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Weekly 3: The power of persistence

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

January 3 · Issue #172 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: When chasing a goal, sheer persistence can compensate for other deficiencies. This issue explores three perspectives on the power of persistence.
(~4 min read)

#1. Continue where others give up
Author Robert Greene writes in his book The Laws of Human Nature that “almost nothing in the world can resist persistent human energy.”
Things will yield if you strike enough blows with enough force. 
There are countless examples of people who have succeeded this way. 
Think of the chemist and physicist Marie Curie and her painstaking persistence to discover radium. 
Or Albert Einstein. It was over the course of ten years, through continual thought experiments, day and night, exploring every possible solution, that Einstein finally came up with the theory of relativity.
Greene notes that such persistence is natural to us. 
Just observe infants: “you will notice how willful and relentless they are when they want something.” 
We tend to lose this quality as we get older and our self-confidence fades. 
Perhaps you can relate to this: we summon the energy to attack a problem or face some resistance, but in the back of our mind we have doubts.
Are we really up to the task?
This slight diminishment of self-belief then reduces the energy with which we can solve the given problem. This in turn leads to a less effective result, “which raises the volume of the background doubts even more, lessening the effect of our next action.”
And at some point, we admit defeat and give up. But this is almost always too soon: “We surrender inwardly long before we surrender outwardly.”
You can reverse this tendency by filling yourself with enough desire to reach your goal.
As Greene puts it: “The trick is to want something badly enough that nothing will stop you or dull your energy.”
#2. “Failure cannot cope with persistence.”
Motivational author Napoleon Hill writes in his book Think and Grow Rich that those who have cultivated a habit of persistence have “insurance against failure.”
He suggests that you can develop this habit of persistence in four steps: 
1. Have a definite purpose backed by a burning desire for fulfilling that purpose.
2. Create a definite plan that is expressed in continuous action.  
3. Develop a mindset that is closed off to discouraging or negative influences (including negative suggestions of acquaintances, friends, and family).
4. Have a friendly alliance with at least one person who will encourage you to follow through with your purpose and plans.
For Hill, many people fail because they don’t have a definite purpose or plan. It’s difficult to be persistent if you’re not specific about what you want.
He recommends the following test:
Examine the next 100 people you meet and ask them what they want in life. Hill predicts that 98 of them will not be able to tell you. 
If you press them for an answer, some will say security, many will say money, a few will say happiness, others will say fame and fortune and still others will say social recognition, ease of living, and so on. 
Hill estimates that none of them will be able to define these terms, or give an indication of their plan to achieve their vaguely expressed wishes.
But as Hill points out: “Riches do not respond to wishes. They respond only to definite plans, backed by definite desires, through constant persistence.”
#3. Being relentless isn’t enough
Entrepreneur and investor Paul Graham writes in an essay that an effective startup founder is “relentlessly resourceful.”
For Graham, a useful metaphor to visualize this quality is a running back in American football. A good running back will do whatever it takes to get into the end zone, even if it means sometimes going backwards. Determined but flexible.
Being relentless alone isn’t sufficient because in any interesting domain the problems will be novel. 
You can’t just plow through them, because you don’t know initially how hard they are: “you don’t know whether you’re about to plow through a block of foam or granite.”
So you also have to be resourceful. You need to keep trying new things. 
Graham’s suggests that you can use the relentlessly resourceful concept in two practical ways: 
1. If you’re wondering whether you’re the kind of person to start a startup, ask yourself: Are you relentlessly resourceful? You can also use this test for potential co-founders.
2. Beyond individuals, you can use the concept as an overarching guide for the company itself. As Graham puts it: “If I were running a startup, this would be the phrase I’d tape to the mirror. ‘Make something people want’ is the destination, but ‘Be relentlessly resourceful" is how you get there.’“
Quote of the week
“I shall either find a way or make one.”
- Attributed to general and statesman Hannibal
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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