Persevering

TL;DR

We must persevere to succeed because failure is typical before success.

Failing well requires failing as fast as possible, learning as much as possible from it, and quickly adapting to the lessons.

Stay persistent through all your setbacks.

Keep pushing the limits of both your “soft” and “hard” skills.

Expect failure, and be prepared to recover from it.

When you fail, give yourself time to recover.

Surround yourself with supportive and influential coaches and mentors.

If you keep failing, you likely need to change your strategy.

Celebrate small wins.

Persevering nearly guarantees success.

Why persevere?

Failures might be discouraging, but they are completely normal:
  • Since failures are so frequent, a large portion of our identity comes from how we respond to them.
  • You’re always at odds with various forms of hardship and human error, and there’s never a perfect scenario.

Everything fails when we haven’t committed ourselves to persevere:
  • If you don’t persevere, you’ll crumble under it, and feed into your feelings of failure.
  • If you push through, you’re empowering yourself with hard evidence against all your doubts.

Commit to what you set yourself to doing:
  • Most people tend to change what they want in the middle of doing it, typically when they see the thing is harder than they expected.
  • For that reason, you must have a moral conviction that guides you through all the hard times, or you’ll probably fail like most people.

Fail fast

Failing always gives lessons, but inaction rarely does:
  • Learning from mistakes prepares us for future attempts at anything.
  • Fear of seeing failure frequently prevents us from observing the results of our actions.

The quickest way to learn is to get the quickest feedback possible:
  1. Get advice everywhere, as much as possible.
  2. Finish as fast as possible.
  3. Publish as fast as possible.
  4. Get feedback as much as you can.
  5. Adapt your next attempt to your findings.
  6. Repeat.

Perfectionism will sabotage your results:
  • If you keep imagining the perfect scenario beyond a certain point, you’ll become so anxious you won’t even start.
  • While some perfectionism toward attempting the effort is good (since it gets you going to meet a perfect schedule), perfectionism about your results will destroy any positive motivation from your results.
  • Embrace the messy nature of the tasks and results, and dive in.

Stay persistent

Persistence is another word for faith or resilience:
  • Even when you’re discouraged, always visualize and imagine your desired results.
  • Simply “showing up” every single day, even when you don’t feel like it and even when you do a bad job, is absurdly effective.
    • We tend to overestimate what we can do in the short term, but underestimate long-term consequences.
    • Isaac Asimov wrote 400 books by typing nonstop from 6 a.m. to noon every day for 40 years.
    • Adding 1/10 of a mile to a daily run means running 10 additional miles after 100 days.
    • 1% improvement, compounded every day, becomes 3,778% in 365 days.
  • Take pride in showing up more than anything else.
    • Motivation is great for establishing goals, but terrible for maintaining them compared to self-discipline.
    • Focus more on self-discipline (a product of habits) than on finding motivation (driven by feelings).
  • What you do on your bad days will define your character more than what you do on your good days.
  • Start slow, and add more forcing functions as you build momentum.
  • If it’s something new, try it twice before you give up.

You’ll need discipline to make many calculated attempts:
  • We find persistence through our a healthy attitude, specifically through loving the things that grow us.
  • Learn to find joy in small irritations that grow you.
  • Keep visualizing and imagining what you want.
    • Use your mind to experience precisely what you want in reality.
  • Refocusing can sometimes take as little as five minutes.
  • The race to success is a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Getting it right the first time isn’t possible, but you’re trying to get it perfect by the end.

Foster the four types of resilience:
  • Depending on our personality, we have a tendency to overthink and withdraw from others, which is the absolute worst thing to do when we become discouraged.
  1. Physical resilience (staying productive)
  2. Mental resilience (staying focused and determined)
  3. Emotional resilience (associating three positive feelings with every negative one)
  4. Social resilience (connecting with others when you fail)

Work more to actually finish tasks than start them:
  1. As soon as you start a task, it builds up as an expectation in your mind.
  2. Your expectations increase the longer you persist in a task, so kill perfectionism by getting tasks done early.

Extra effort really isn’t that hard:
  • You’ve already invested the time, money, and energy into something, so going the extra bit is usually not hard.
  • It does, however, require creativity to consider how to apply your extra effort to create the best results.
  • It also often requires bravery to do things nobody else is doing.

You will have to say “no” to progressively more things as your efforts start yielding results:
  • Beyond monetary costs, we frequently have to pay for things with our time, which becomes more scarce proportionally to how much we succeed.
  • Hand off work if all the following apply:
    1. You hate doing those tasks.
    2. The other person doesn’t mind doing it or is superb at it.
    3. You don’t mind becoming awful at those tasks.

Keep pushing the limits of your skills

Every skill goes through a general pattern of development:
  1. Mentally grasping the task as a new experience.
  2. As habits take over, you make fewer large errors and become increasingly efficient.
  3. You’re as good as you need to get and are running on autopilot.

To be truly exceptional, never accept what you do as “good enough” until you feel legitimate physical constraints:
  • Success often requires a borderline psychotic level of stubbornness to push our limits beyond what everyone says is possible.
  • Find ways to break past your limits:
    • Track your standard pacing with a metronome, then bump it up 10-15% until you get used to that new rate.
    • Set new standards for “good enough” that verge as close to “perfect” as possible.

Watch for anything that may be a “rut”:
  • You’re extremely comfortable in your tasks, to the point that nothing is difficult anymore.
  • You’re the most respected or well-known individual in that domain, meaning nobody above you is teaching you.
  • You’re waiting for someone or something else to challenge you, which typically won’t naturally happen.
  • You’ve succeeded, but it’s only in one specific domain and you haven’t explored the domains around it.

Some skills are “hard” and some are “soft”.:
  • “Soft skills” are pattern-based skills that fluctuate based on need (e.g., writing).
  • “Hard skills” are repeatable, precise tasks (e.g., digging).
  • Most talents are a combination of both hard and soft skills.

Focus more on improving your “soft skills”:
  • Add more constraints and adapt your environments to test your limits.
  • Try playing games that expand on what you already know.
  • Try to understand everything without guides or assistance.

Use deliberate practice to become utterly perfect at “hard skills”:
  • Deliberate practice works for anything that’s:
    • Very demanding, mentally or physically
    • Not very fun to do
    • Can be repeated a lot
    • Clearly gives quick feedback about your success or failure
  • The procedure is relatively straightforward:
    1. Practice with a severe focus on your weakest parts of the task.
      • Heavily measure anything that will show where you might be failing.
    2. Obsessively work to fix your most glaring failures.
      • Write down at least 30 mistakes you’ve made in performing your target procedure.
      • Take apart each portion of the task, and focus strictly on the portions that are the most difficult.
      • To catch yourself, watch for the specific quarter-second right after you’ve failed.
      • If you can, have a coach help define the best method to train with.
    3. Stop as soon as you tune out, get distracted, or become bored.
      • The purpose is to stay so focused on the task that you recognize tons of little patterns that will empower you to correct your mistakes.
  • The challenge comes from the fact that we have a hard time developing even better once our habits have made tasks relatively mindless.
    • The best way to continue experiencing challenges is to creatively build new constraints into the situation.

Use the sandwich technique:
  1. Perform the correct action.
  2. Perform the same action incorrectly.
  3. Try the correct action again.
    • This puts a spotlight on the mistakes you make.

Be careful about morally balancing:
  • We start sabotaging our goals when we think about how well we’re doing, and it gets worse the more we succeed.
  • Focus on what you want to accomplish, not how “good” your decisions were.
  • Devote yourself to the new lifestyle you want, not the vices you want to indulge in later.

Expect failure

Failing can often make us irrational and disoriented, especially when we feel shame over it:
  • Failing isn’t a big deal, but permanently giving up is.
  • While feeling shame, never criticize yourself or take on more responsibilities.
  • Often, other domains in life (as well as stress from them) will trigger failures, and it’s a waste of time to dwell on the stress or failures.

Make sure every new failure is a different way you’ve failed:
  • Plan ahead for how you’ll likely fail next time.
  • By failing in different ways, we learn differently each time.
  • If you keep failing in the same way, break your expectations the next time around.
  • Often, resisting an impulsive action for 10 minutes (or giving up after 10 minutes) is all you need to break the cycle.

There are different forms of failure:
  1. Preventable failure — something that could have been legitimately prevented.
    • The current way of doing things is probably wrong.
  2. Complex failure — multiple internal and external things caused the failure.
    • The current way of doing things isn’t necessarily wrong, but it may need improving.
  3. Innovative failure — failing at something new or in a new way.
    • The best form of failure, since it gives the greatest opportunity to learn for future endeavors.

If you keep failing, redefine “success”:
  • When we chronically fail, we tend to set up a lofty ideal that we can’t attain, then beat ourselves up when we don’t reach it.
  • If you fail while knowing ahead of time that you would, it means you were right, and it therefore was not a failure.
  • When you lose against someone far better than you, you still may have performed better than ever before in your life.

Follow a failure action plan:
  1. Maintain your integrity and dignity in the face of defeat.
  2. Let every interested party know of the adverse consequences.
  3. Make immediate plans to fix anything urgent.
  4. Forgive yourself and give yourself a small prize for trying.
  5. Let the emotional trauma run its course.
  6. Make plans again if needed, then start once more.

If you need to, focus on a smaller scope of what you’re doing (e.g., drill on one specific part of the song instead of the entire thing).

Frequently, small failures can create larger-scale issues later.

We process failures through a few possible modes of thought:
  1. Over-identify with the failure (creates perfectionism and sabotages identity and self-worth).
  2. Blame circumstances or others (you won’t learn or grow from it).
  3. Wallow in the experience (generates more shame and undermines self-confidence).
  4. Direct all passions to overcome the obstacle (creates success, but generates obsessive behavior).
  5. Seek opportunities to overcome or grow from it.
  6. Reach out to others to get feedback or support.

Don’t fall into a procrastination vicious cycle:
  1. Postpone the task, for whatever reason.
  2. Feel shame about the task and postpone everything to avoid feeling that shame.
  3. Continue until you’ve legitimately failed a deadline.
  4. Avoid it, and repeat it elsewhere with something else.

All other things being equal, more failures increases statistical chances of succeeding:
  • If there’s a set chance of success, doing something as many times as possible with that same chance will yield the highest likelihood of that success.
  • The only time to ever cut back on attempting something many times is when the sacrifices for all those attempts become greater than you can withstand.

Give yourself time to recover

You must take time off to recover because you usually won’t realize how much you’re harming yourself until it’s too late:
  • We tend to reap the consequences of bad decisions long after we’ve made them.
  • Many addictions come from burnout when we’re trying too hard.
  • We tend to forget that we have limits in some domains (like our mind and feelings) and that we don’t need to keep investing into others (like our bodies and souls).

Watch for boredom:
  • We tend to get bored before burnout.
  • If you’re bored, try to either make the entire experience more fun or take a small break.

Recovery is remembering that you’re human and forgiving yourself:
  • Panicking is perfectly natural, and isn’t quitting unless we listen to our fears.
  • We only think rationally when we’ve reconciled our mistakes.
  • By doubling down on inefficient productivity, we tend to magnify our bad habits.
  • Acknowledge when you failed and accept your limits.
  • Forgive your past self for anything you’re presently reaping.
  • Accept that you will not accomplish everything you set out to achieve.

Devote extra effort to recovering:
  • Focus on having fun and doing things that make you happy.
  • Spend more time in nature, away from a bustling city.
  • Say mantras for beliefs you want to internalize.
  • Dialogue with yourself and others about your feelings.
  • Examine the details of how you failed.
  • When you’re emotionally ready, write out everything you can think of that caused your failure.

Don’t spend too much time recovering:
  • If you rest too long, you’ll become complacent and lose your edge.
  • Rest long enough that you’re 90% recovered, then dive back in and try again.

Most successful people devote a routine period for recovery before they need it:
  • Work to your utmost, then relax the rest of the day.
    • Find hobbies that aren’t exactly related to what you’re doing, such as reading about successful people in unrelated disciplines.
  • Make a monthly and annual review:
    • How you’re doing
    • What went well
    • What could be doing better
    • What you’ve learned
  • Reconsider your core values and whether you’re still living by them.
  • List a few areas, skills, or outcomes where you weren’t that successful.
    • Consider whether you could be getting complacent and not improving.

Skipping recovery yields disastrous results:
  • Oblivious to or ignoring reality or new input
  • Blaming and rationalizing negative consequences
  • Resisting pressures to change
  • Thoughtless behavior like unquestioning beliefs and self-unawareness
  • Reckless and intensified efforts on future attempts
  • Cynicism about any future attempts
  • Dysfunction from prolonged exposure to feeling failure

Take 1 day off every week:
  • Scientific studies have shown that people are 150% more productive when they take a day off every week.
  • By taking a day off from working, we allow ourselves to recharge.

If you can, consider making a 4-day workweek:
  • Taking extra days off gives you the freedom to clear out chores or errands instead of risking them crossing into your day off.
  • Depending on your job, you might be able to cut hours or redistribute them.

As much as possible, spend time thinking about your situation from new angles:
  • Take everything you’ve understood and question it.
  • Look for things you’ve never thought about.
  • Finding happiness is the long-term solution for enduring failures.
  • Watch for small problems that become big ones later.
    • If you think you saw a mouse, you probably did, and there are likely many more.
  • Keep on doing new things not related to your present efforts, since that information is still important in unpredictable ways.

When you haven’t recovered enough, you’ll have bad days:
  • It’s our mind “rebelling” against the standards we’re holding it to.
  • Either change your locale (e.g., go to a coffee shop) or take the rest of the day off.

If you’re creating artistic content, take long and clearly defined breaks:
  • Our creativity is much more susceptible to exhaustion and overwork than simply laboring.

Try to only start new habits near the beginning of the week:
  • We have a tendency to feel like each day, week, month, and year is a “new start”.
  • If you can time the beginning of your habit with a natural cycle (e.g., Monday), it’ll feel more meaningful.

Surround yourself with the right people

You will need to trust people:
  • As a general rule, successful people trust others implicitly at 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.
  • Most people, however, tend to trust around 4 to 6.
  • Learn to advertise your successes and journey.

Constantly seek new coaches and confidants:
  • You will need a new coach for any new thing you want (speaking, writing, humor, parenting, etc.).
  • Your vulnerability revealed by your failures should nurture empathy from others.
  • Generally, it’s much easier (and more effective) to get informal coaching from others than to have a formalized, designated “coach”.

When you fail, you will hear others’ criticisms:
  • They’ll tell you that you need to give up.
  • Many of them may abandon you.
  • Some of them will betray you.

And, once you start succeeding, many critical people will maintain their bad attitude:
  • They’ll feel jealous and spiteful.
  • Some will have a conceited desire to outperform you.
  • A select few will be inspired and encouraged to succeed themselves.

Listen to them if there’s value in what they say, or drop them:
  • Keeping around friends who don’t believe in you is a drain on your resources.
  • Good friends will see your point of view, even when they don’t entirely agree with it.
  • If they’re giving constructive input but still think you’re striving for the right thing, they may be worthwhile even if you’re arguing with them.

Find ways to give to others wherever you can:
  • Invest into others’ successes, even after you’re starting to succeed.
  • Give and teach as much as possible, and others will give back.
  • Make mass connections (“super connecting”) by tapping into central hubs that have many spinoffs.

When you hit something impossible

At times, you may be enduring a period of severe hardship and must give yourself more grace.

We preoccupy ourselves much more with what feels impossible than with what is legitimately impossible:
  • By focusing our efforts, those gigantic issues aren’t anywhere near as gigantic.
  • If you break everything down to its smallest components, everything is simply tedious.
  • Focus on your fears long enough to identify the possible risks, then disregard them and dive back in.

Adopt a “second self” to confidently face your challenges (“the Batman effect”):
  • We frequently attach a false sense of importance to things we need to do, when all we really need to do is show up and do the work.
  • By pushing through with a false persona, you can gain traction in succeeding at an otherwise overwhelming experience.
  • It’s also known as “fake it ’til you make it”, and it does work.

Avoid the mindless activities that can often fill up our day:
  • We will often load our schedules with things we ought to do to prevent scheduling things we must do but don’t want to.
  • Even when it’s something that improves our reputation or public image, we must always give ourselves room to fail.
  • Most of the time, we discover this reality far too late (and can lapse into a type of despairing “midlife crisis” or “end-of-life regret” as a result).

If you need to, do something socially dramatic to maximize your chances:
  • Changing social groups or workplaces has the advantage of starting fresh, which gives you a chance to try again with new associates.
    • Communities filled with odd people are often necessary for successful breakthroughs.
  • If you keep failing to gain influence, rebuild your social network.
  • Consider moving if opportunities are more available elsewhere.
    • Depending on what you do, major metropolitan areas are often hubs for success.
    • By contrast, you might have a better chance in a more secluded region of the world.

If you can’t push through something extremely hard after repeated attempts and from different angles, you’re taking on too much:
  • Find something easier that gives you faster results.
  • Focus on things that give direct feedback.
  • Ask more “why” questions and research more on the answer.
  • Brutally investigate yourself about both your limits and what you can legitimately improve.
  • Take a long break from everything to recuperate.

Before moving on to something else, ask if you’ve really done everything you could:
  • Quitting means you’ve acknowledged that you’ll never be what you wanted to be.
  • Sometimes, you’re very close to success, but don’t see it because you’ve faced so much failure until that point.
  • To make wise decisions, stay focused on the long-term consequences of what you’re doing and rededicate yourself to your tasks.

Celebrate small wins

Reward yourself when you reach small goals:
  • Learn to have fun when you hit minor milestones.
  • Some of the most well-known people in the world are miserable because they can’t reward themselves for small victories.

It’s possible nobody else will celebrate with you, at least at first:
  • If anyone does celebrate your small wins, keep that person as your friend, since they’re worth your time even after you’ve succeeded.

One of the first signs of your success will be various forms of plagiarism:

Persevering nearly guarantees success

If you keep trying over and over again, and keep adapting every time, you will eventually succeed if you stay humble:
  • It’s critical to adapt each time, since doing the same thing becomes mindless practice.
  • Focus more on your improvement each time than getting it “perfect”.
  • Make sure you tell people, since they’ll give you guidance on what to avoid, and it’s not much success unless it affects others.
  • Learn to trust others as you encounter them, since they’ll be the ones who bring out your success.

Your success will rarely look like what you had envisioned, but you will often outperform your greatest expectations:
  • The detour from your original goal will often be your breakthrough moment.
  • At first, you’ll see abysmal returns that nobody will notice, but your results increase exponentially as time progresses.
  • Often, depending on what you’re doing, you’ve officially succeeded when people start paying you to do things you’ve been working on.

Your first “big break” will come when someone wants to take a risk on what you’ve been working on:
  • Don’t be afraid to both give help to others and ask for help.
  • Learn to hold people in high regard and build relationships wherever you go.

Once you’ve succeeded, your greatest challenge is staying successful.

This page is Part 5 of my How to Succeed Series. Part 1 was Defining Success. Part 2 was Attitude Adjustment. Part 3 was Making Realistic Goals. Part 4 was Optimizing Your Routine.