On Perseverance: How Can You Become a Natural at Something?

Read what Seneca has to say and forget all the self-help books out there

Do not give up in letter tiles
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“You have to persevere and fortify your pertinacity until the will to do good becomes a disposition to good.” Seneca the Younger, in Letters from a Stoic

Everything all self-help gurus say seems to have already been said by Seneca 2,000 years ago. There is, as they say, nothing new under the sun!

Step 1

Decide what you want to get better at.

In this quote, that would be doing good.

Step 2

Self-help books tell us: practice-pratice-practice, baby steps, get stronger, don’t give up, two steps forward / one step back, just do it, there’s no looking back, don’t quit, keep going, there will be hard days, power through, no-pain-no-gain.

Seneca puts it this way: persevere and fortify. And what’s essential to persevere and fortify? Motivation, or, in Seneca’s words, the will.


Today, we hear terms and phrases such as: achieving fluency, (seemingly) effortless performance, practice makes perfect, second nature, muscle memory, habitual behavior, internalized response.

Seneca’s way of saying it: the will to do good becomes a disposition to do good.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? You get better as you do what you want to get better at!

In practice, though, it’s not simple at all, especially for an objective as ambitious as doing good, things like being honest, respectful, courageous, humble, moderate and generous.

Note, though, that we’re not being asked to achieve an end goal, just to acquire a disposition toward it. Having ideals you diligently pursue is enough because ideals are inherently unachievable.

We are works in progress.

(What do you know? I’m now starting to sound like a life coach or self-help guru!)

Day 26 of 30-day writing challenge on a single topic: Quotes from Seneca the Younger’s Letters from a Stoic.

Why this topic? Because I can’t get over how timely and brilliant Seneca’s words are -2,000 years after he wrote them.

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