A Gentle Kind of Persistence

When you think of persistence do you grit your teeth? Do you think of grimacing while you push through some obstacle? To me, it’s been a concept like discipline, important, but not necessarily appealing. These days I have come to understand persistence differently — without the drama.

I read a Japanese or Chinese proverb, can’t remember the provenance, that says, Fall down seven times, get up eight.

As one who has a predilection for the grand, dramatic move, I have come to appreciate the power in little things. In fact, I have a whole talk about leveraging little things. One of the biggest breakthroughs in helping more women come out of childbirth alive was something very small and ordinary, yet it took at least 2 decades from the time the discovery was made until it became accepted by the American medical profession. The innovation? Washing your hands before delivering a baby. Imagine.

Today I think of persistence in terms of a quiet confidence in my projects. They may not work out in the way I intended, or my timing may be off, but I know my intentions will largely become reality. It’s been happening my entire life, though it took me a long time to see that. There are a couple of reasons why it’s taken me so long to see how powerful my intentions have been. One is being hard-headed slows down the learning process. The other is that the path to achieve my goals has usually been so different from what I thought it would be, that I have been blind to the materialization of my intentions.

Here’s just one example. I always wanted to live in a beautiful international city, and for the 10 years I lived in Caracas, that was true. I never had the express intention of living in South Carolina, but here I am in a small international port city of Charleston, an international city since before the founding of the U.S.

Gentle persistence is not beating yourself up when you got too busy to exercise, or snap at someone because you feel overwhelmed. You simply sigh deeply, and try again. (You may have to apologize but again, without self-flagellation.)

Gentle persistence is being willing to adapt your game plan as you move along. It’s not, See it didn’t work, obviously I’m not meant to be ________ (fill in the blank.) Say your goal is being healthier and you overindulged at the office birthday party. Instead of continuing overeat, you get back on your healthy eating plan at the next meal. My friend Sally blogs about her process of losing over 100 pounds here, if you’re interested.

If your goal is saving 10% of your income and it seems like each month you have a new unexpected expense, try saving 5% for a month or two. Or even 3%.

If your goal is to write a book, schedule 15 minutes a day to write. If that is too much, try 5 minutes.

Paying attention to little things, taking baby steps, takes you further.

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2 responses to “A Gentle Kind of Persistence

  1. You offer great advice about persistence. When did you leave Caracas? I am moving there in December…

    • Lucky you! I moved back to the U.S. August, 2007. Caracas is an amazing city, takes some getting used to if you’ve never lived there before. Have a great adventure!

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