David Strittmatter

How to become more persistent and achieve your goals

When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this, you haven’t – Thomas Edison


  • Basically, persistence is the choice to continue something in spite of difficulty, opposition, and struggle to achieve that goal
  • In any discussion of the attributes of successful people, persistence is often mentioned as the most important factor in success
  • When it comes down to great performance, it’s not just talent but the product of ability (talent) and persistence

Practical advice:

  • First, have a goal you’re obsessed with
  • Second, if your plan doesn’t work, adapt and reevaluate it – but stick to your goal
  • Third, develop and maintain a strong faith in your goal

Dear friend,

Last Sunday, my little brother wanted to take a train back from Hamburg to his hometown in Southern Germany. He has already purchased a ticket for the ICE (intercity train), which was restricted to a certain train departing at a certain time. Unfortunately, his train was canceled and replaced by an alternative train. Since he had a reservation for the canceled train, he wanted to make sure his reservation also worked for the other train. So, he wanted to go to the service office of the Deutsche Bahn to change his reservation to the alternative train before it departed. Midway, though, he noticed that he forgot his phone where he stayed for the trip because he was in such a hurry to change the reservation in time.

Before he went back to pick up his phone, he had called me from the phone of his friend and asked me whether he can take the next train despite the restriction because he cannot get the alternative train anymore. I ensured him that he could because his train was canceled no matter the alternative train. He just had to go to the service office and tell them the story so the restriction will be lifted. After that, he picked up his phone and went to the service office, telling the employees what had happened. Those, though, had a completely different view of the situation and told him that he couldn’t take another train as the alternative train was scheduled at the very same time his train departed, and hence his ticket restriction couldn’t be lifted.

Fully desperate, he called me again. Buying a new ticket would cost +100 Euro and he didn’t know what to do now. I told him everything will be fine, I will take care of it. He might have told the story too unconvincingly and might have been too little persistent.

Thus, I went to the Mannheim train service office with the ambition to not go out of it unless my little brother will receive a valid ticket and get back home safely. I thought about how I could tell the story: Little brother, stranded in a foreign city, the first time he traveled, the train got canceled, leading to him being late …

Being there, I had to queue and wait until an employee had time for me. During this time, I wrote my brother everything will be fine, he doesn’t have to worry. Also, I told myself that I have to get this done and cannot leave this place until I succeeded as otherwise my brother will be either stranded or +100 Euro lighter.

After 10 minutes of waiting, I could tell them the story how I wanted to tell it. The Deutsche Bahn employee, though, told me the very same thing as his colleague told my brother in Hamburg. Alternative train at the very same time bla bla bla… Yet, I insisted that he would have been punctual if the train wasn’t canceled and it’d be a shame to deny him his reserved seat. After some back and forth, I told the employee that the reservation doesn’t matter and I just need to have a confirmation that his train was canceled. As that is true, the employee gave me a print-out stating that the train was canceled. With that, I went to another employee who apparently didn’t know that there was an alternative train and asked him whether he could lift off the restriction of the ticket because that’s the policy (train gets canceled → ticket restrictions lifted). And it worked. Just a little signature and a stamp later, I could send a photo of the document to my little brother and he was all fine.

I always tell myself that persistence pays off. I only fail if I stop trying. And I can only quit if I’m forced to. But how does persistence really look like, why is it such an important skill to acquire, and how can we become more persistent? That’s what’s today’s blog article about.

How does persistence look like

Basically, persistence is the choice to continue something in spite of difficulty, opposition, and struggle to achieve that goal. To illustrate that a little more, let me tell you of the former president of the United States Abraham Lincoln. His life before his presidency was filled with discouragement, heartbreak, and failure. Despite all the adversities, he persisted and made it to the office:

  • Lincoln was born extremely poor, had little education, and was extremely isolated
  • He was constantly rejected for jobs he would apply for
  • Simultaneously, he suffered severe nervous breakdowns and deep chronic depression
  • He ran for U.S. Congress and lost, same for U.S. Senate
  • When he was finally elected to the State legislature, he lost the vote to be the speaker
  • His run for Vice President was also a failure

There’re many incredible examples of extreme persistence, and Lincoln is just one of them:

  • Henry Ford’s early businesses failed and left him broke 5 times before he founded Ford Motor Company
  • Thomas Edison needed more than 1000 attempts before inventing the light bulb
  • Vincent van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime, though today, his works are priceless

Being persistent is about not giving up and keeping going no matter the circumstances. Staying alive is the most natural form of persistence: Waking up every day and making sure to have enough food and water. While life is pleasing to most of us, a few people, e.g. depressed people, struggle to make a day count and keep alive. Essentially, we are all more or less persistent.

Nevertheless, there are different degrees of persistence. The more failure, rejection, others stating “that will never work”, etc. someone experiences, the more difficult it is to persist. Whereas it’s rather easy to be persistent in going to work from Monday to Friday, it’s quite difficult to drop out of college to build a venture no one except for you believes in.

Persistence – the key to success

In any discussion of the attributes of successful people, persistence is often mentioned as the most important factor in success. There’s this famous quote “A winner is just a loser who tried one more time”, which greatly illustrates this notion. Most people who accomplished astonishing things failed multiple times before. Just imagine if Thomas Edison quit after his 1000th attempt or Abraham Lincoln didn’t try again to run for a higher office after he failed his second Senate attempt. These people wouldn’t have achieved what they have done.

Often the only difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is the ability to keep going long after the rest have dropped out.

Moreover, people often talk about talent being key for great performance. Yet, when it comes down to great performance, it’s not just talent but the product of ability (talent) and persistence. If either ability or persistence is absent, so is performance. Coupling your ability with persistence will provide you with an ongoing differentiator in life.

Become more persistent

What keeps persistent people going long after most people have given up? From my own research and experience it comes down to 3 factors:

First, an all-consuming goal: Persistent people have a goal in mind that motivates and drives them. They are often dreamers and ascribe their lives to a higher purpose. They often think of their dream, most of the time it’s the first thing they think of when they wake up and the last thing before they go to bed.

In life, it’s usually that if you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. Persistent people want it bad, and they never look for an excuse or a way out. Repeated failures and periods when it seems like no progress is being made often come before any major breakthroughs happen. Persistent people still strongly believe in their dream, keeping them motivated to go through these tough times.

Second, the ability to adjust and adapt: Persistent people don’t stubbornly persist if their plan isn’t working, but they continuously look for new and better ways that will increase their chances of success. Persistence necessitates reevaluation. Without rethinking their strategy and approach, they may be persisting in a fruitless endeavor.

Third, a strong belief in themselves: The highly persistent people have complete faith they will reach their final destination no matter what. Having a highly developed sense of who they are, persistent people continue on their plan without being greatly affected by what others think of them or being appreciated by those around them.

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