On Persistence

There is a quote from one-time president Calvin Coolidge that I try to live my life by. The quote goes:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

In life we face many challenges (this is nothing new). But the most significant challenge of any of them is typically not allowing those challenges to overcome you or provide you with an excuse to give up.

It’s easy to blame circumstances for our failures. And very occasionally it may be that our situation is truly insurmountable. But much, much more common is failure due to inaction or ineffectiveness caused by our own mental pessimism. Humans are capable of amazing feats. You don’t need to be a genius or have huge wells of innate talent to accomplish great things — but the chances are you are in fact smarter and more talented than you realize, than you allow yourself to be. It’s so much easier to convince yourself that you’re incapable of something, because then you don’t need to put in the effort. Why bother with the impossible? But you don’t know it’s impossible until you give it your 100% best shot. That’s a lot of work for an outcome that is far from guaranteed. But the results are worth it. As the saying goes, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

In a 1979 study, psychologist Ellen Langer had eight men, all in their 70s, spend a week living as though it was 1959 — when they were twenty years younger. By the end of the week, the men were acting, feeling, and thinking younger. They came in relying on canes, and left carrying their own suitcases and playing football[1].

Some doubts remain about the implications of the study, but one thing is clear: self-perception plays a huge role in our lives. What we believe about ourselves effects what we do and how we do it, and in turn impacts how others perceive us as well.

Certainly there are limits — you can’t really turn back time, at least at the moment — but a thoughtful awareness of oneself and an open mind towards one’s own abilities can work wonders.

You’ve only got one life to live (presumably), so why not go for broke? Give it all you’ve got, and don’t give up.

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