In A Better You

What Does Perseverance Mean?

When talking about success, it is often said that the difference between failure and success is perseverance. There are countless stories of people who have simply not given up on their goal, refused to let their dream die or even had faith in another person, despite the odds not being in their favor or the lack of signs that success is on the horizon.

Why is this? Why do some people find it within themselves to keep going, to keep at it without reward or with no clear end?

Many times the moral of these stories is that in the end, the person succeeded. You know the saying—when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Often, those that persevere do reap the rewards and benefits from their efforts. Often, perseverance is the only way to achieve something, even if it is difficult.

If you think that perseverance is something you’d like to have a little bit more of in your life, ask yourself, what is perseverance? How do I cultivate it in my life?

What is the Definition of Perseverance?

If we look up the perseverance definition in the dictionary it tells us that it refers to someone that has the quality that allows them to continue trying to do something even though it is difficult. This can mean many things including something that is physically painful, emotionally painful, financial difficult or seemingly just impossible.

When we define perseverance in real life it can mean many things, from something as small as finishing that home project instead of abandoning it when you get bored, to continuing to pound the pavement for a job despite rejection after rejection. For those who persevere, setbacks do not set them back for long. Others often think they are foolish but those who persevere usually find a way to go around their obstacles or, better yet, turn them into a tool for moving forward.

Examples of Perseverance

Perseverance has, at its foundation, belief. Those that are able to persevere have a deep-rooted belief that they will succeed and very little gets in their way that can stop them. The familiar saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” is rooted in perseverance.

The world is full of examples of those who have persevered and attained their goals and reached their dreams. Perseverance is not limited to any social class, race or gender. And the best news is that perseverance can be learned. By reading about people who have succeeded through persevering you can become inspired to practice it in your own life.

Choose as your role models, those who have persevered in similar endeavors to yours. Find out what they did, how they did it and adopt some of these ideas into your own life.

For instance, J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, is a common modern-day example of perseverance. She was at the end of her rope, suffering the death of her mother, with no money to live on and a daughter to raise, and having been through a divorce, yet she persevered. She wrote her manuscript in her tiny apartment and submitted it only to receive many rejections. But, she finally got a yes. What if she had never written the Harry Potter books because she felt her life was too hard? What if she had given up after she had received the first rejections? Regardless of the billions that the Harry Potter brand is now worth, J.K. Rowling would have missed out on the satisfaction of persevering and prevailing, which she has likely done beyond her wildest dreams.

There are many stories like J.K. Rowling’s. Steve Jobs overcame obstacles in the middle of his career. After being fired from Apple, the company he founded and grew to major success and profitability, he went on to regroup, create more successful companies and eventually once again man the helm of his beloved Apple. He was able to bring the company back to the top of its game. What if he had given up and retired when he was fired? Would there be no iPhone today?

What if Thomas Edison had given up when his teachers told him he was stupid? Would there be no light bulb? What if Columbus never challenged the belief that the world was flat and he would fall of the edge if he went too far from home?

Sometimes failures, the beliefs of others and seemingly bad turns of events can derail us in our forward progress and keep us from succeeding. These examples all show that sometimes digging deep, taking a new perspective and persevering despite the odds can lead to greatness.

Another real-world example of this is the placebo effect. Patients in drug trials sometimes improve, even if given the placebo and not the real drug. Why is this? Some say it is belief. Though hard to prove, it is also hard to discount the role of belief in enabling a sick person to persevere through their illness. It seems that the odds of persevering through your recovering can be increased just by believing that you will.

Perhaps this is due to the dopamine effect. Dopamine is the feel good chemical that is released whenever we have success and can keep us motivated to persevere. Placebos have been shown to create a spike in dopamine in some patients. This, it is thought, is due to the belief that they are being treated by the drug. The dopamine that is released is overall good for their system and by improving their mood and the stress on their body, perhaps making it easier to fight the disease. This is something to think about!

Perseverance and Achievement

Those who persevere also have a passion for their goals. They are able to push themselves beyond the barriers that many others simply turn away from. They are also able to self-regulate or they have strong self-discipline that allows them to stay on track. In fact in one study, it was found that there is a direct correlation between self-discipline and achievement. This correlation was found to be twice as large as the correlation between IQ and achievement (Duckworth et al. 2006).

This is data that is not talked about as often as getting good grades and performing well on assessments. Grit, determination, self-discipline added to perseverance is a winning combination in most cases.

How To Cultivate Perseverance

Today, one of the major barriers to achieving goals is the inability to stick with it. Many people today want instant results and satisfaction. If they don’t get it, they move on to the next thing.

To cultivate perseverance it is sometimes necessary to slow the progress to your goals down a bit. Taking the goal in small chunks and enjoying the rewards of meeting each smaller piece can eventually lead to the success you want.

A good analogy is chopping down a tree. If you want to chop down a large tree, you may not be able to do it in one go with just your small axe. You may get frustrated, tired or angry and just walk away and forget the whole project.

But, what if you changed your perspective. What if you didn’t have to chop the tree down all at once, today? What if you took a few swings at the tree every day? Guess what. The tree would eventually come down and you will have reached your goal.


Most people who are successful in attaining their goals and achieving success will be the first to tell you that they also went through hard times and obstacles to get there. The truth is that there are very few people who have achieved their version of greatness, who have not persevered when the going got tough.

When we ask ourselves what is the meaning of perseverance in our life, we will have an individual answer. Thinking about the problems you are facing and finding ways to persevere, even if times seem hopeless, is a step in the right direction. If you really want that new car or that particular job or to live a certain lifestyle, giving up at the first obstacle will never get you there. But, breaking it down and proceeding step-by-step will give you much better odds of getting there.

We don’t have control over other people so persevering when it comes to changing someone else or having someone else see your way is never a good idea. But, persevering to improve yourself, change your life, or attain a goal can be well worth the time you put in to gathering the strength and energy to persevere.

So, if you are at the end of your rope, if you are looking for answers, if you are ready to give up and try something else, it might be time to look inside and ask yourself a question.

What does the word perseverance mean to you?

Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews & Kelly (2006). Grit, perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-101.

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