The Psychology of Persistence


persistenceBeing highly persistent is something that can help you make all kinds of amazing things happen. Like the little ant that moved the rubber tree plant, truly remarkable things can happen when you just don’t give up.

But while it would be nice to simply ‘switch on’ being persistent, the truth of the matter is that some people may simply be born more persistent than others – or they may have learned it as a behavior when they were very young. Is it too late to ‘decide’ to be persistent right now?

What is Persistence?

From a psychological perspective, persistence is essentially just a personality trait. In measures of personality designed to try and tell people about themselves, persistence is a common factor that gets measured alongside other things like conscientiousness and extroversion/introversion. It is one of the personality traits measured in the ‘Temperament and Character Inventory’ for instance where it is considered one of four ‘temperament’ traits. Here it is defined as ‘perseverance in spite of fatigue or frustration’.

Whether or not personality can be ‘changed’ over time is a matter that is contentious among psychologists. Some studies suggest that people aren’t likely to change their personality much as time goes by, whereas others show that we change in some predictable ways as we get older. Other theories though describe personality as being entirely fluid and potentially even non-existent and instead entirely reliant on context. Some psychologists believe that you are literally a different person depending on who you’re with at the time. Others describe personality as being an emergent property of the ‘connectome’ which is the neuronal web of beliefs, ideas and memories that grows and changes over time.

There are certainly things you can do to make being persistent easier for yourself. CBT or ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’ can help for instance, as too can simply giving yourself more energy.

Who is Likely to be Persistent?

While it’s uncertain how easily you can ‘train’ yourself to be persistent though, what you certainly can do is to identify the people who are most likely to be persistent and why.

Interestingly for instance, there appears to be a highly heritable element of persistence. That is to say that if your parents are very persistent then you are likely to be as well. This would seem to stand in favor of the idea that persistence can’t be learned.

Persistence has also been shown to correlate with the trait of conscientiousness and to an extent ‘self-transcendence’. If you know someone who’s very conscientious and self-aware, they may well be persistent too…

To your success

Michael W

Michael W


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