If we look throughout the world in every industry, in every culture, there’s one consistent trend among successful individuals, and that trend is the ability to persevere. It’s the ability to stand up and take a step forward when everyone else sits down.
The trait of perseverance doesn’t always come naturally; luckily you can develop it. This also means that you have a choice to persevere or not.
If I think of the times that I have persevered: continuing to apply for my driving test when I had failed 4 times, completing a Masters degree with a more than full time business and a young child demanding my time and attention and the early days of my business when the enquiries weren’t coming in. My common fears were a definite fear of failure and uncertainty about my ability; I had to struggle hard not to succumb to them.
However, the grit to persevere is lacking in many of us. So how do you gain the perseverance that many Leaders have to see failure as a temporary obstacle? Surprisingly, I found that Napoleon Bonaparte had some interesting wisdom on the topic. Below I share and elaborate on his 7 characteristics of persevering leaders:
1. Definiteness of purpose.
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why? Why you do what you do? What keeps you doing it day in and day out? What makes it important to you?
We only persevere when our ‘why’ is strong enough. Friedrich Nietzsche observing those in concentration camps said that ‘He who has a why to live can bear almost anyhow.’ Your ‘why’ serves as a constant motivator to keep you on track and persevering. I completed a half marathon a few years ago and my ‘why’ was the cancer patients who would benefit from the fundraising and my responsibility to those who had contributed their hard-earned funds. This clear purpose meant that I persevered even when the gaping was extremely tough.
You have to really want it, sometimes we don’t want something enough to do the hard work or persevere sufficiently to obtain it. I might want to combat climate change by doing my small part to recycle and drive less, but if my desire isn’t strong enough, it means that I will still jump in the car to get some milk from the corner shop when I am feeling lazy or rushed. Sometimes you only recognize that your desire isn’t that strong when you see others persevering beyond that which you do. A colleague that I work on a programme with won’t get on a plane unless it’s absolutely necessary, even if alternative transportation takes double the time, because she closely monitors her carbon footprint.
You must truly believe that you have the qualities and skills to achieve your preferred outcome, or that you can acquire them. Limiting beliefs will undermine your ability to persevere and absorb some of the energy that you want to use to power towards your goals. For example, if you have an important speech to deliver and you have constant doubts as to whether you can do it, this undermines your confidence and ultimately means that you waste time and energy worrying instead of preparing, or you decide that someone else should step in, or you are crippled with nerves when the time comes. None of these are an ideal outcome, so nurturing your self-belief can support your drive to persevere.
4. Definiteness of plans.
Goal Setting is a key aspect of persevering. If you don’t know where you are going, how can you get there? Even if your plans aren’t perfect, you should have something that you are loosely aiming for, it provides focus and a level of accountability needed to persevere. If your plans are vague and undefined, your levels of perseverance will dwindle.
Your perseverance should be based on a firm foundation of knowledge. After all, why persevere with a business if you haven’t done your market research, understood the sector, created a business plan and worked out if it’s is financially viable? It’s important to get expert advice and support to ensure that your perseverance is well focussed.
In 2011, 27% of Stress America survey respondents reported that lack of willpower was the most significant barrier to change.
According to most psychological scientists, willpower can be defined as:
- The ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.
- The capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling or impulse.
- The ability to employ a “cool” cognitive system of behaviour rather than a “hot” emotional system.
- Conscious, effortful regulation of the self by the self.
Studies have found that those with willpower are ultimately more successful. The well-known marshmallow test gave children a marshmallow and said that if they didn’t eat it they’d get more marshmallows but if they ate the marshmallow straight away, they wouldn’t get any more. Those who exercised will powers were found to achieve better grades and have better careers as they went through life.
Persistence is the direct result of habit. Our mind absorbs what we feed it. If we repeat acts of courage, and then we will overcome our fears. I hate driving across railway level crossings, the more I tell myself that, the more I fear them. However, the more I drive across them safely, the less I worry about them. If I really wanted to full cure myself of this fear, I’d seek out level crossings and cross at least one a day for a month. That habit would help me persevere against my fears.
On a final note, there are of course times when we shouldn’t persevere. We could doggedly consider that we must lose weight even when everyone tells us we are painfully thin, or go bankrupt before we consider that we should have sought help or evolved our business idea, or keep training when we have an injury and we’ve been told to rest and let it heal. This is perseverance gone too far.
Next Steps: Take inventory of yourself, determine what factors of persistence you need to develop and check out the resources below:
VIDEO: TED Talk – Angela Duckworth – The Power of Passion and Perseverance (6 mins)
VIDEO: TED Talk – Carol Dweck – Developing a Growth Mindset (9.37 mins)
EVENT: Happenista Retreats – dates throughout the year. Space and time away from the pressures off everyday life to relax and unwind. And to create a plan that improves your life, that you’ll actually put into action. So the benefits of attending last long after you’re home.
ONLINE: Our Online Professional and Self-Development Programmes, have a secret Facebook accountability group connected with them [10 mins per day]