Being persistent is a skill that can help you to reach a goal, get what you desire and can even be a means by which you assert yourself in the face of stubborn or difficult people. The application of persistence to any task, interaction or goal is often what distinguishes between those who are successful and those who fail in any endeavor. Indeed, a lack of persistence or "giving up too soon" is one of the most common reasons for failure in any endeavor.
This article covers the role of persistence in accomplishing a goal, overcoming failure and getting what you want in interactions with other people.
If you've ever joined a gym on January 2nd and attended religiously until January 4th, you know that persistence, while challenging, is necessary to achieve your goals. Whether you are trying to establish a new habit, shed an old one, or accomplish a larger project, it is one thing to set a goal, but quite another matter to follow through. This section explains how you can help yourself stick to it.
- Set a goal. Be specific about what results you want to achieve. Be specific about the time frame in which you wish to achieve your goal or results. As well as setting a goal, make sure it is something you can reasonably accomplish.
- Write down your goal someplace that you will see it regularly. This might be in a journal, on Post-It Notes, on a wall poster, etc.
- Break the goal down into smaller pieces. Smaller pieces are easier to manage and easier to accomplish, and they'll give you a feeling of accomplishment sooner.
- Divide it by time. Tackle a task in 15-minute or one-hour pieces. If you're trying to change your habits, go for one day, then another.
- Divide the task itself into pieces. Sort so many files at a time, or clean so many square feet.
- Do a little bit. Five minutes, three times per week is better than nothing, and it might not seem so difficult. Then, build up from there.
- Learn what motivates you. Do you love the satisfaction of a job well done? See if you can improve upon your previous attempts. Do you enjoy the attention or praise of others? Plan to show off your work when you're done, or demonstrate it as you go.
- Put a reminder somewhere prominent. Are you trying to save money to buy a house? Put a photo of your dream home on your bathroom mirror––or in front of your credit card.
- Make it a habit. Do whatever it is every day, if possible. One tactic that can work is to connect it to a habit you already have. For example, if you already brush your teeth each night before bed, that would be a good time to floss and wash your face, too. Water your plants when you bring in your mail or take out the dog. You can even pull a few weeds while you're waiting for the hose to run.
- Make it fun. Turn on the music or listen to an audio book if it's a repetitive task, such as painting a room. Challenge yourself to finish a certain amount or to get through a certain amount of time. If anybody is working with you, make it a race. You could even toss in a small bet (a massage, a dinner) as a challenge and to give yourselves something to prove.
- Go public. Ask a friend to accompany you, or simply to check in on your progress. You'll find it a lot harder to shirk your workout if you know somebody is coming to ask. There is even a website called StickK.com where you can "put a contract on yourself" online for all to see and if you fail to reach your goal, you owe money to a charity you chose as part of the deal.
- Keep score. Write your progress in a journal or calendar. You could simply mark each day that you did (or didn't) do something, or you could write in something to measure: how far you went, or how fast, how many items you finished, or how much time you spent.
- Take breaks. While it may feel noble to struggle on and not rest, this isn't a sensible option. You and your body need periods of rest to regroup and re-energize. In particular, your subconscious continues to work through problems during a break, so it's important to give yourself this space. Rest is vital to maintaining persistence.
- Reward yourself for persisting. Rewards make it more likely that you'll persist with reaching your goal because many big goals can take months or even years to achieve. The longer the time it takes to achieve the goal, the more you risk losing motivation. To avoid this, small frequent rewards can keep you energized and focused. make a list of rewards you'll give yourself after certain achievements, such as a small reward for a day's solid work and a large reward for a month's solid work toward the goal.
- Plan small rewards. Add a sticker to your collection, a star to your calendar, or a feather to your cap for each section of the task you complete. Go to the movies or spend a night at the theater with friends.
- Plan big rewards. Rewards that involve more cost or planning can be included as less frequent but vital injections of inspiration. For example, plan to upgrade your musical instrument when you achieve some specific level of proficiency; if you're learning a language, plan to take a trip somewhere to practice it.
- Make the rewards relevant and suited to your goal. If you're starting a garden, get a new plant for each section of soil you prepare. Likewise, if you're starting a workout program, don't reward yourself with food. Try a warm bath, instead.
- Only allow yourself the reward when you hit the target. Rewards lose their power if you indulge them without the achievement of a milestone toward your goal.
- Get started. Even if you don't think you can do much right away, you'll soon know what needs work and what questions to ask. You may find that your goal was easier to achieve than you thought. Besides, you can never finish what you never begin.
Persisting beyond failure
Failure is often used as an excuse or reason to not pursue a goal or to give up easily. Yet, failure is a source of impetus when viewed constructively and it is not something to be afraid of.
- Accept that failure happens. The most successful people in life have all failed. The difference between them and people who live in fear of failure is that successful people face the failure, learn from it and use it to spur their next attempt. They persist because they know that failure is simply part of achievement. For yourself, learning to perceive failure as a natural part of the road to success is the key to thriving. Ask yourself:
- What is my attitude to failure? Am I avoiding it by never persisting at anything? Am I scared of failing?
- Am I using a fear of failure to avoid being persistent in my current goals and actions? Is my success rate reflecting this?
- Avoid quitting at the first sign of difficulty. This is so commonplace that a failure to persist turns into self-confirmation that not trying was the best option, which then turns into folklore and hearsay about the pointlessness of trying. Anything worth doing or achieving is going to encounter hurdles and difficulties. Treat that as a given and treat the challenges as something that will test your mettle and shape you for the better, making you stronger, more astute and more compassionate. If at first you don't succeed, try it again and again. If you don't get the job of your dreams or the publisher for your novel at the first, second or third attempts, make many more attempts. Too many people think that the first few rejections mean that it's never going to happen. This is a self-limiting and baseless assumption; provided that you know your strategy or goal is right, it is simply a case of not repeating it enough times. Remember that there are a lot of people and a lot of opportunities in the world––you can't possibly hope to pitch your own wishes and goals at the right people first off every time!
- Examine the reasons that might be leading to failure. This leads on as a second prong from the previous step; once you've already tried to persist at length with your original strategy but you find you're continuing to get rejections or hitting road bumps constantly, you may need to tweak your approach. As Rita Mae Brown once said: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results". Perhaps your blog writing isn't as exciting as it could be so the readers just aren't amassing as hoped; perhaps your resume isn't really showing you in your best light so you're not getting the interviews; perhaps your interview technique needs polishing with the help of a professional interview expert because you're not getting the job offers; or perhaps your business marketing needs a more innovative approach because that great product or service you're offering just isn't getting noticed.
- Stop and assess the things you're doing to reach your goal; it is often not the goal at fault but the methodology or fine details that haven't been adequately clarified or tailored to help reach the goal.
- Don't ever be afraid of constructive criticism on how to do things better––your own honest assessment and that of people you trust and even that of your competitors can give you a lot of information about how to improve your approach toward a goal. Listen carefully and learn from the things criticism tells you.
- Learn to give up with grace. There is a common phrase that states "never give in". What this really means is "never give in easily"; it means that you give it all you've got and give it one more try to then reassess the approach or even the goal. The phrase "never give in" doesn't mean be a stubborn fool. If the facts tell you that letting go of a goal or desire that has since proven untenable or unrealistic despite your efforts, then be sensible about rerouting your energies. Be graceful in defeat, for you have just learned what doesn't work and isn't worth persisting with but you can now try new ways to achieve your goals.
- See the end result in your mind's eye. When the going gets tough and you just want to drop it all, restore your sense of purpose by remembering your vision. Visualize the end result you want to achieve, with yourself in this vision. Make sure that this is an exciting vision, something that inspires and uplifts you. Wallow in the exciting vision instead of a picture of bleak doom. You deserve the vision's outcome, so keep reminding yourself of that as you put in the effort to achieve it.
Being persistent when refusing or requesting something
Persistence plays an important role in your personal interactions. Whenever you make a request or a refusal, the art of persistence can help you to assert your needs and to make it clear what you will or will not do for others, as well as not giving up on seeking to persuade someone when their agreement to your request really matters.
- Be persistent in what you say so that other people truly understand your meaning and know that you mean it. Persistence can also be viewed as an assertiveness technique, one aimed at ensuring that you're properly understood by another person and one that makes it clear that you don't give your ground on something without making a conscious choice to do so. If you're the type of person to barely whisper what you want or don't want from other people or you're easily trapped and lead off in other directions when trying to explain what you want or don't want from someone else, then you will be helped a great deal by learning to be persistent in interactions with other people.
- Persistence in making requests and refusals enables people to know what you want, clearly and without any embellishment.
- Persistence enables you to stand up for yourself when people attempt to waylay, dissuade or redirect your wants to be more consistent with their own preferences. Whether or not you succeed in getting the response you're seeking does not matter; it is how you approached it that will be remembered by others.
- Learn the "broken record" technique. This is a common technique used in assertiveness training, to help you stick to your initial message and to have it to return to when the person you're interacting with keeps trying to redirect you elsewhere. Basically, this technique consists of making a continuous, clear statement about your feeling, intention or decision without becoming angry, defensive or irritated, no matter how much you have to repeat yourself.
- Learn to state a clear and reasonable refusal or request repeatedly. Do this by being definite to begin with (I don't want this or I do want that).
- Proceed to recognizing any attempts by the other party to question you, sidetrack you, or cause you to feel guilty. These are all attempts to break your persistence.
- Avoid getting angry or being malicious. This is simply about repeatedly making it clear what your preferences are. Hence, the "broken record".
- Avoid a feeling that you've "backed down" by adopting a "workable compromise". On less common occasions, you may find that a compromise will work but you only if it doesn't cause you to feel that you've given in or being used. In this case, accept the need for a compromise as part of your assertive approach, listen carefully to what the other person is asking and formulate questions based on what they've said to ask them how much they're willing to compromise. In your case, only offer what you can without feeling resentful or used up.
- An example of a workable compromise: Bill has asked Jenny if he can borrow her car tonight. Jenny has already told Bill that since he dented it, she is no longer happy to loan it to him. Bill gets very worked up and says that he promises to take good care of it and will even fill it up before returning it. Jenny can see this as a bribe of sorts but she is also concerned that Bill won't have access to public transportation after midnight and therefore might get into trouble trying to come home. She is personally happy to collect Bill because she will be out with friends in the same area that night. Therefore, Jenny might ask Bill if he is happy for her to collect him, on the understanding that she won't ever lend him the car again but that since she will be in the area after midnight, she is very happy to help him get home again. Bill smiles, says yes and they both get a warm glow inside. In this situation, Jenny might also make it clear that this is a one-off win-win and that Bill will need to investigate his own options for all future situations.
- Focus always on restating your request or your refusal. This means only answering questions that are relevant and not being lead into answering questions that have little or nothing to do with the matter but then are used by the other person to launch into distracting you from what you've asked for or refused. When making your request or refusal, be careful of the following:
- Always make eye contact. This shows that you mean business. This is as important with asking the kids to go to bed on time as it is when asking the boss for a raise.
- Avoid beginning with an apology unless it's absolutely necessary. An apology usually is a way to self-efface and it gives too much leverage to the recipient who realizes that maybe you can be talked out of your refusal or request because of guilt, uncertainty or fear.
- Always be specific. State with clarity the exact thing that you want done/to happen/to change, etc. or what it is that you're refusing to do/lend/give, etc.
- Remain calm, polite and positive. Do not get angry, volatile or difficult. Do not sulk. In particular, never threaten or exaggerate.
- Be reasonable when you're seeking to be persistent. In the case of both a request or a refusal, a compromise may be appropriate. In the case of a request, the other person has a right to refuse. Ultimately, persistence is knowing that you have tried your best, stood up for yourself and not being sidestepped or angered. Even where you don't get what it is that you wanted, you have gone about being persistent in a way that earns respect and keeps your dignity completely intact.
- Always put your health at the forefront of your life. Without good health, you risk being afraid, negative and rundown all the time, none of which will help your persistence. Exercise daily, eat nutritious food and get plenty of sleep.
- Learn to cope with setbacks. Especially, don't give up on the whole thing because of one problem or error. If you didn't succeed on Monday, try again on Tuesday.
- Dream big. Most of us will never compete in the Olympics, become the CEO of a large company, or earn a Nobel Peace Prize, but we can still admire and emulate those who do. Who is your role model? By copying the strategies of a role model, you're likely to get similar results. It could even be the strategy of your competitors! Get advice from people who have made things work out the way you want them to work out and start thinking the same way.
- Part of following through on your promises is not making unrealistic promises, in the first place. If something is genuinely beyond your ability or your means, saying no or reaching a compromise may be better in the long run.
- Never be afraid to reach out to others for help. This isn't about leaning on people––it's about relying on their support, listening to their advice, working with them as a sounding board and letting them guide you from time to time. Even if you don't have friends or family who can fulfill this role, there are people who can, such as therapists, life coaches and career counselors. Build your team of "trusted advisers" to help you reach your goal, just as many successful people have done, from Alexander the Great to Oprah Winfrey.
- Don't let breaks become permanent. Sometimes, a rest is the best thing you can do for your goal, but resting indefinitely is sure to derail it completely.
- Heed the warnings of others in your field or endeavor. By doing so, you will avoid making the same mistakes and make persisting even easier.
- If you find yourself constantly banging your head against a brick wall, it's time to reassess what you're doing. Be intelligent about achieving goals through persistence.
- Don't treat persistence as an end in itself. Not only does that risk turning you into a very stubborn person (which is not the definition of persistence) but it will tend to make you annoying when you keep pestering. A stubborn person is incapable of knowing when to let go of a goal that no longer serves a sound or helpful purpose, thereby reinforcing failure. Being "dogged" in the face of facts telling you to ease up is not the same as being constructively persistent. On the other hand, a persistent person knows that he or she is right based on sound reasons and assessment of the situation, constantly revising the goal as needed to ensure the goal is still worthwhile and continuing with effort to bring it within sight.
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