The Perseverance Game

In a study, people with high resilience scored 96% on a measure of perseverance. How to keep persisting.

Published: Sep 23, 2019

After years of doing web design for a large company, Alex's dream was to open up his own shop to design websites for small local businesses. So he quit his job, created an LLC, and took on his first client. But he soon realized that business ownership wasn't what he'd envisioned: he spent more time marketing than designing, and his first client never paid up after he delivered the work.

There were many days when Alex wanted to quit and go back to his reliable paycheck-a reality that most people succumb to. After all, 92% of people who set a goal never achieve it, according to research from the University of Scranton. That's because persevering is hard, no matter how badly you want something. And as our attention spans continue to get shorter, thanks to a culture of instant gratification, some career pros say the art of persisting is dwindling. "Individuals can do what magazines and commercials do-augment photos so that everything looks perfect," says Val Olson, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach. "We now compare our reality to the virtual reality of other people's work and life."

Our minds need time to process and to sit with uncomfortable feelings, which is why career experts say a key point to perseverance is allowing yourself to feel glum.

But as any successful person can tell you, there are no hacks, shortcuts, or free two-day shipping when it comes to your goals. Not many people are willing to do something for the long haul, so perseverance is a rare skill-but one worth developing if you want to achieve success of any kind. On a study of resilience, those with high resilience scored 96% on a measure of perseverance, while those with low resilience scored 49% on the perseverance scale. Here's how to push through inevitable setbacks and become a more resilient person as a result.

"Tend and befriend" your challenges.

Fight or flight isn't the only stress response that's available to us. When you come up against failure, rejection, or another roadblock, acknowledge the anger and anxiety-as much as you may want to push those feelings away. "Consider feelings of frustration as a useful bit of feedback to yourself that something matters to you," says Karen Huang, director of search assessment at Korn Ferry. That's because failure can be there to teach us something: maybe your idea wasn't right for the audience. That doesn't mean it's a bad idea. Get curious about what isn't working; the more you get to know your failures, the better you'll get at figuring out how to move forward.

It's OK to not be OK.

So much of the messaging about bouncing back these days involves getting over things quickly. But our minds need time to process and to sit with uncomfortable feelings, which is why career experts say a key point to perseverance is allowing yourself to feel glum. The trick, of course, is to work past the obstacle once you've had time to sort through your emotions. But ignoring them or pushing past them too quickly will thwart your efforts to persevere.

Brainstorm alternative routes when the going gets tough.

The raise you deserve isn't coming for the second year in a row, or learning that new coding language is way more complicated than you bargained for. How do you know when to throw in the towel or to keep going? "Persistence and realism sometimes have to be used in tandem," says Josh Daniel, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. "If the steps you've been trying are consistently failing to pay off, or if something outside your control is preventing you from the goal, it may be time to transition that energy toward an alternative." So if the raise is nowhere in sight, maybe it's time to look for a company that will see your value. If teaching yourself to code is too hard, consider enrolling in a boot camp. Neither of these are giving up, per se; instead it's being smart about where to persist and how you can get to your end goal through a number of routes.

Experiment with the concept of start control and stop control.

One way to help you understand where you are getting stuck is to analyze which tasks you avoid and which ones you binge on; what do you have a hard time starting? What do you have a hard time stopping? Pick one thing at work and track your progress for a week.

This process, known as start control and stop control, comes from the idea that we're wired much like a motor to perform based on predetermined factors. So tracking what those factors are can help you set goals once you understand your wiring. The exercise can help you see what you're more likely to persevere at-something you're passionate about-and also what you're avoiding by assessing what you have a hard time stopping, such as scrolling through Instagram cats as a distraction from the real work that needs to get done.

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