When I was an engineering student I frequently found myself dashing across campus during the day. From the math lab to the engineering building to the science center then back to the math lab.
These trips were always painful around lunch time. As I raced between buildings I would pass dozens of students enjoying a leisurely lunch on a bench or tossing a Frisbee with a friend.
I couldn’t help but wonder what I was doing so wrong that I never had time for such things.
Over the years I began to notice a pattern when I talked to non-engineering students. Often when I mentioned that I was majoring in mechanical engineering they would respond with a comment that went something like this:
“Oh, yeah I started in (fill in branch of engineering) but I just couldn’t do the math.”
Having lost a lot of sleep and many leisurely lunches to college math classes myself I would usually nod my head knowingly and wonder one more time how the heck I’d managed to stay an engineering student in the first place.
At the risk of offending my math professor brother-in-law (sorry Russ) I’m going to be perfectly honest: I HATED MATH CLASSES!!!!!!
I find the practical application of math in learning to understand and control the natural world fascinating. But my engineering math classes didn’t generally teach us that stuff.
Engineering math classes were, in my experience, a painful rite of passage that students had to endure; a gate keeper between us and the educational awesomeness just beyond the gate. If I had a dollar for every time I was on the verge of throwing in the towel on engineering while I was taking math classes…I’d be at least $100 richer.
So why didn’t I quit? Why did I keep going when so many other people with similar goals gave up? Was it because I was smarter, more naturally gifted or more convinced I was the next Thomas Edison than those that opted to change majors?
Nope, as I’ve told many people since graduating, the real differentiator in me getting through the math, and ultimately my engineering degree was nothing more than a severe case of being too dumb to know when to quit. I was focused on a goal and was simply not willing to be beaten by the math.
Being Too Dumb to Know When to Quit, or TDKWQ for short, is a condition more commonly known by names such as: persistence, tenacity, determination or “beating your head against a (figurative) brick wall.”
TDKWQ is a bit of a disease really; a malady that keeps people from being able to kick back at night and spend their time indulging in mindless entertainment like the latest celebrity gossip or the 2016 presidential election.
This disease has a powerful, life-altering effect upon any smitten with it.
I first encountered TDKWQ as a boy scout trying to earn my Swimming merit badge. Earning that badge required me to push way past some mental and physical barriers. Once my 12 year old self had tasted the sweetness of victory in the face of something that once felt impossible I became infected with TDKWQ. Since then I found I couldn’t stop doing things that were hard and felt way outside my personal capacity to achieve.
A serious case of TDKWQ will never let you feel satisfied with your current station in life. It constantly drives you to pursue and enables you to achieve a variety of hard to achieve goals.
Why Persistence is Critical to your Success
One of my favorite examples of the importance of persistence comes from Napoleon Hill’s powerful classic Think and Grow Rich. Hill tells the story of a miner and his uncle who had struck a rich vein of gold in Colorado.
Unfortunately, after some initial success, the vein they were working suddenly ended. When further drilling failed to find the gold again they lost hope, sold their mining equipment to a scrap metal dealer for a huge loss and abandoned their claim.
As it turned out the men had stopped drilling a mere 3 feet from where the gold vein picked back up. The scrap dealer who had purchased their equipment at a steep discount pulled millions of dollars worth of gold from that claim.
Hill summarizes the importance of persistence for those who would be successful as follows:
“Before success comes to most people, they are sure to meet with much temporary defeat, and perhaps some failure. When faced with defeat the easiest and most logical thing to do is to quit. That is exactly what the majority of people do.
“More than 500 of the most successful people America has ever known told [Hill] their greatest success came just one step beyond the point at which defeat had overtaken them (emphasis added).”
-Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich
The Four Elements of TDKWQ
So, the million dollar (or multi-million dollar if that’s more in line with your dreams) question is: how do you develop persistence? How do you harness this internal drive that will give you the power to prevail against all odds?
Here are a few of the things that I have found to be key to the times in my life when being TDKWQ was all that stood between me and failure:
First and foremost you must know what it is you want to achieve. Your goal must go beyond saying “you know what I should do”? Your goal needs to be a specific, measurable accomplishment that you want to achieve. A goal requires commitment to push beyond your comfort zone. Real goals lead to real change in your life.
In my own experience, the desire to achieve my goals has been the heart and soul of TDKWQ. The desire may stem from any number of motivations: wanting to eliminate a source of pain in your life; striving for self improvement; wanting to help someone; or even simply wanting to fit in with your peers. Whatever the motivation, this desire has to be powerful. The desire to achieve your goal must be strong enough to overcome the temptation to quit when pursuing your goal gets hard.
In order for your desire to have the power to keep you going when the going gets rough you need to have a vision of what your success will look and feel like when you achieve your goal. Take time to build a detailed vision in your mind.
- What will your reaction be when you reach your goal?
- Who will be the first to hear about your success? How will you tell them?
- What will you be able to do once you achieve your goal that you can’t do now?
- Who will you be able to associate with that you don’t have the credibility to associate with now?
- The more detailed the vision the more you’ll be able to draw on it to fuel your desire for success.
Nobody changes their life or moves the earth by accident. If you’re serious about your goal you must have a written plan to achieve it.
Once you have a vision of what it will be like to achieve your goal it’s time to start taking action. Sit down and plan out the specific steps you will take to make consistent progress from where you are today to where you will be able to do, say and feel the things you’ve imagined in your vision.
Your plan will need to be flexible enough to adapt as circumstances change but should provide you with a good baseline to work from. Some elements of a good plan will include:
- The action steps you will take
- The schedule you’ll work to
- What/who will do to keep you accountable to sticking with the plan
Put your written plan somewhere you’ll see it daily. Treat your plan as a written contract with yourself and stick to it like you would a contract with an employer or client.
Harnessing the Power of TDKWQ
Whether you’re still establishing your place to stand or are already building a lever, with these four things in place you will have established a foundation from which to push yourself up to the next level. You’ll know exactly what you need to do, how you’ll feel when you achieve your goal and you’ll have a plan to get there.
When you encounter the “temporary defeats” that Napoleon Hill mentions you will be able to close your eyes and remember your vision of how incredible it will be when you accomplish your goal. Recalling your vision will help you dig deep to rekindle the flame of desire that got you into this mess in the first place.
That desire will provide you with the determination to put your head down and bust through every brick wall that gets in your way until, at last, the glorious day arrives when the dust from the last wall settles and you find yourself face-to-face with the real life version of the vision that once existed only in your imagination.
Most people will shrink when faced with the brick walls in their way. Some will push through the first couple of obstacles, only to stop 3 feet short of their goal. However, for those select few with a defined vision for their future and the persistence to make their vision a reality, a world of possibility awaits.
Do you suffer from TDKWQ? I’d love to hear about when you first discovered the power of persistence in the comments.