join a great group, it will rub off on you.

A study of 12,067 people was done at Harvard Medical School. It was found that if a person became obese, their closest friend were impacted and had a 171% greater chance of gaining weight.

Look at any successful individual. They place themselves in environments with like-minded people.

In the words of Stanford professor Bob Sutton:

“When you take a job take a long look at the people you’re going to be working with — because the odds are you’re going to become like them, they are not going to become like you.”

Your environment and the company you keep has a huge influence on you.

Here are some practical ways to build a supportive network:

  1. Start simple and look around you. Do you have a cousin or a friend’s dad who is successful? Would he be a great person to learn from? Invite him to a coffee or dinner and have a deep conversation.
  2. Thanks to the power of the internet, it is easier to connect with influencers than ever. If you have a blog or a podcast, invite an expert or interview them.
  3. Attending networking events and joining mastermind groups can be very helpful. You will find like-minded individuals, and many of them may share goals very similar to yours. It’s a great opportunity to form groups or get an accountability buddy.
  4. And finally, if you can afford it, having a mentor or coach can be a real asset. Often it is a mentor who really helps you become an expert, and who picks you up when failure hits you hard. It is a wonderful way to learn what works and what doesn’t without too much trial and error.

Action Step:

  1. List three people who you think will help you succeed.
  2. Brainstorm two activities that will allow you to interact with them.
  3. Search for like-minded online forums or groups. But research a lot, as many of them are filled with junk conversations and spam. Find a couple of communities with high-quality conversation.
  4. Use the worksheet at the end of this article.

Key Takeaways from this Guide:

I hope you found these tips useful. Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Pursue what interests you. Find meaning in your goals and have strong, compelling motives that support them.
  2. Have the right mindset. A growth mindset will help you persist better than having a fixed mindset.
  3. Attribute your failures to the right causes. Failing at something because of incompetence is rare. Think of what you can do next.
  4. Stop wishing for overnight successes. Period
  5. Join a mastermind group or get an accountability partner. The kind of company you keep will have quite an influence on you.

Bonus for Asian Efficiency Readers:

As mentioned earlier, I have put together three worksheets that can help you execute these steps on an actionable level. Access them here.


This is a guest post by Amy. She writes on self-improvement and productivity at BrainyOwls.com. Check out the free email course that shows the Strategies of Enormously Successful People. The science-backed strategies and actionable tips are sure to take your life to the next level.

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