Perseverance Predicts Success, But What Predicts Perseverance?


Articles / Achievement

By Ramon David

Perseverance, the ability to continue moving forward despite challenge and adversity, is critical to success in business and life.

Without it, projects are delayed, tasks go incomplete, goals are never met, and feelings of defeat can surface.

With it, we are able to march on! Even as we encounter the inevitable setbacks, the fire within is kept alive, prompting us to push a little harder, keep at it a little longer, for the view from the top of the mountain is glorious!

Perseverance is a trait of the successful!

Decades of research reveals that perseverance predicts success, in everything from business to athletic and academic pursuits. It is a necessity for those who want to achieve greatness AND... it is a skill that can be developed!

But like many “success traits” that can be cultivated, we need to look beneath the surface to better understand how to develop perseverance. For if it were so simple and straight-forward business and goal achievement "failure" rates would be low or non-existent. Alas, they are not.

In my post-grad applied neuroscience research study I looked at the impact of emotions on grit: passion and perseverance for long term goals. Specifically, with coaches building their business.

We all encounter obstacles and challenges as we build our business, and we all experience certain emotions as a result. But what impact does emotion have, specifically on our ability to persevere towards achieving business goals?

One of the findings revealed that the more the individuals in the study experienced "negative" or “unwanted” emotions when faced with challenges, the less they persevered towards goals. In contrast, the more they experienced "positive" emotions, the more they persevered.

And that makes sense intuitively, right?

For example, you encounter an obstacle or challenge whilst pursuing your goal, and feelings of frustration emerge. You try a different approach, frustration turns to anger. Anger prevents you from being able to problem-solve effectively and make good-quality decisions. You get angry at the problem, angry at yourself because you can’t solve the problem, and then over time the frustration or anger becomes too much.

Maybe it’s because you’ve been working hard to lose weight and no matter what you do your weight stays the same. Maybe you’ve been trying to gain new clients for your business, and you never seem to get to the next level.

When you stop attempting to address the problem, the feelings subside. The simple solution, if you don’t want the frustration or anger, is to not pursue the goal any further. Is it any wonder we have such a high “failure rate” with goal achievement? Who would want to feel like that when pursuing a goal probably expected to be enjoyable.

When I divided the coaches building their businesses into groups, specifically those with an “acceptance” style of emotional processing and those with an “avoidance” style of processing, something very interesting emerged.

An acceptance style is defined as a willingness to remain in contact with “negative” or “unwanted” experiences, such as emotions, thoughts, memories. An avoidance style reflects an unwillingness.

These styles represent the different types of habitual emotion regulation strategies that we use, and we know from neuroscience that different emotion regulation strategies recruit different neural networks in the brain.

For individuals who adopted an avoidance style of processing, the more they experienced negative or unwanted emotions, the less they persevered towards their goals.

In contrast, those with an acceptance style were unaffected by an increase in negative or unwanted emotions. In other words, these individuals’ ability to persevere when faced with challenges is unaffected by the amount of negative emotion they experienced:

What’s also interesting is that those individuals with an acceptance style, generally, experienced less negative emotion when they encountered challenges. It may just be that adopting an attitude of acceptance actually results in experiencing unwanted emotions less.

And just like perseverance is not a fixed trait, neither is the emotional processing style that directly impacts our level of perseverance.

Now there are many ways in which to adopt more of an acceptance style of emotional processing, and develop our ability to persevere when faced with obstacles as we pursue goals, which we’ll cover in future articles and podcast episodes.

However, the first step is to recognize, and accept, that in business and life we’ll always encounter challenges. We may not always like them, but we can always choose how we show up to meet them!

For success strategies subscribe to my new podcast, where I’ll be sharing more research-backed tips and training.

Be Great!
- Ramon

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