True grit and how to persevere in the absence of immediate rewards

I want to ask: are you a person who in the face of difficulties, failures and disappointments, shows ‘true grit’ and continues to act to achieve your goals or, when you encounter an obstacle, do you give up?

In both situations I ask you about perseverance. In the first case, you have a high level of perseverance, are able to follow your goals and make the necessary sacrifices to achieve them. In the second, your ability to persevere is lower and are more likely to give up.

Most people act from instinct, seeking pleasure and avoiding suffering. The ability to persevere generates a certain “suffering” because it involves an activity that is not immediately rewarded.

Perseverance is related to your expectations and beliefs as well as your ability to make a sustained effort to get a reward in the future. A high ability to invest now to achieve a result in the future is often associated with people who have made great achievements in business, the arts and sports. They are able to postpone the need for immediate reward so as to achieve bigger goals in the future.

If your expectations are low and you do not believe in your ability to reach your goals, it is most likely that you will not put sufficient effort into your actions and when things become more complicated or difficult, you will give up. This creates a vicious circle: you do not think you can achieve your goals, for this reason you don’t make sufficient effort. As consequence you don’t reach your goals, a ‘fact’ which confirms your initial belief. This process will affect your perseverance and may also affect self-esteem, self-confidence and cause failure.

Whatever we experience has an emotional effect and this often translates into the release or inhibition of hormone production, one of these hormones is dopamine, also called the “reward hormone”. Each time you experience a failure, the level of dopamine decreases, making you feel apathetic, without energy, signalling a danger, an unpleasant situation that you will want to avoid in the future. When, on the contrary, you are successful, the dopamine level increases, energizes you, “rewarding you” and thus nourishes your desire to experience that situation again.

Our brain does not make a clear distinction between now (the present) and yesterday (the past). When we imagine that we are getting what we want or remembering how we have been successful, the level of dopamine increases, although not to the same extent as when you actually get what you want or are successful. So that when we anticipate or think about the gifts we will receive today, or remember past gifts, we start to enjoy ourselves and when we receive the gifts enjoyment is even greater.

Practicing any sport requires a high level of perseverance (making an effort now to achieve a more distant goal and be rewarded). It is a decisive factor that can make the difference between winning and losing. The challenge for athletes is how to develop perseverance when your dopamine level is low?

If you are an athlete or a coach you need to know how to maintain or increase perseverance. There are several ways we can do this and increase the level of dopamine (to have you cake and eat it). These include:

  1. Determine what your current level of perseverance is (link to the test).
  2. Aim to derive satisfaction from daily training.
  3. Transform large (indigestible) targets into smaller  bite size pieces.
  4. Set SMART goals but try to achieve goals daily or weekly.
  5. Practice visualizing reaching the end goal.
  6. Recall previous successes.
  7. Celebrate victory to set and strengthen the habits that led to the victory.

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