The Power of Perseverance and 3 Tips for Building It

with guest Joel Marion #MakingBank S4E24

You’ve heard it a million times from entrepreneurs, artists, and athletes alike: in order to succeed, first you have to fail. A lot. In order to become the graceful master, you must first be the foolish beginner.  

We could go on listing aphorisms and axioms – and to be honest, would get a lot of joy out of it – but you probably get the point: failure is not final, it’s just another step on the staircase to success (ok, last one, we promise… probably.) 

In the modern work landscape, this is now more true than ever. There are more people competing for high-paying jobs and companies competing for market share than we have ever seen before. On top of that, customers are becoming savvier and can weed out old marketing tricks with ease. 

If that weren’t enough, thanks to the internet and commerce that moves at light speed, the game is constantly changing. Your reward from learning from your slew of failures before finally reaching success? An outdated knowledge set that’s going to be meaningless in several years or even several months’ time. You need constant hunger to thrive in today’s day and age. 

So how can we develop the all-important trait of grit? Well, guess what: we know almost nothing about it, so too bad. There’s little evidence for what makes one person able to grin and bear it while another person gives up after their first or second rejection, and there’s even less evidence on how to turn that frown upside down. 

So what DO we know about grit? Several studies have shown that grit is a far better determining factor in grades and matriculation of school students than IQ, physical health or appearance. Controlling for wealth, age, and myriad other factors, grit plays a defining role across the entire spectrum everywhere from the Ivy League to military schools. Even if you compare between good and bad schools, grit is more important than IQ for determining who will turn out ‘better educated.’ 

Luckily, just knowing this can make us grittier. Find the books, read the studies, watch the Ted Talks. The more you know about grit, the more motivation you have. When we know that grit, in and of itself, is powerful enough to allow us to overcome the disadvantages we have in other areas, we have added motivation to keep going and keep failing until we finally figure out what works. 

While it’s not an exact science, the anecdotal evidence from some of the most successful people does turn up a few running themes that seem to make sense. 

1. Start Small 

What’s the toughest thing any of us know we should do, but usually fall short? Call your mom once a week, you narcissist. Pick a time, call her up, and tell her you love her. Talk about nothing for 45 minutes, as she’ll inevitably want to do. What could require more grit than that? 

Commit to raking your lawn every Saturday morning. Now you’re not just proving to yourself and your mom that you’re gritty, even the neighbors are starting to catch on. 

All jokes aside, small wins like this can help us build momentum in a hurry. Committing yourself to doing tasks that you may not want to but are also very simple, and then actually doing them can have a big impact on your self-image. Start to see yourself as gritty, and all of a sudden you might find yourself becoming much more gritty in areas with real significance. 

2. Remember Past Triumphs 

Another particularly useful trick for overcoming that dreaded feeling in the pit of your stomach at the thought of your next task, the one that’s dreaming of a Netflix binge and chicken wings, is to remember past times you have gone through something you didn’t particularly enjoy, and how you felt afterwards. 

Have you ever felt annoyed after completing a task? Doubtful. When we go through things we find difficult, no matter how annoying they may be, when we come out of them we are usually happy that we have done so, if for no other reason than we feel relieved to finally be finished and proud of ourselves for having persevered. 

You will almost never look back on your work once it’s done and see it as a negative, and usually those feelings you had of how laborious it was will fade away and be gone from your memory within hours or even minutes. The post-work afterglow is real and remembering those moments can help you push through. 

Set yourself a reward for when you finish. Splurge on an item, have pizza night with a friend, take the next 2 hours off to enjoy your day, or whatever else it may be you feel like doing. Soak up that feeling of pride for having gotten your work done; let it invigorate and inspire you. The more you build up this feeling, the more you will see hurdles in a positive light and build the mental muscle memory necessary to help carry you through next time. 

3. Get Zen With It 

Meditation can help you maintain perspective on the big picture, keep you calm, and give you the vigor to continue attacking your goals. Meditation, yoga, and other mindful practices can help you to start seeing your thoughts and feelings as something to consider but not the end-all-be-all that has to dictate your mood. Feeling exhausted? Inner voice telling you to quit? If you’re meditating daily, you are going to have a much easier time quelling this rebellion. 

Mindfulness practitioners have a much easier time remembering that their states are temporary. This takes the sting out of negative feelings, helps us persevere, and lets us really soak the positive times up as well. 

Building perseverance can help you in your career beyond almost any other trait. The ability to keep on laboring through will set you apart from your peers and make you stand out. So strap in, get determined, and remember… call your mom! 

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