Stay the Course: Making Perseverance Part of Life
Patience and perseverance have a magical effect
before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.
~John Quincy Adams
Stay the course.
The ability to keep at something—to not give up—is often underestimated. When working toward a goal, the willingness to work consistently at a sustained level is a critical factor for success. In many cases, perseverance is just as important, if not more important than, talent or intelligence. I might have all the skills in the world, but if I can’t be disciplined about working on my goal every day, talent doesn’t do me much good.
Perseverance in our lives
How can we better incorporate perseverance into our lives? Before we decide to pursue something consistently and earnestly, we must decide what in our lives is worthy of this kind of effort (see Goals). It’s necessary to figure out what the important elements in our lives are—elements we will want to and, more importantly, are likely to consistently devote energy to over time. Once we’ve made our choices and understand our priorities, we have to commit to an outcome. We can do this mentally, but it will be more effective if we commit formally. There are a variety of ways we can do this. We can write it down—create an agreement or a contract with ourselves. We can tell people about it and ask them to hold us accountable.
I did that with this blog. Before I launched it, I told a group of friends about it and shared early posts with them. It created an expectation—both from me and from my friends—that I was going to write a post every two weeks, and it’s really worked.
Continuing in the face of failure
It can often be hardest to persevere when we’ve had a setback (see Failure). When things don’t go the way we thought they would, or when we’ve lost ground due to a problem or an obstacle, it can be hard to pick up the pieces, assess where we are and what we need to do, and go back to being productive. It can be even harder to take the time to reflect on what happened and learn from our misstep, especially if we’re on a schedule. But learning from our mistakes is key to our long-term progress and will ultimately help us obtain the best result we can hope for.
Although we never hope for failure, it’s a good idea to build in accommodations for failure in our planning. That way, we won’t have to scramble to pick up the pieces and feel like we have to get right back to work. We can take the time to think about our setback, identify any lessons learned, incorporate those lessons in our future activities, and be the better for it.
Perseverance when things are going well is relatively easy—when things aren’t going to plan is when we really find out if we are able to truly persevere.
Knowing when to say when
Perseverance doesn’t mean blindly sticking to a plan when we clearly see that the plan is no longer working or no longer what we want. One of the most important elements of perseverance is honesty—honesty with ourselves. Honesty in the effort we’re making, honesty in our progress, and most importantly, honesty about our path. We all have false starts. You may have decided on a major early in college then figured out you didn’t really want to be a doctor or an engineer. You may have devoted significant time and energy to landing your dream job then discovered it wasn’t for you. You may have spent hours and hours trying to learn how to play the piano then realized that you really don’t enjoy it. These are not failures—they are valuable exercises in getting to know ourselves better. They help us hone our path and find our way toward a happy, meaningful life.
Patience and reward
When we’re working on something day in and day out, we won’t necessarily see progress every day. There will be days when it seems like we’re not making any progress at all. In these instances, we have to be patient. We have to allow our progress to be gradual and accept that we may not always notice it. However, it’s also important to understand the difference between gradual progress and stagnation. We should also be open to the possibility that we’re not actually making progress. We may need to make a change or a course correction.
The key is setting milestones and a timetable. Perseverance is all about sustained consistent effort, but it’s also about assessment and reflection. It’s about setting realistic goals and deadlines for meeting them. Yes it’s important to spend time on our tasks regularly and consistently, but we have to have a method to gauge where we are. Our deadlines should be realistic—we don’t want to set deadlines that are too aggressive just because we’re not patient enough to put in the necessary time to achieve our goals. We have to give ourselves the time we need to make progress and periodically assess our approach as well as reflect on our goals as they relate to our priorities in life.
If we can be persistent in our efforts and realistic in our goals, we will persevere. Stay the course, and the sky’s the limit!