“I quit high school,” a woman said to me, someone I barely knew. “I don’t have the willpower.”
Who’s she kidding, I thought. She was well-spoken, mature, and talented. I saw her potential more clearly than she did.
“If I can get a degree, you certainly can,” I told her. I was partway through an undergraduate degree at the time.
She began bickering with me, coming up with excuses. I smiled back, telling her that her only limitation was her false belief. I shared with her study tricks to succeed like setting a timer for 30-minute study sessions followed by fifteen-minute breaks throughout each day. I grabbed her hand and held it. She pulled her hand away and cried out in pain.
She’d have none of it.
When I told her I wanted to get a PhD, she sputtered, “You?!” She agreed that if someone like me could get a degree, she could get her high school diploma. She didn’t have high hopes for me. So I made a deal with her.
Namely, if I could get a Master’s degree, she would not just get her high school, but an undergrad degree, too. And if I got a PhD, she’d get her Master’s. We shook hands as she howled in disbelief.
I got the Master’s, although not a PhD.
At some point, we all tend to think of quitting school. Yet, some of us refuse to quit. That’s persistence. We can all learn the art of persistence, even if we convince ourselves we don’t have will power.
You have something greater than will power—namely, free will. Use your free will to become the person you’ve dreamed of being. Aim high as you have no limits.
Here’s what it takes to become persistent, according to Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi, co-authors of Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes:
“Having an end goal in mind” (Ackerman & Puglisi, 63%). My end goal during the math program went from becoming a PhD to winning a Nobel prize. I also vowed to win the Silver Medallion for math. Consider making your end goal lofty, too. Big dreams make for exciting journeys. And having a goal in mind triggers a part of the brain called the Reticular Activating System. The RAS helps us to focus on the goal. And the more focused we are on the goal, the more opportunities appear to help us achieve that goal—opportunities we would’ve otherwise missed.
“Learning from past mistakes” (Ackerman & Puglisi, 63%). We can always justify our actions, however bad the deed. But justifying our mistakes keeps us in a dark place. It’s more freeing to learn from a mistake. To do so, avoid pointing out what others could have done better. Focus on your own growth instead. Learning from your mistakes frees your spirit more than finger-pointing ever could.
“Avoiding people or events that could impede one’s progress” (Ackerman & Puglisi, 64%). I dreamed of getting a PhD, but I was a social misfit in the math department. I asked a loved one for support. But he said, “Let go of your lofty goals.” So, I changed my degree program. And I always look back with regret. But we have free will. We can choose to avoid or, at least, not listen to naysayers, no matter how difficult our circumstances. That’s how we develop persistence. And anyone can develop persistence. You can be anything you desire—with free will.
Stopping negative self-talk. “You’ve got to take extreme measures to stop and constantly identify your own negative self-talk and what it’s saying to you to slow you down. More importantly, you’ve got to stop it. This is where we’ve got to be extremely aware of our thoughts and this is a must” (Coxe, 41%). We can only speak one word at a time; similarly, we can only consciously think one thought at a time. So, delete any thought that doesn’t serve your higher power, your family, or your goal. Replace it with an uplifting thought. If I ever dwell on a negative thought of some wrong done to me, I simply forgive, dwell on the good traits of the wrongdoer, and move onto the goal-focused thought. Problem solved. Goal-focused thoughts coupled with forgiveness feel so much kinder on yourself.
“Giving up former hobbies and interests; cutting back on other commitments” (Ackerman & Puglisi, 63%). I had a million extracurricular activities during grad school. And I failed to get accepted into a PhD program. I’ve since learned that persistent people give up distractions to zero in on the goal.
“Never giving up, even in the face of seeming impossibility” (Ackerman & Puglisi, 63%). I did well academically, and I succeeded in my first career. But after a long stint with extreme anxiety, I fell behind in needed career skills. But I kept squirreling away, learning the skills I needed, thinking, “They’re laughing now, but just wait. Someday, I’ll be the one laughing” (Ackerman & Puglisi, 64%). That’s a comment you’d hear from a persistent person (Ackerman & Puglisi, 64%). Go ahead, and say it when faced with your own roadblocks. That comment can goad you up the path of success.
As for the lady who dropped out of high school, who says she has no will-power, but who has all the talent to achieve miracles—and she might be you–I’m waiting to collect my bet.