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What is Perseverance?

Perseverance Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Perseverance. Merriam-Webster.com dictionary.
is defined as a “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition”. Perseverance marks the difference between people who fall and get back up, versus those who throw in the towel and call it quits at the first sign of adversity. Perseverance separates the winners from the losers, the successes from the failures, and the hopeful from the hopeless. The importance of perseverance has been recognized by athletes, teachers, intellectuals, and businessmen, dating back to the 18th century when the English author, Samuel Johnson suggested that “great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance”. Perseverance is a skill that can be developed; a habit that can be formed.

How can I form a habit of perseverance?

Neuroscientific research suggests that creating a steady flow of dopamine – a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in pleasure, motivation, and learning – is fundamental to creating a habit of perseverance. Dopamine is a
key ingredient Steinberg, E., Boivin, J., Saunders, B., Witten, I., Deisseroth, K., & Janak, P. (2014). Positive reinforcement mediated by midbrain dopamine neurons requires D1 and D2 receptor activation in the nucleus accumbens. (Report). PLoS ONE, 9(4), e94771.
of positive behaviour reinforcement. This is most obviously demonstrated by Dopamine’s contribution to drug and alcohol addictions,
key ingredient Chiara, G., & Alan North, R. (1992). Neurobiology of opiate abuse. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, 13(5), 185–193.

Volkow, N., Fowler, J., & Wang, G. (2002). Role of dopamine in drug reinforcement and addiction in humans: results from imaging studies. Behavioural Pharmacology, 13(5-6), 355-366.
but Dopamine release also contributes to the development of positive behaviour habits, like exercising or meditation. Creating a habit of perseverance involves learning how to tap into your internal dopamine reserves.

In his article, “The Neuroscience of Perseverance”,
Christopher Bergland Bergland, C. (2011, December 26). The Neuroscience of Perseverance: Dopamine Reinforces the Habit of Perseverance. Psychology Today.
shares some helpful tips on how to “self-administer” dopamine, and become a persevering go-getter:

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Tackle a “Macro-Goal” by breaking it down into small, very tangible “Micro-Goals” (a.k.a. turn a mountain into molehills)
Every time you accomplish a goal, you get a small hit of dopamine that motivates you to keep working. When you break a large, macro-goal into incremental, micro-goals, you have a greater “dopamine-based sense of contentment and satisfaction that always accompanies the act of persevering and getting the job done”.
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Create self-imposed deadlines
Set deadlines and stick to them by setting yourself timers, using calendars, and teaming up with a like-minded friend who can hold you accountable to stay on track. The pressure of time constraints “increases the production of dopamine and amplifies the thrill of having finished a goal on time”.
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Expectation and belief Kam-Hansen, S., Jakubowski, M., Kelley, J. M., Kirsch, I., Hoaglin, D. C., Kaptchuk, T. J., & Burstein, R. (2014). Altered placebo and drug labeling changes the outcome of episodic migraine attacks. Science translational medicine, 6(218), 218ra5-218ra5.
The placebo effect suggests that a patient’s beliefs and expectations in the benefits of a drug or treatment can itself drive positive change. Traditionally, researchers thought that placebos work only when people don’t know they are getting one. However, a recent study found that a placebo drug was 50% as effective as a real drug in reducing pain after migraines, even when participants knew that they were taking the placebo. According to Ted Kaptchuk, the Director of the Harvard-wide Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter (PiPS), the effectiveness of placebo treatments simply depends on the patient’s belief and expectation of the treatment’s efficacy. If you believe that you can accomplish a goal and you expect that persevering to achieve that goal will produce more dopamine then, odds are, it will.
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Build awareness about what you achieve Bergland, C. (2011, December 26). The Neuroscience of Perseverance: Dopamine Reinforces the Habit of Perseverance. Psychology Today.
It’s easy to disregard all of the little, everyday accomplishments, by focusing on ambitious dreams to change the world. Although these goals are important, they can also leave you feeling hopeless, unmotivated, or bitter because your dopamine reserves become depleted. You’re probably familiar with the darkness that washes over you when you think about climate change and the lack of action, or the prevalence of racism despite protests, movements, and lost lives. So, what can you do? Christopher Bergland recommends to “look at everything you do in the day as a chance to create a sense of reward and deliver a rush of dopamine”. Become conscious and aware of everything you achieve in a day – whether that’s recycling, going for a walk, doing your homework, or flossing your teeth. These are all opportunities to tap into the ‘ding, ding, ding’ dopamine high.

Why is it important to persevere?

J.K. Rowling is the author of Harry Potter, one of the most successful and admired children’s book series of all time. But Rowling is also well-acquainted with failure and rejection: The original ‘Harry Potter pitch’ was rejected by 12 different publishers. Her failures, as well as those of so many other famous individuals, led J.K. Rowling to conclude that, “it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default”. If, as suggested by J.K. Rowling, failure is inevitable, then the skill of perseverance is a necessity.

In her TED Talk, “Grit: The power of passion and perseverance”,
Dr. Angela Duckworth Duckworth, A. (2013, April). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance [Video]. TED.
asks the question “What if doing well in school and in life depends on much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily?”. For years, Duckworth searched for the answer to this question and her results were clear: Success, whether that was for cadets training at military academies, children at the National Spelling Bee, teachers working in tough neighbourhoods, or sales people across any number of business sectors, was determined by grit. Grit is defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals.
Duckworth’s studies Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087–1101.
have shown that grit is a better predictor of success than intellectual ability (IQ) and conscientiousness. Furthermore, she found that students who persevered in the face of adversity, and who stayed focused on accomplishing their long-term goals, were
more likely to graduate from high-school. Eskreis-Winkler, L., Duckworth, A. L., Shulman, E. P., & Beal, S. (2014). The grit effect: Predicting retention in the military, the workplace, school and marriage. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 36.
Earlier
research on self-discipline, Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Self-discipline gives girls the edge: Gender in self-discipline, grades, and achievement test scores. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 198–208.
which involves persisting despite boredom, challenges, or temptation, has also shown that self-discipline is the primary reason why, on average, girls achieve higher course grades than boys.

Perseverance leads to mastery, creates opportunities, builds resilience, and teaches you how to manage crises. The ability to persevere in the face of adversity, and ultimately achieve your goal, also increases self-confidence and motivation, and helps cultivate a more optimistic explanatory style. All of this to say that there is merit to Franklin Roosevelt’s suggestion to “tie a knot and hang on” when you reach the end of your rope.  

Where can I learn more?

TED Talk – Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

BOOK: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Psychology Today – The Neuroscience of Perseverance: Dopamine Reinforces the Habit of Perseverance

The Grit Guide for Teens (Workbook to buy)

Free Parent and Teacher Supplement to the Grit Guide for Teens

What will students learn?

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to…

  • Understand the concept of perseverance
  • Identify examples of perseverance from their own lives and explain the importance of perseverance
  • Gather and organize information from a variety of sources to identify examples of historical or present examples of perseverance in Canadian communities
  • Demonstrate an understanding of significant experiences, and major challenges that have and which continue to shape Canadian lives
References
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Bergland, C. (2011, December 26). The Neuroscience of Perseverance: Dopamine Reinforces the Habit of Perseverance. Psychology Today.

Chiara, G., & Alan North, R. (1992). Neurobiology of opiate abuse. Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, 13(5), 185–193.

Duckworth, A. (2013, April). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance [Video]. TED.

Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087–1101.

Duckworth, A. L., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Self-discipline gives girls the edge: Gender in self-discipline, grades, and achievement test scores. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 198–208.

Eskreis-Winkler, L., Duckworth, A. L., Shulman, E. P., & Beal, S. (2014). The grit effect: Predicting retention in the military, the workplace, school and marriage. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 36.

Kam-Hansen, S., Jakubowski, M., Kelley, J. M., Kirsch, I., Hoaglin, D. C., Kaptchuk, T. J., & Burstein, R. (2014). Altered placebo and drug labeling changes the outcome of episodic migraine attacks. Science translational medicine, 6(218), 218ra5-218ra5.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Perseverance. Merriam-Webster.com dictionary.

Steinberg, E., Boivin, J., Saunders, B., Witten, I., Deisseroth, K., & Janak, P. (2014). Positive reinforcement mediated by midbrain dopamine neurons requires D1 and D2 receptor activation in the nucleus accumbens.(Report). PLoS ONE, 9(4), e94771.

Volkow, N., Fowler, J., & Wang, G. (2002). Role of dopamine in drug reinforcement and addiction in humans: results from imaging studies. Behavioural Pharmacology, 13(5-6), 355-366.

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