How to be Persistent While Learning Web Design


One thing I often hear from people is: “If I am only more persistent I could do this or that.”

Persistence is a trait we all want to have more of. Yet, somehow, and for many things we want to accomplish, persistence simply isn’t there. I don’t want to admit it myself, but I’ve given up on many projects that, if I’ve stuck with for long enough, would probably bring me more money and happiness in the long run.

I’ve had enough!

I couldn’t stand watching myself giving up on so many goals I wanted to accomplish so I looked for some external help. Books.

Lately I’ve been reading a book called “The Willpower Instinct” by Kelly McGonial who is a psychology instructor at Stanford University. The insights shared are simply amazing. I’ll try to review some of the key principles and how they can apply to keeping your persistence high while learning web design. I’ll also take some principles from other books I’ve read on motivation, like “Switch” from Chip and Dan Heath and advice from the go-to person for personal productivity, Tony Schwartz.

Before changing your mind, change your body


There are thousands of “mind tricks” to increase your self-control. However, the best improvements come from “tuning” your body, like focusing on meditation, for example.

Studies have shown that people who meditate have more gray matter in their brains than people who don’t. What does this mean? Well, the amount of gray matter you have is affecting your self-control as well as your decision making. The more you have of it, the better.

According to the author, starting to meditate 5 minutes a day and then increasing it as you feel comfortable is probably the best way currently known to science to instantly increase your self-control (and with that, persistence when dealing with new challenges).

You can start by sitting still and slowly inhaling and exhaling. Try not to move or think about anything, and if a thought comes, throw it away immediately.

As long as you make the efforts to slowly inhale/exhale, not think of anything and not move, even if you’re bad at it, you should get better with time. Ever heard of brain plasticity? Your brain literally changes as you try, and do, new things. Otherwise people who meditate wouldn’t have a larger amount of gray matter.

Another thing that affects self-control is heart rate variability, which, according to Wikipedia, is “variation in the time interval between heartbeats”. One of the ways to improve heart rate variability is to do exercises such as meditating.

Also, if you’re feeling anxious and out of self-control, and instant cure is to try to calm down by slowing down your breathing. Inhale slowly and exhale slowly.

Personally, this has been a big revelation to me. If I wanted to improve my self-control and persistence, I thought I needed to use various “mind hacks” to think different about myself. This turned out to be wrong. I’ve noticed that when I feel that I’m out of control, the state I was in was being in a rush and not calm.

When Being Good Gives You Permission to be Bad


Now comes the part when we talk about psychology and what parts of your thinking you need to change in order to improve your persistence and willpower.

One thing we often do when we achieve something is reward ourselves. Finished a job that was tough? Sure, you can slack on those other goals for the next few days. Or eat that candy you’ve always wanted. This happens all the time with all sorts of goals.

I’ve recently started programming using one course and at the end of each lesson the course gave me a pretty difficult assignment I needed to complete. It took me around 5 hours on average to complete each assignment, but once I was done, I was so happy that I started slacking on my other long-term goals.

In other words, being good gave me permission to be bad.

How this Applies to Learning Web Design

I’m pretty sure learning web design isn’t your only goal. You probably have many other goals in life and reach certain milestones once in a while. Don’t let reaching those milestones give you an excuse to slack in your web-design goal, since that can ultimately cause you to give up (saying “I don’t have enough time today”, then saying the same thing tomorrow etc.).

One way to get rid of this “habit” is to think of the consequences of not doing (your learning web design habit) today and always putting it off. All the missed income opportunities, and the potential experience you could get doing projects of various kinds. How will delaying this decision all the time affect your future?

Define what “Learning” Means


Studies have shown that the more specific our goals are, the bigger the chances are that we are going to complete them. If your goal is just to “learn” web design, then you need to change it immediately. What does ‘learning’ exactly mean to you?

Is it watching Lynda videos? Is it making a sample project for someone? You’ll know that you’ve defined what ‘learning’ means once you look at what you need to do and don’t need to think further, but just spring into action. If you look at a goal saying “I need to learn to design today”, you won’t know how to go into action immediately, since you need to figure out what exactly you need to learn.

But if your goal is: “Spend 30 minutes to read X book where I left off” then things get much clearer.

Except for knowing what to do, it’s important to know when to do it. DO NOT OVERLOOK THIS! If you want to really stick to your learning habit, then starting with either doing it first thing in the morning or at a specific time (set up an alarm to remind you) will improve your chances of persisting through the challenges you are bound to encounter.

I’m not giving this kind of advice without personally spending time testing it. When I wanted to learn (in my example, it’s web development), it’s usually the first or the second thing I’m doing in the morning since my experience has shown that my “self-control” is at its peak in this morning period (it might be different for you, observing yourself can ultimately tell you this).

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My Personal Experience

When I started meditating, it was really painful to do at the beginning. My attention span was short (after all, with all the browsing, Facebook and Skype these days, it’s nearly impossible to have a long attention span) and it was really hard to “clear up” my thinking even for 2 minutes. This exercise came in handy, if a thought appeared while meditating, I needed to immediately throw it out and get my mind in a “clear mode” again. After 2-3 days (like with any other practice) this became easier. Meditating for 5 minutes without thinking about anything became a habit after 2 weeks. After that, I tried to extend my meditation time for 10 minutes, but found it to be more efficient if I just meditated for 5 minutes twice a day. Once in the morning, once in the evening.

I was all about “strength of will comes from having the right mindset” so it was difficult to accept that it was all physiological, not psychological. And who can blame me, after all, with so many books telling you that your success depends on “how you think” and “having the right thoughts makes all the difference”.

The other thing the book said is to spend more time sleeping and exercising. Those two weren’t a big problem for me since I spent plenty of time on both. But reflecting on the time I didn’t exercise, I was reminded of the many ‘depression moments’ I had sitting on my chair and not exercising. There are many studies that show that moving helps you stay happy and healthy and my personal experience showed this is totally true.

I think that in the personal development field, physiology is under-rated. What you do during the day, the amount of physical activity you do, affects your thinking greatly. Just look at those athletes…do they look depressed to you? On the other hand, take a look at people with sedentary jobs like secretaries etc. Which group do you think has more ‘depression moments’ in their life? Therefore, before trying to change your thinking, please, please, try to get your physiology in shape.

Try Observing Yourself This Week

Set up a time to meditate for 5 minutes a day this week. Also, focus on, and observe, yourself this week. When are you most likely to complete your goals? At what time are you most likely to slack off? When you’re thinking of slacking off, try meditating for a couple of minutes, think of the consequences of always putting off. In a few weeks, I’ll write part 2 for this article on how some other principles have helped me personally stick to my learning habit and not give up. Good luck with your learning!



  1. Ivan

    All I can say is, this spoke right to me and at the right time – this has been a simple and inspiring read thank you :)

  2. Sherry-Ann

    I am also not persistent or consistent, so after reading the article I decided to try mediating….NO LUCK, as much as I tried to block out the 1001 things that were galloping through my mind, I could not. However, I know medication works. So I’m going to really try to slow down and block out all the noise that is always running through my mind.
    Another great article!!

    • Darren

      Wait, the very act of trying to block the 1001 things means that it’s working. The next day you’ll be blocking 10 of those 1001 things, the next day 30 more, 10 days later you’ll be blocking 90% of those things (just going by your example). So being bad at meditation and stretching actually means you’re improving..

  3. diwyanshu

    everyword is true to the bottom ,Darren.
    MEditation really increasse your concentration and zeal to work effectively and with purpose.
    the time that hits you most in the day, i would suggest to take a small break at that time and involve yourself with something sportive or interesting to make you fresh , and take a walk in the park or go to a near by coffee shop,It could be anything that may vary from person to person.

    To be persistent and persevere one’s goal , one has to be active by the whole day , lethargy ought to get eliminated from your thoughts and body actions .

    Nice blog ,keep it up DARREN..!

  4. Very interesting aspect. Thank you for sharing that. :) I’ve never really gotten into meditation, but this makes me want to try again.

    As you stated, excercise also used to really help me focus and buckle down on what needed to be done. Excercise would give me the clear head and energy that I needed to really concentrate. I might work less when I excercise a lot, but also work more efficiently, making up for lost time with effectiveness, whereas usually I’d work longer, but have lots of distracting idle time.

  5. Uday Kumar

    Hi Darren,
    It’s very true but most of them starts meditating enthusiastically and ends up with in-consistency.
    Whatever we do, if there is no consistence we will not get 100% result.

  6. I must admit – I am a lot more focused when I meditate, and I seem to work a lot more in the flow of things. I mean things come and go. Work comes and goes. Times of feeling inspired and having fun come and go too. It is a natural part of life. When I meditate, it all doesn’t matter so much. Meditation and being peaceful and slowing things down really helps. Even doing the dishes is a great time to slow down and think about nothing in particular.

    Another way I get focused is by getting clear on my objectives (my goals, my aims). This is never as easy at it first seems. I think it is important to be congruent – ie head for a goal that makes sense for you and works well with all parts of your life.

    Another way, after I have set a goal and I am clear about it, is to put in place a plan to get there (ie a learning plan). It doesn’t need to be a formal plan. It just needs to be clear enough to give you the confidence you need to get to your goal. If you think your plan will work, it probably will.

  7. Wendy

    I agree with this article 100%. I will admit I don’t meditate as much as I should. However, I will say that I do feel more creative, balanced and happier on the days that I do. I am getting better at making sure I exercise everyday along with eating better.

    As far as studying and setting goals, I have actually been doing this since a few articles back. The list of recommended reading was put out and I followed up on that. I am now reading Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML by Eric T Freeman, Elisabeth Freeman and Elisabeth Robson. It’s an oldie but a good-y. I have realized that I missed a lot of basic information somewhere along the way. I really love the way the book presents the information. I can’t put the book down. Along with reading, I have been watching tutorials on Photoshop. I make it a point to learn how to make something creative each day. I am beginning to feel more confident with my skills in Photoshop now. I still have a long way to go, but I’m farther along than I was two months ago. I also watch tutorials on how to be a better photographer. I like to switch the subject up a little through out the day so that I don’t get burned out.

    Thanks for the great article. It reminds me just how important taking time for me is.

  8. kola

    @ Darren . Thanks for your write up. i have always been finding inspirations from they. i started out learning HTML, but i appear to be slow with. i am getting results at practise but have not built a hosted site. i hope this write up will help sustain my motivation and very soon my first site will be up. cheers

    @ Horris. i am challenged by the results you are getting. I will take ques from your. Keep working

  9. I just wrote down my calendar to the third time, I hope to stick to it this time. I will introduce meditation to see how it works out. I will comment with the results in part 2 of the article as you promised.

    • Darren

      Just one thing, if you miss your calendar, don’t blame yourself up, actually be happy (because upon analysis you’ll learn the reason why you procrastinated). I know this sounds counter-intuitive but it works.

  10. Daniel Acevedo

    I having a difficult time to learn new things and I thing this articule is going to help me.
    I will practice this week.
    Thanks for the tips.

  11. Seems like you’re experiencing “writers’ block” only for learning.

    I have always learned best under the gun. That tends to motivate me like nothing else. I worked for many years in television as a videotape (and later just video) editor. I also produced and showed producers how to prepare for editing while in the field. Then I moved to Central Connecticut where, unless you’re crazy about sports, there’s not much work in television. I was forced to re-invent myself. The network that I worked for decided that I was a line item on their spreadsheet that they wanted to get rid of, despite considerable talent built up over the years.

    Today, I have my own small business, working for other small businesses in my area, showing how Internet-based marketing will work for them. I had an old copy of Adobe’s Dreamweaver that came with a suite of applications I had purchased and I got myself a book on simple web design and followed it. My first websites were all built on that one idea.

    I am good at selling myself and that created a bunch of clients, all demanding websites. Because I had lots of work and because it was taking me a long time to crank it out, I purchased some pre-built website kits from WebAssist. The WebAssist templates were useful, but what was more useful was that they taught me how to use Dreamweaver templates to make it simple to do global changes on websites.

    I bought a few more tools to make production faster, many from Project VII and built a few tools myself from material I got off the Internet. The quality of my websites improved. I learned what works and what doesn’t. I got interested in HTML5 and CSS3 when I learned that one could make websites that did not require large graphic files that downloaded slowly for backgrounds. I also learned how terminally stupid Microsoft has been with their browsers.

    With respect to web design, I recommend that anyone who is using Dreamweaver start out by looking carefully at the pre-designed website templates included with the application and pick them apart until one understands basic layout strategies. While doing that, use a plug-in for navigation—don’t do it yourself if you need websites with drop-down menus. Then, after you get basic layout down, learn how to make drop-down menu structures using just CSS and HTML. Then learn JavaScript, then learn php. By the time you are functional in this, there isn’t a website you cannot build yourself.

    Motivation for me has always been about paying a mortgage.