Recently a man asked me how to keep people working hard when they aren’t having much success.

His business involves encouraging people to make sales of the company’s products.  His products are of high quality, but not everyone wants them. So the sales representatives have to make a lot of calls to make their sales quota. They are paid well, but become tired of being rejected. They look for another job that doesn’t involve calling people to find prospects and set appointments.

Twenty-five years ago, a life insurance company contacted Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania and presented their problem. “We hire people to be life insurance agents,” he was told. “We put them through and extensive training, and then in the first year, a lot of them drop out. Bad for them, we’ve wasted their time. Bad for us, we’ve wasted our money training them.”

Seligman recommended that they select strong optimists, pointing out that optimists have grit, they persist and don’t give up easily. His prediction was true. If you hire strongly optimistic people, they are more successful. They work hard, they don’t quit, and so they sell more insurance.

My friend was not impressed. “I can’t fire everyone and try to hire a whole new sales force,” he snorted.

What can we do to raise persistence and grit in a group of people?

First, we can teach people how to cultivate optimism in themselves. This is not a difficult thing to do. It isn’t overnight, but people can raise their scores on optimism tests. This may take some time. Some evidence suggests they should work at it for about three months. But there are very good results! People can raise their optimism.

Second, we can educate people about an important line of psychology research, Be Good vs. Get Better. Carol Dweck has shown that people tend to have different mindsets about success. One group thinks that success comes from talent. People who are talented in a particular area are just more successful. The other side of that is that if you aren’t successful right away, you just aren’t talented in that area, and should give up. You have to “be good” according to this mindset, or you will fail.

The other group have a “growth” mindset. That means their automatic assumption about success is that it is the produce of simple hard work. When you aren’t successful, the growth mindset says, then you just haven’t worked hard enough. “I can get better,” is the motton of the growht mindset.

Here is Dweck speaking on her theory:


Calvin Coolidge was a great proponent of the growth mindset. He said, “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Grit, determination, persistence. They all are the same thing. Keeping going in the fact of failure and disappointment. They all  mean “success.” You can’t spell “success” without “persistence.” Because, of course, persistence has the letter “s.” Without that, success would be ucce, or YUCKY! <grin, wink>


Hang in there

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