The Importance of Endurance and Perseverance to Your Health, Work and Life
Have you ever wondered what makes a person a good athlete? Or a good leader? Or a good parent? Why do some people achieve their goals while others fail? What is the difference? Moral stability.
This post originally appeared on James Clear’s blog.
We usually answer these questions by talking about the talents of the best performers. He must be the smartest scientist in the laboratory. She is the fastest on the team. He is a brilliant business strategist. But I think we all know there is more to this story.
In fact, when you start to delve into this, your talent and your intellect no longer play as much of a role as you might think. What is more influential than talent or intelligence? This is “psychological resilience.”
Research is beginning to show that your mental toughness – or “toughness” as they call it – plays a more important role than anything else in achieving your health, business, and life goals. This is good news because there is little you can do with the genes you were born with, but there is a lot you can do to develop mental toughness.
Why is psychological resilience so important? And how can you develop it more? Let’s talk about it now.
Mental Resilience and the U.S. Army
Each year, approximately 1,300 cadets join an admission class at the United States Military Academy at West Point. During their first summer on campus, cadets must pass a series of rigorous tests. This summer initiation program is known internally as the “Animal Barracks”.
According to researchers studying West Point cadets, “The Beast Barracks are deliberately designed to test the very limits of the cadets’ physical, emotional and mental abilities.”
You can imagine that the cadets who successfully complete the Beast Barracks are larger, stronger, or smarter than their peers. But Angela Duckworth , a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, discovered something different when she began tracking the cadets.
Duckworth studies achievement and, in particular, how your mental toughness, persistence, and passion affect your ability to achieve goals. At West Point, she tracked a total of 2,441 cadets from two incoming classes. She recorded their high school rankings, SAT scores, a leadership potential score (which reflects participation in extracurricular activities), a physical aptitude test (a standardized assessment of exercise), and a resilience scale (which measures persistence and commitment to achieving long-term goals).
Here’s what she found out: Neither strength, nor intelligence, nor leadership potential accurately predicted whether the cadet would graduate from the Beast Barracks. Instead, persistence was critical – persistence and passion for achieving long-term goals.
In fact, cadets who were one standard deviation higher on the endurance scale were 60% more likely to finish the beast barracks than their peers. It was mental endurance, not talent, intelligence, or genetics, that predicted a cadet’s success.
When is mental resilience useful?
Duckworth’s research has shown the importance of mental toughness in a wide variety of areas. In addition to exploring West Point, she found that:
- Ivy League undergraduate students who had more tenacity also had a higher GPA than their peers, even though they had lower SAT scores and weren’t as smart.
- When comparing two people of the same age, but with different levels of education, endurance (rather than intelligence) more accurately predicts which of them will be better educated.
- National Spelling Bee contestants outperform their peers not because of IQ, but because of their tenacity and commitment to more consistent practice.
And it’s not just education where mental toughness and resilience are helpful. Duckworth and her colleagues heard similar stories when they began interviewing top performers in all areas :
Our hypothesis that toughness is necessary to achieve great results was formulated in interviews with professionals in the field of investment banking, painting, journalism, academia, medicine and law. When asked what quality distinguishes celebrity performers in their respective fields, these people cited endurance or a close synonym as often as talent. In fact, many were in awe of the accomplishments of peers who at first seemed less gifted than others, but whose steadfast commitment to their ambitions was exceptional. Likewise, many noted with surprise that incredibly gifted colleagues did not make it to the top echelons of their field.
You can read the entire study here , but the gist is this:
In all walks of life – from education to work to health – it is your resilience, mental toughness and perseverance that predicts your level of success more than any other factor we can find. In other words, talent is overrated.
What makes a person psychologically resistant?
It’s nice to talk about mental toughness, tenacity and perseverance, but how do these things actually look in the real world? In short, the strength and graininess are of equal consistency.
Psychologically tough athletes are more consistent than others. They don’t skip workouts . They don’t miss assignments. They always have their teammates.
Mentally tough leaders are more consistent than their peers. They have a clear goal that they work towards every day. They don’t let short-term profits, negative feedback, or busy schedules stop them from continuing to move towards their vision. They have a habit of strengthening the people around them – not once, but over and over again.
Mentally tough artists, writers, and employees perform more consistently than most others. They work on a schedule, not just when they are motivated. They approach their work as professionals and not as amateurs. They do the most important things first and do not shy away from responsibility.
The good news is that resilience and perseverance can be your defining qualities, regardless of the talent you were born with. You can become more consistent. You can develop superhuman levels of mental toughness.
How? In my experience, these three strategies work well in the real world:
1. Determine what mental toughness means to you.
For West Point Army cadets, being mentally tough meant ending up all summer at the Beast Barracks. For you it could be …
- One month without skipping a workout
- Avoid processed or packaged foods for a week
- Completing work ahead of schedule two days in a row
- Meditating every morning this week
- Do one extra rep on each set in the gym today.
- Calling a friend to catch up every Saturday this month
- Spend one hour every night this week on something creative.
Be that as it may, be clear about what you need. Mental resilience is an abstract quality, but in the real world it is tied to concrete actions. You cannot magically come up with your own way to become psychologically resistant, you prove it to yourself by doing something in real life.
This brings me to the second point.
2. Mental resilience is built on small victories.
We so often think that resilience is related to how we respond to extreme situations. How did you perform in the championship match? Can you maintain the integrity of your life by mourning the death of a family member? Have you bounced back after your business went bankrupt? There is no doubt that extreme situations test our courage, perseverance and psychological resilience, but what about our everyday circumstances?
Mental fortitude is like muscle. We need to work to grow and develop. Unless you’ve pushed yourself in a thousand small ways, surely you will give up when things get really hard. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Do the tenth rep when it would be easier to just do nine. Choose to craft when it’s easier to consume them. Ask a follow-up question when it is easier to accept. Prove to yourself in a thousand tiny ways that you have the courage to step into the ring and fight life.
Mental resilience is achieved through small victories. It is an individual choice that we make on a daily basis that strengthens our “muscle strength”. We all need mental strength, but you can’t figure out your way to it. Your physical actions prove your mental toughness.
3. Mental resilience is your habits, not motivation.
Motivation is fickle. Willpower comes and goes.
Mental resilience is not about getting an incredible dose of inspiration or courage. It’s about developing daily habits that will allow you to stick to a schedule and overcome difficulties and distractions over and over again.
Mentally tough people don’t have to be bolder, talented, or smarter – just more consistent. Mentally tough people develop systems that help them focus on the things that matter, no matter how many obstacles life puts them in front of them. It is their habits that form the basis of their mental beliefs and ultimately divide them.
I’ve written about this many times already. Here are the basic steps for forming a new habit, and links to more information on how to complete each step.
- Start by creating your identity .
- Focus on minor behaviors rather than life-changing transformations .
- Develop a daily routine that will keep you moving forward no matter how motivated you are .
- Stick to a schedule and forget about the results .
- If you’re wrong, get back on track as soon as possible .
Mental resilience comes down to your habits. It’s about doing what you know you should be doing on a more consistent basis. It’s about your commitment to daily practice and your ability to stick to a schedule.
Our mission as a community is clear: we strive to lead a healthy lifestyle and change the world for the better. To this end, I feel it is my responsibility to provide you with the best information, ideas and strategies for living healthier, happier, and more impactful lives and work. But no matter what strategies we are discussing, no matter what goals we set for ourselves, no matter what vision we have for ourselves and the people around us, none of this can become a reality without psychological fortitude, perseverance and perseverance.
When things get difficult for most people, it’s easier for them to work. When mentally tough people find it difficult, they find a way to stick to a schedule. There will always be extreme moments that will require incredible courage, resilience, and resilience, but for 95% of life’s circumstances, resilience just boils down to being more consistent than most people.