Finding Nemo is a story that can teach you how to build persistence. In the backdrop of the Great Barrier Reef, Marlin and Cora wait for their Clownfish clan to hatch. Tragedy strikes when a barracuda invades their sea anemone. Marlin finds himself with only one egg and no Coral.

When Nemo hatches, he has one fin smaller than the other. Marlin becomes an over-protective father. He now fears the ocean and shields Nemo from anything and everything that could hurt him.

Nemo defies his father and ventures off the reef and into danger.

I won’t spoil the story if you haven’t seen it. But Marlin leaves the safety of the reef to look for Nemo who finds himself in the dentist’s office fish tank. Both Marlin and Nemo reveal the power of their persistence.

Lessons on How to Build Persistence

You can gain valuable insights on persistence from Finding Nemo and the research of Jane McGonigal. McGonigal writes about how she used gaming to recover from a severe concussion. Her scientific research explains how all kinds of games help us respond to stress, pain, and challenges. Three beliefs emerged.

“These three qualities are all it takes to become happier, braver,
and more resilient in the face of any challenge.”
~ Jane McGonigal, Super Better (p.1)

You are stronger than you know

Marlin literally got into the flow of the ocean current to find Nemo. Nothing and no one would get in his way. He remained in the flow no matter what obstacles he faced.

You are in charge of your cognitive control. Doctors have found how games can help refocus the brain to reduce pain or fear. The game breaks the cycle of attention our body gives to the pain.

McGonigal also shares a story of a couple trying to quit smoking. The couple dedicated Thursday nights to working jigsaw puzzles with “no smoking” allowed. The strategy of changing their attention helped them break the habit.

The couple became so absorbed in the activity that it broke the cycle of attention to smoking. In a sense, they got into the flow.

Flow is the state of being completely absorbed in an activity.
It is not mere distraction or engagement; it’s
full engagement.
It’s being totally immersed in, motivated by, and energized from the challenge at hand.” (p.44)

You are surrounded by potential allies

Marlin found allies in his journey to find his son. Dory, Bruce, Crush, and Squirt guide him through the East Australian Current toward Sydney. They cared about his mission, and he learned he could trust them to lead him in the right direction.

In the fish tank, Nemo found a team of supporters led by Nigel. The team of unlikely allies gave Nemo a sense of belonging. They, in turn, rallied together to help their new friend.

“What if you were surrounded by people ready and willing to help you with any problem at any time?
How much more could you accomplish?
How much more ambitious could you be?” (p.52)

Social network games build relationships by “establishing common ground, increasing familiarity, and modeling reciprocity.” In games, you connect and create allies to complete your mission. You establish common ground and build on one another’s strengths. You begin to depend on the reciprocity of every player. You help and receive help from others.

Modeling reciprocity means showing other people that we care about them and that they can trust us to offer help.” (p.68)

What you don’t want in those online games is a member who takes advantage of other players. Aggressive competitiveness by one member destroys trust at the expense of the team.

You are the hero of your own story

Marlin doesn’t look like someone who could take on the challenge before him. His fear of the ocean consumed his life and his parenting.

Marlin and Nemo had motivation and willpower, but they needed more. They needed the skills to solve their problem—finding each other.

Both faced many failures. That didn’t stop them. They learned, tried something new, and kept building their skills to meet their goal.

Marlin dug deep into himself and found what was there all along. The ability to grow his self-efficacy.

“Self-efficacy means having confidence in the concrete skills and abilities required to solve specific problems or achieve particular goals…the crucial difference between having lots of motivation but failing to follow through, and successfully converting motivation into consistent and effective action.” (p. 81)

McGonigal gives a path for self-efficacy as illustrated in this visual.

Visual that shows the steps to self-efficacy to build persistence

Backstory from Pixar

Ed Catmull describes the extraordinary efforts to ensure authenticity in Finding Nemo in his book, Creativity, Inc. A team went to a San Francisco sewage treatment plant. Their goal—to find out if a fish could survive a trip through the drain and sewer pipes into the ocean. In verifying this feat, several Pixar team members even became certified divers.

The making of Finding Nemo also taught the Pixar team a valuable lesson. Pixar was growing and Catmull and his team began looking for a way to make production processes more efficient. They decided to try something new. They would complete the script before production began.

The team almost lost the baby as they threw out the dirty water. Critical script changes in production led to dramatic storyline improvements. The changes amplified the story, the characters, and success. While closing the book on the script seemed efficient, they discovered that it also closed the door on creativity.

“Making the process better, easier, and cheaper is an important aspiration, something we continually work on—but it is not the goal. Making something great is the goal.”
~Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc. (p.134)

We risk undermining our efforts when we over-focus on streamlining processes to become more efficient and productive. The group thinks that everything they are doing is good, but they have abandoned creativity for safety. We stop innovating because that takes time and time costs money.

Pixar’s persistence to create quality animated films gifted the world a rich and engaging story. One that will last for generations to come.

A Summary

Your superpowers lie within you. Allies can help you if you look for them and let them in. Developing self-efficacy means being and becoming super better every day. Are you willing to believe in you?

“You are already more powerful than you realize.

You can control your attention—and therefore your thoughts and feelings.

You have the strength to find support in the most unexpected places and deepen your existing relationships.

You have a natural capacity to motivate yourself and super-charge your heroic qualities, like willpower, compassion, and determination.”

As Dory encouraged Marlin,

“Keep swimming, keep swimming. Just keep swimming.”

Thanks to Amy Marley in There Is No Secret Ingredient and Emily for the inspiration for this article.

And always—

Be kind. Be brave. Be you.