The Psychology of Perseverance

June 12, 2018

by Emily Boice, PhD

Next week, the Mind Science Foundation welcomes current members to a Lunch & Learn at headquarters. The topic for this month’s event is the Psychology of Perseverance: Lessons from an Ironman Triathlete. The host for this inspiring discussion is world class athlete and psychologist, Dr. Shelley Probber. When not seeing patients, hanging out with her family or participating in epic races, she carved out some time over this previous winter holiday to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. So she would be the perfect person to lead a discussion on perseverance.

In this ever changing and quick results driven world, it takes a dedicated mindfulness to maintain such tenacity through hardships or delays. It seems like now, when work seems overwhelming, there is so much temptation to quit a hobby, project or goal. To have courage to face an easier path, like quitting, and choose the hard one (sticking through a challenge) is a virtue that isn’t well recognized. Perseverance should be thought of as “courage in action”.

I had a similar experience when I first moved to San Antonio. As I began work on a cancer therapeutic project at UTSA, my family discovered my dad had recently been diagnosed with lymphoma.  An ad spoke to me and soon afterwards I joined Team in Training. This program is a fundraising branch of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and trains the fundraisers to travel and complete a marathon of their choosing. At first, when I attended the first pep rally, everyone seemed so encouraging and made it seem like raising thousands of dollars and running 26.2 miles was going to be so much fun!

Alas, it took real work and learning how to set incremental goals to stay focused and motivated. I leaned on the team to help me come up with innovative fundraising ideas. I leaned on the coaches to help me keep moving when we did those 22 mile practice runs in the sweltering August Texas heat. There was always a story to lift spirits or a small trinket to remember who the true heroes were in this process, the cancer patients like my dad. But without these life skills, I would not have been able to raise the money, travel to San Francisco, and cross the finish line in the Nike Women’s Marathon and hug my dad.

Grit and determination can be the deciding factors in any project. “Nearly all of the advances that make modern civilization possible require extended or repeated effort in the face of failure, fatigue or boredom.”  And current life in 2016 is full of fatigue from working all hours of the day and night and boredom unless our phones are in our hands. It’s a wonder, how we get anything done.

Certain research has suggested that dopamine in the brain is the fuel that keeps people motivated. This “reward molecule” in your brain has been linked to forming lifelong habits and positive behavior reinforcement. Dopamine floods your system making you feel good when you achieve a goal. It takes some training but it’s possible to train your brain to reward you for lots of positive behaviors like working out, meditating, and eating healthy. Read up on these training tricks.

Have any stories to share and inspire? Need some inspiration yourself? Members are invited to join us on June 10th at 11:30am in this enlightening meeting of the minds.

Think Big on Twitter (@MindScienceFdn), Facebook (Mind Science Foundation), or email us ( mcohen@mindscience.org) any ideas or questions!

Topics: Psychology

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