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Techniques Willpower > Persistence

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



To exert your willpower, a simple approach is just to persist, never giving up until you have achieved what you want.

Persistence is very easy. When you fail, you either repeat what did not work in hope that it works next time, or you try something else. You can keep yourself going by reminding yourself of what is at stake. You can also consider the wasted effort if you did give up.

Persistence can be used when you are seeking to do something by yourself or when you are trying to persuade somebody else. When clashing with others, the winner is often the person who lasts the longest.


A child wants to go out to play. They nag their parent, whining and following them around until the parent gives in.

A business person has a good idea for marketing that senior management reject. She does not give up and talks with them regularly until they start to take her seriously and do a trial. This is successful and so they go national. Her star in the company rises significantly based not only on the idea but her determination to make it work.


There is a utilitarian position which simply views persistence as a factor in an equation. Persistence costs time, emotion and perhaps other things too, which can all be added up to some nominal 'negative value' (or 'cost'). In contrast, what you want to achieve has a positive value. Every time you persist, you reduce the total value. If you persist for too long, then you will have spent more in persisting than you will ever get from the response.

The problem with the utilitarian view is that we are not simply logical beings. We become emotionally involved. There is also an investment effect, where the more we put into persisting, the more we feel we will lose if we give up. People who strongly hold views will never give up and will persist way beyond any logical conclusion. Yet this can work out for them as when others realize the person is unreasonably persistent, they will give in rather than waste time on some kind of feud.

Persistence often works based on an escalating tension that is created. When the inner stress gets to a certain level, satisficing starts to occur and people simply give up. This is the flip point, where the need to reduce tension suddenly becomes more important than achieving other goals. With changed priorities, the person changes their criteria and now decide differently.

See also

Tension principle


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