The Key to Success: Just Keep Going
Updated: Apr 17
“Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Defined as the “firm or obstinate continuance of a course of action in despite of difficulty or opposition,” the principle of perseverance is one of, if not the, most critical factors of success in life.
It helps to start with examining our expectations about how the journey to success generally goes. While we can always point to exceptions here and there, there’s generally no way around it:
Success at anything is going to take repeated effort. And sometimes those efforts must happen when the wind and spit and dirt is in your face and not at your back.
It helps if you expect an uphill; expect a process of ‘paying your dues’ or ‘learning the ropes’ or any other host of ways to describe the climb that must happen before reaching the summit. The vast majority of us will not get to ride on a magic helicopter and be gently delivered to the top.
It may not go the way you planned it. It will probably take longer than you expected. There will be times of little or no movement or even the feeling of going in reverse. All you have to do is keep on going. No matter what.
But if you can stick to it, the research says it’s well worth all that time and energy. A study by researchers Abuhassan & Bates (2015) found that perseverance was the most critical factor in long-term achievement. It’s not intelligence. It’s not resources. It’s sheer will.
“I never ever lost belief that it was going to happen. You have to dare. You have to fail over and over again sometimes. Get bloody, get dirty and fail.”
– Diana Nyad [at 64, was the first person to swim from
Cuba to Florida without a shark cage]
It starts with passion: How bad do you want it?
Passion is a requirement. If you don’t want it bad enough, you won’t be willing to do what it takes to overcome the rocky road it will take to get there. The target has to be yours. It can’t be what your parents want for you. Plenty of miserable middle-aged accountants can tell you that.
Beyond the passion, people who’re persistent have a goal or vision that keeps them motivated. They focus much of their energy on their pursuits, including through tough times and periods when it feels like little progress is going on. The getting back up again and adjusting your sails when you stumble takes self-motivation and the ability to be laser-focused on where you want to be. It takes a long-view.
“…I have an uncompromising relationship with my goals usually. I will not be deterred in whatever it takes to get there.” – Diana Nyad
Often the sole difference between people that succeed and those who do not, is simply having the ability to just keep at it while others retreat. That difference is often driven by our sense of self.
Perseverance is an individual sport.
It helps to have a strong sense of self to believe in what you want to accomplish despite setbacks. It is just harder to keep at it if you’re depending on the world to love you all the time. Persistent people have the ability to ignore an often-unsupportive world around them.
How well can we fend off the resistance? Because the resistance is guaranteed. It will come from the world: maybe they don’t like what you have or who you are. It will come from your head: perhaps today you are unmotivated or are doubting yourself.
Every day we will run into people and organizations that are not interested in our ideas or products or personality or whatever. So what? The world is a big place. Don’t let a lack of response or an overt rejection slow your pace. It’s just not a fit for them; for now; at this time; in this iteration. Their lack of interest is about their lack of interest. Keep it moving. Don’t waste time getting your feelings hurt.
Inner confidence frees you from the need to be appreciated. You don’t need to be acknowledged. You can celebrate your own progress, without an audience.
“Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says: I'll try again tomorrow.’” – Mary Anne Radmacher
Self-discipline is key
Especially during tough times, it is self-discipline that keeps us moving in the direction of our goals. One foot in front of the other, even in the rainstorm. Give yourself an action plan and then follow it every day. No matter how you feel.
“You need to see the difference in not being willing to and not being able to.” – Eckhart Tolle
Most people do not persevere. The majority of people will not do what it takes to keep at it. So that’s great news for the ones that will.
A few tools along these lines can be very helpful. Written plans with micro-goals, daily checklists, self-imposed deadlines and the small achievements towards a goal rewards our perseverance with a feel-good chemical that entices us to achieve more. Yum, yum dopamine.
A chemical reaction
Called the “reward molecule”, the chemical of dopamine in our brains aids us in developing the habit of perseverance. Dopamine helps keep us motivated and our behavior on track in moving us towards the goal.
When we set goals, deadlines and cross small things off our list, it’s dopamine that delivers the feel-good feelings of reward. Researcher Jean Wiecha discovered that with exercise for example, dopamine over time can aid in a conversion of sorts: from sheer will and discipline to something you actually enjoy doing, helping create positive, lifelong habits despite the effort.
Motivation as well as amotivation feed on itself. Apparently, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it and dopamine reserves can dry up. But beyond the chemical, studies have uncovered that people generally have one of two distinct mindsets – only one of which aids in persevering over obstacles over time.
“Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.” – Marilyn vos Savant
Fixed vs. growth mindset
Over the years, research have outlined different ways of thinking that affect how well one perseveres through setbacks and struggle when pursuing goals. Professor Carol Dweck has researched motivation and how people react to failure.
In a fixed mindset, individuals are more likely to get discouraged and give-up because they mistakenly believe the problems are unchangeable. Dweck (2012) has indicated that the goal for these people shifts to the need to look smart leading to an unwillingness to put in the effort for risk of failing.
Conversely, those individuals with a growth mindset understand that effort, learning, adapting and persevering will get them to where they want to be. Those with this mindset understand that the difficulties are just part of it. Learning to lose is valuable. The lows are important – they build our resilience.
We all have a choice in how we interpret the setbacks. The meaning of the stumble, the failure comes from us alone. We can define it as natural and expected or we can give it much more weight and let it stop us and stay down. It is our decision to persevere that makes the difference.
“The greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising up every time we fall.” – Confucius
Persistent people can adapt and adjust
People with persistence are able to adjust their plan and look for ways to increase their chance of success over time.
Our goals may evolve as we get knocked down, get back up, take in new information, have new experiences and meet new people. The goal is important but so too is flexibility and the openness to modify over time.
That’s why anyone who is willing to try and try and re-tool and try again will eventually get to where they’re going – even if it ends up looking different than what they had initially envisioned. Beyond the destination, there is value in the effort itself: who you become in the process: someone who stays at it, who overcomes, is courageous.
“You cannot draw back when life gets tough. You’ve got to stand up to it and push.” – T.D. Jakes
Do not take No for an answer
If you believe in what you’re doing, don’t take no for an answer.
What type of person goes back the 87th time after the 86th rejection? Who goes back the 126th time after number 125? Only the person who believes so strongly in what they have and who know that the Nos always come before the Yeses.
The stories go on and on about the immense rejection that comes before success. That white cup in your hand with your name on it? Before it got there, Starbuck’s Howard Schultz was turned down more than 200 times. It’s the way most achievement goes. So, when you are turned down, rejected – brush it off and keep going.
Remember, you are in very good company.
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