Woman throwing dice

In self-help literature, everyone constantly advises us to be as persistent as possible and never give up. The idea behind this strategy is that if you don’t give up on your dreams, you’ll keep creating new opportunities to succeed. Give up at the first sight of trouble though and you’ll never know if you could have achieved success if you just had held on a little longer. It’s all about statistics; the more you try, the more likely you are to succeed.

It all sounds very nice and, for the most part, there’s a lot of truth in it. That said though, you also need to be aware that it’s not always that straightforward.

The problem is what’s known as “gambler’s fallacy,” a “cognitive bias” that causes us to misinterpret statistics. On the odd occasion where persistence isn’t a benefit, this fallacy can lead us to believe that it is anyway.

What is Gambler’s Fallacy?
A cognitive bias is a flaw in our thinking. It’s any way in which we, as humans, are consistently illogical. An example is our “confirmation bias,” which essentially causes us to seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs over information that could potentially contradict it.

Confirmation bias is not one that is particularly useful here. but “gambler’s fallacy” can greatly affect our ability to determine whether we should continue trying the same thing.

That’s because gambler’s fallacy is a fallacy about odds. It’s the belief that the attempts we made before will necessarily affect the next results we have.

For Instance…
If you have thrown heads 20 times in a row, then the gambler’s fallacy might tell you that the next time you flip a coin it must be tails. This is why gamblers often keep on playing even after a string of losses.

The reality though is that the chances of throwing tails is 50% every time. In other words, you’re no more likely to win even though you have made plenty of attempts.

So, while persistence often pays off, these examples demonstrate it doesn’t always. If what you’re persistent about is entirely based on luck and there’s the chance of a negative outcome each time you try, then you’re better advised to not keep trying.

Signs That Persistence Isn’t Working
So how can you tell a situation won’t benefit from persistence? Of course, each scenario is unique, but some warning signs include:

  • Persistence is actually costing you or putting you at risk – such as in the case of gambling or investing lots of money.
  • Persistence is negatively affecting someone else.
  • Persistence is a result of stubbornness, rather than optimism (a thin line but there definitely is one).

Ultimately, you have to assess whether it’s worth giving up or trying again. The main point to keep in mind is that often you don’t have to give up entirely. Just somewhat change your tactics. Perhaps gambling isn’t for you however that’s not to say you can’t look into other activities to earn some additional money (like setting up a side business). And maybe your current business plans aren’t paying off but starting over again might be just the tonic you need.

It’s a tricky lesson however, try to recognize the difference between persistence and banging your head against a wall…

Intuitive WomanThe Body Never Lies
It’s always important to check in with your body intuition in order to stay on track. Here is an exercise you can do to determine if you’ve fallen into the “gambler’s fallacy” trap.

Think about what you’re doing and state your intention and goal(s) out loud. How does it make you feel in your gut? Write down any emotions, visuals, colours or words that come to mind.

Repeat your intention and goal(s) out loud. How does it make you feel in your heart? Again, write down what you sense.

Repeat again and check to see how it makes you feel in your legs? Do you want to run towards it or away from it? Write any sensations down.

Repeat again and touch base with your body overall. Document any messages your body is sending you.

Review the feedback your body has given you and examine what you’re doing with this newfound information. Now, you should have a good indication as to whether you’re on the right track or not.

The Journey Within: A Warning for the Persistent
Skip to content