What is Tenacity and How to Develop It

The tenacity it is a quality that is rarely talked about because - let's face it - it is not considered sexy.

In fact, when you think of someone who achieves a goal thanks to tenacity, maybe you can imagine a guy not very smart and gifted who, doing the c..oa hut for years, in the end:

  • If it's okay, he gets what he wants, but with so much fatigue and suffering wondering if it was really worth it
  • If he goes wrong, he fails miserably by transforming himself into one of those very nerdy characters in the Verista novel style of the early 900s.

Nothing particularly romantic and attractive, in short.

What if I told you that is it a bias?

You see, tenacity is often misunderstood, confused and associated, from time to time, with things that tenacity is not: stubbornness, blind insistence, lack of imagination, inertia, unmotivated obstinacy.

Instead, thanks to a secret ingredient that few realize, it is something more than going on with blinders like mules.

The equation of tenacity: perseverance x passion

Florentino Ariza, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez recounts in Love in the time of cholera, he waits “51 years, 9 months and 4 days, including nights”, before crowning his dream of love.

Ulysses it takes him twenty years to return home and hug his wife Penelope and their son Telemachus, born on the day of his departure for the Trojan war.

Oscar figueroa he misses the victory for 3 consecutive Olympics, in Athens, Beijing and London, before managing to win gold on his last chance, in Rio De Janeiro.

JK Rowling, a depressed and lonely young mother, submits her first novel to 12 publishing houses until she finds one that, finally, publishes Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

What do these stories have in common in which the protagonist arrives at the success he was looking for only after endless adversity?


  • Perseverance in the face of defeat
  • The ability to push against all odds
  • Resistance in the face of the passage of time

But what makes these stories so fascinating and inspiring are the goals of their protagonists:

  • The love of life in the case of Florentino Ariza
  • The homeland and the family for Ulysses
  • The fulfillment of her childhood dream in Rowling's case
  • The determination to hoist himself on top of the world in the case of Oscar Figueroa

In short, they are stories in which the passion for the goal it is as important as the effort and time it takes to achieve it.

And this is precisely the equation of tenacity: perseverance x passion.

Without the first element, they daydream goals that will never be achieved.

Without the second, it goes on a bit like machines, who do things because in some way they have been programmed to do so.

But when you have both perseverance and passion, a world of possibilities opens up before you that you never even imagined.

Did you know that? Tenacity is more important than IQ and Talent

After graduating "magna cum laude" in neurobiology at Harvard, Angela Duckworth he has devoted his entire professional career to teaching and school education studies, especially of adolescents.

This led her to try her hand at very different experiences: from math teacher in one of the many notorious and dangerous American public schools to the achievement of a master's degree in Neuroscience at Oxford.

From summer recovery camps for disadvantaged teenagers to psychology experiments with cadets at the famous West Point Military Academy.

In 2016 he finally published Grit: the power of passion and perserverance, the result of almost 25 years of studies and experience in the field.

The book, which became an international bestseller in a few weeks, revolves around a single idea: the greatest determinant of an individual's success is not talent or the IQ.

It is tenacity.

Angela Duckworth defines it as “one combination of passion and perseverance aimed at achieving a long-term goal, with no recognition or reward expected along the way".

Exactly, that is, as we have seen for Florentino, Ulisse, Oscar and JK

Despite some criticisms - as always happens to popular scientific works - by insiders, Duckworth's book had the merit of putting two important concepts in the spotlight:


In the field learning and personal success there is not, as it was thought a few decades ago, a destiny marked by the genetics with which one was born.

We are not predestined and we are not excluded.

Indeed, there are very large margins for improvement (and worsening).

Before giving yourself limits, therefore, think about it, because it is normal that you CANNOT do what you think you CANNOT do.

Instead, learn to cultivate the Growth Mindset mentality (read the article), in which the limits are not there or are constantly being pushed forward.


At school, at work, in relationships, one must constantly seek and cultivate passion, because it multiplies our chances of success.

What a great find! - you may be thinking - this about "trying to do what you like" is an obvious stuff I've heard a thousand times

This is not exactly the case.

What everyone always repeats is "do what you like, so you will be happy".

Implying with that phrase sunny mornings in which you open the shutters singing to the sparrows and greeting the neighbors with a dreamy air, happy to finally start a new day of work.

What Duckworth says instead is "pursue your passion, because that is how you have the greatest chance of success."

In the first case, just the dream collides with reality and the first frustrations and difficulties arrive, here is the temptation to give up.

You "liked" maybe being a writer, but you discovered that neither sunny days nor singing sparrows await you, that you don't have a penny in your pocket and that you don't like getting your job rejected by 12 publishing houses.

In the second case, however, when the dream collides with reality and the first frustrations and difficulties arrive, simply you don't care.

In fact, you know what you are doing just the one where you have the best chance of emerging, because it is your true passion.

On the other hand, do you remember the final part of Duckworth's definition of tenacity?

"Without expecting any recognition or reward along the way".

Sounds a bit like anathema, I know.

But precisely, when one burns with desire for a goal, he also cares about anathemas.

At this point, however, you may be wondering how persistent you are ...

The ladder of tenacity

Dr. Duckworth has created a very simple, statistically validated system for measure the tenacity of people.

This is a series of 10 statements to which you must answer by indicating, on a scale from 1 to 5, how much they correspond to the idea you have of yourself, being able to choose between:

  • 1 = not at all
  • 2 = not much
  • 3 = enough
  • 4 = a lot
  • 5 = completely

The 10 statements instead, are:

  1. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from what I am doing
  2. Setbacks don't discourage me, I don't give up easily
  3. I often set a goal and then pursue another
  4. I am a hard worker
  5. I struggle to keep my focus on projects that last more than a few months
  6. I finish everything I start
  7. My interests change from year to year
  8. I am diligent, I never give up
  9. In the past, I have obsessed with projects and ideas for a while, only to lose interest after a while.
  10. I have overcome many adversities to achieve some goals

Read them and try to give you the scores as I indicated. If you want, you can also go to this link to take the test in English and get your result.

The questions in the list are extremely interesting because, despite their simplicity, they give a very good account of the two dimensions of tenacity:

  • The "Perserverance of Effort": That is the ability to strive and overcome adversity (statements 2, 4, 6, 8,10)
  • The "Consistency of Interest": Or the ability to remain faithful to the initial objective (statements 1,3, 5, 7, 9)

I, for example, recognize myself a lot in phrases like "Setbacks do not discourage me" or "I have overcome many adversities to achieve some goals".

But unfortunately I certainly cannot define myself as very tenacious, because phrases such as “New ideas and projects sometimes distract me” or “I often set a goal and then pursue another” fit perfectly.

This awareness is just what it takes to understand in what areas and how to improve.

Before understanding how to become more tenacious, however, for the more curious here is the video of Oscar Figueroa's incredible journey towards Olympic gold.

Exciting right? Even those who don't have the slightest interest in weightlifting, like me, can't help but be impressed.

In fact, as I told you at the beginning, tenacity is much more exciting than you think, and now I'm going to tell you how you can help you achieve it.

How to become more persistent

In the blog I have spoken several times about topics concerning the Perseverance of Effort.

I advise you to go and reread, for example:

  • Bridget Jones reveals two errors about willpower
  • How to increase your willpower
  • Don't feel like studying? And who cares
  • Guide to Motivation

Instead, I spoke less of the second aspect of tenacity, the Consistency of Interest, or the passion for what one does.

Sometimes, especially in love and when you are very young, passion is something that hits you suddenly and with tremendous clarity.

Most of the time, however, that's not the case at all, and if you sit there passively waiting for the passion to find you, well, you risk waiting forever.

So I want to share with you 3 small rules that can help you to actively seek your passion, and to recognize it and not let it slip away when you meet it.

1. Yes, curious

The more things you try, the more likely you are to find one you like.

So read, explore, get informed, keep your antennas always straight.

Don't waste your energies in a thousand streams, but at the same time look at the world with an open mind, without losing the opportunity to compare yourself with the news.

“There are more things in heaven and on earth than you can dream of in your philosophy,” says Hamlet to his friend Horace.

Here, try to explore as much of those things as possible.

2. Give yourself time

If you are too eager to find your passion, you risk settling for it things that sparkle but that in the end you don't really want to the end.

So, don't be in a hurry.

As Hippocrates, the founder of medicine, said, "life is short, but art is long", meaning that certain human activities (art in the broadest and most noble sense of the term) go far beyond the finitude of life .

Therefore, it is useless to worry about small things and then lose sight of the most authentic expression of oneself.

Many "marry" - with people but also with activities - due to social pressure or because the time has come to do so.

Tu claim your right to wait, indeed, to look for, for as long as you deem necessary, what you will really realize yourself in: your art, in short.

3. Keep your feet on the ground.

This rule balances the previous two.

As it is true that you have to try many things and that you must not be satisfied, it is also true that:

  • You don't always have to run away from the commitment and responsibilities of a choice
  • Even when there is passion, you have to accept that there are ups and downs and moments of real hardship

Many tend to confusing passion with perfection, establishing for work, study or love of unrealistic expectations.

In this way, not only do they never find their passion, on the contrary, they risk meeting her and ruining everything.

And at that point, to recover a passion that has been lost or driven away, you really need all the tenacity in the world.

A greeting! Armando

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