This week when my husband Bob and entered the gym for our regular workout, Dom at the front desk said, "You two are consistent. But you'll see lots of people come here for the first two weeks in January and then never see them again."
How many New Year's resolutions fall by the wayside because of lack of persistence? Why do so many of us give up when we don't see immediate results? My friend Wayne, who works in medical sales, knows what persistence means. He says that it takes ten calls before someone says "Yes." If you give up after four or five tries, you never make the sale.
Persistence breaks through resistance, helping us reach our goals. In my book, Your Personal Renaissance, I tell how international portrait photographer Michael Collopy developed his skills through resourcefulness and perseverance. After seeing an Ansel Adams exhibit in Oakland, Collopy got Adams' number from Information and called him. The two men met and became friends, with Adams sharing his expertise in black and white photography and love of nature. When Collopy realized he wanted to photograph people, he went to New York to meet photographer Richard Avedon. With no connections, he simply stood outside Avedon's studio for days, waiting for him to come out. Collopy's persistence paid off. They finally met, and he learned valuable lessons from Avedon, going on to photograph world leaders such as Mother Teresa, Jimmy Carter, Jane Goodall, Linus Pauling, and the Dalai Lama (Dreher, 2008, p. 139).
Persistence can transform our lives, leading to great strength of character. As Winston Churchill said in 1941, "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty-never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."
Persistence has been identified by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman's research as one of twenty-four character strengths common to humankind. Like any strength, it can be developed with practice.
Some keys to developing persistence are:
- intrinsic motivation-you must find a task meaningful and enjoyable,
- social support-encouragement from others that fosters your own determination,
- positive feedback-reinforcement and reassurance that your efforts are paying off (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
Inadvertently, Bob and I managed to connect with all three of these keys. While we all know that consistent exercise is essential for good health, many of us have trouble finding the time for it. But when Bob and I visited our neighborhood gym two years ago, the beautiful building and friendly atmosphere felt like a world apart from the responsibilities of work and home--almost like being on vacation. We decided that exercising together would be a great way to spend more time together as a couple along with relieving stress and staying fit.
Because we exercise together, Bob and I have built-in social support. When I feel "too busy" at the end of the day for our regular Monday, Wednesday, Friday workout, I know that we have a date at the gym. And the friends we've made there offer us more positive feedback, only adding to our enjoyment.
Consistent exercise is its own reward. We not only enjoy our workouts but leave the gym feeling relaxed and energized, the day's challenges and minor hassles fading into the background.
You can build your own power of persistence this year. Begin by choosing one positive action--just one. Many people fail with "New Year's Resolutions" because they try to do too much all at once.
Then follow these three simple steps:
- Make sure your action is meaningful to you--not someone else's idea of what you "should" do-and find a way to make it enjoyable.
- Build in social support. Invite your partner or friend to join you--or sign up for a class and make new friends.
- Create positive feedback--give positive comments to the people around you. Find ways to measure your progress: write down your "wins," your gains in strength and proficiency.
As the Tao Te Ching says,
The journey of a thousand miles
Begins with a single step.
What step will you take to brighten your new year?
Churchill, W. S. (1941). Address at Harrow School, October 19, 1941 in Kaplan, J. (1992). Familiar Quotations: John Bartlett. 16th ed. Boston, MA: Little. Brown, and Company, p.621.
Dreher, D. (2008). Your Personal Renaissance. New York, NY: Da Capo.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press.
Tao Te Ching quote from Dreher, D. (2000). The Tao of Inner Peace. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam.