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Persistence: the Key to Your Potential

Dylan | Jun 10, 2019

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When was the last time you were excited to start something new? Perhaps you joined millions of people who began the year with a New Year’s resolution. This would be the year you’ll finally learn how to play your favorite childhood songs on your dusty guitar.

In the beginning, you started off strong. A splash of hype "New Year" hype mixed with a healthy dose of visualizing the end result propelled you past the initial hurdles urging you to call it quits. Hopefully, you’ve been successful with your resolutions and if you have it’s plenty of cause for celebration!

According to a survey by the U.S. World and News Report, only 20% of New Year’s resolution setters actually managed to stick to their goals. Despite investing serious time and money on everything we necessary to reach our goals, they’re much more likely to fall flat than to pan out.

Why Do We Give Up?

Unfortunately after several weeks (if we’re lucky), we lose interest in the process. More than likely, we come face to face with the true work and sacrifice required to achieve our goals. It’s no longer easy, it’s no longer fun.

Often when we set goals, we spend a disproportionate amount of time dreaming about the end result as opposed to understanding and preparing for the inevitable roadblocks sure to arise. If we fail to set SMART goals, our chances of success drop drastically before we ever get started.

Another formidable hindrance to success is our intense cultural aversion to boredom. I believe in modern times more than ever, we quickly reach for our laptops, phones, and TV remotes to alleviate it. As a society, we’re trapped in a gross loop of self-medicating any discomfort with technology. Why would anyone choose to be bored when they could be watching funny and interesting videos on social media or YouTube.

If persistence were thought of as a muscle, technology would certainly be considered some sort of muscle-eating parasite. It conditions us to avoid any discomfort at all costs when discomfort is inevitable when chasing meaningful goals.


Imagine if everyone who set a New Year’s resolution refused to give up until they reached their goals. Persistence is unbelievably powerful and although it’s not everything, it’s the strongest factor in the actualization of our dreams. If persistence is so critical, how can we improve it?

Persistence is a constant choice, one we must make moment by moment to continue working towards our goals. The more we make this choice, the easier it becomes but before we can begin making the choice to work on our goals we must define our goals. As previously mentioned, not all goals serve us equally and the SMART goal framework helps us set goals that work in our favor.

Assuming we have clearly defined and structured goals, the next step is to identify our source of motivation. A strong understanding of the reasons behind the desire to achieve a goal will give you ammunition in the moment by moment battle of deciding to push forward.
Next, it’s important to remain optimistic. The arch-nemesis of persistence is pessimism. If you’re not convinced you can reach your goals, you’re the motivation necessary to achieve them will quickly disappear. Self-doubt is natural and likely to surface and when it does, optimism and a genuine belief in yourself will be the best weapons to combat it.

Most importantly, we must refuse to allow temporary discomfort to decide the fate of our goals. If we fail to dedicate ourselves to goals properly aligned with our values, it’s impossible to guarantee we’ll dedicate our time and effort towards anything that will provide genuine happiness and fulfilment.

Breaking Things Down

Persistence paired with an ability to break daunting tasks into smaller and manageable tasks creates an unstoppable duo. I wrote about the African proverb that offers wisdom when confronting daunting tasks:

“The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”

By nature, the goals we set for ourselves are challenging in one way or another, otherwise we wouldn’t have to set the goal in the first place. When confronting elephant sized goals, they’re often something we have never attempted or never successfully completed. Our best bet at seeing them through is by breaking them down into small bites.

If you’re anything like me, learning to play the guitar is quite the elephant but at the end of the day, learning a single chord sounds pretty manageable. If we’ve managed to learn one chord, I’d be hard-pressed to find a reason we couldn’t learn another. After learning a couple of chords and a basic strumming pattern, we’ll already be capable of playing some songs!

Perhaps writing a blog post feels like a woolliest of mammoths but anyone can write a single sentence. An entire blog post is just a collection of paragraphs, paragraphs a string of sentences, sentences a string of words.

By segmenting and regularly dedicating time towards your goals (even if it’s just one sentence a day) you’ll eventually reach it. Perhaps the idea of spending 10 years working at this snail pace on the book you’ve been planning seems absurd but as the saying goes, starting is the hardest part. The shock of jumping into a cold swimming pool quickly fades after submerging yourself. Deciding to work now is the first step in building persistence.

Compounding Self-Confidence

As we’ve already discussed, training our persistence muscle not only makes it focusing and consistency easier, it also builds a powerful track record. If we persist long enough we’ll accumulate a stockpile of moments were we overcame adversity. This has a compounding effect, the more we persist the more adversity we must confront which builds our confidence and makes new roadblocks less obstructive.

When working towards our goals feels impossible, the best thing we can do is to remove distractions, put our heads down, and get to work. Even a single Pomodoro is an exercise for your persistence muscle. It’s in these moments when it’s the most difficult to put in 25 minutes of work that provide the largest strengthening opportunities.

What do you think is the best way to build persistence? Have you ever been encouraged in the face of a challenge by reflecting back on times you overcame challenges in the past? Let us know what you think in the comments below!