The Journey Within: The Psychology of Persistence

Like the little ant that moved the rubber tree, truly remarkable things can happen when you just don’t give up. While it would be nice to simply switch on persistence, 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 behaviour when they were very young.

Is it too late to be persistent right now?

What is Persistence?
From a psychological perspective, persistence is essentially just a personality trait. In personality analyses designed to inform people about themselves, persistence is one factor that gets measured along with others such as conscientiousness and extroversion/introversion. For instance, it’s measured in the “Temperament and Character Inventory,” where it’s considered one of four “temperament” traits and defined as “perseverance in spite of fatigue or frustration’”

Positive WomanWhether or not personality can be changed over time is a contentious matter among psychologists. Some studies suggest people aren’t likely to change their personality much as time goes by, whereas others indicate we change in some predictable ways as we age. Other theories describe personality as being entirely fluid and potentially even non-existent and entirely reliant on context. Some psychologists believe you’re literally a different person depending on who you’re interacting with at any given moment. 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.

Certainly, there are things you can do to make being persistent easier for yourself. “Cognitive behavioral therapy” can help, for instance, as can simply giving yourself more energy through exercise, diet, rest, etc.

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

Interestingly, there appears to be a highly heritable element to persistence. If your parents are very persistent, then you’re likely to be as well. This would seem to stand in favour 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.

The Journey Within: The Psychology of Persistence
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