Persistent Behavior

Persistence comes of our belief that we will accomplish what we’ve set out to do.  How do we build that belief if we don’t already have it?  Where does that belief come from in those that do have it?

I remember reading in Duhigg’s The Power of Habit about Michael Phelps.  His coach, Bob Bowman, believed the key to winning was building the right routines.  Routines built of small wins; small wins that built preparedness, confidence, and a sense of calm; which in turn led to a series of record setting victories on one of the world’s biggest stages: the Olympics.

My secret dream since college has been “to be a writer.”  But as soon as I turn my thoughts from “practicing writing” to “being a writer” I’m a deer in the headlights.  It was the same way with “practicing mathematics” versus “being a mathematician.”  One perspective keeps my pencil moving, the other keeps me from even getting started.

I thought writing a 250 word essay every day would be easy.  It isn’t.

“Being a writer” isn’t a small win.  In fact it isn’t even well defined.  Does writing this essay make me a writer?  Or writing a book that never gets published?  Or writing an article for a newspaper or magazine?  It’s too vague; and “Being a writer” focuses on identity rather than practice.

Obviously I’m no expert on this matter.  But I suspect the key is to have a well defined and very specific routine that leads to the behavior required to produce the desired outcome.  For example if you, like me, are interested in writing essays here is “How to Write an Essay – 10 Easy Steps.”

How about you?  Do you struggle with persistence?  Or are you one of those who seem able to beat down any obstacle that stands in your way?  Do you understand where your persistence comes from?  Please share your thoughts with me.

Virtue: the Practice of Well-being

Well-being is that state of wholeness, meaningfulness, and connectedness we associate with happiness, the good life, or a life well lived; a life that aims to fulfill its potential.  Virtue is the practice that leads to well-being.

These ideas of well-being and virtue have been discussed and debated by philosophers and theologians down through the ages.  But it is only recently that science has begun to investigate them.

In 2004 Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman published Character Strengths and Virtues, an attempt at a scientifically derived catalogue of the healthy human character.  They made “a comprehensive literature search of lists of virtues critical to human thriving” that was both interdisciplinary and cross-cultural, and made a determination as to whether those lists converged.

Their research strongly indicated an historical and cross-cultural convergence identified by what they describe as six core virtues:

  1. Courage: the capacity to overcome fear; the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition.
  2. Justice: that which makes life fair; broadly interpersonal, relevant to the optimal interaction between the individual and the group or the community.
  3. Humanity: relating to others, interpersonal strengths; positive traits manifested in caring relationships with others; dispositions to tend and befriend.
  4. Temperance: moderation; positive traits that protect us from excess.
  5. Transcendence: meaning or purpose larger than ourselves; that which allows individuals to form connections to the large universe, and thereby provide meaning to their lives.
  6. Wisdom: hard fought knowledge used for good; exceptional breadth and depth of knowledge; creativity, curiosity, judgment, and perspective; positive traits related to the acquisition and use of information in the service of the good life; cognitive strengths.

If well-being or happiness is our aim in life, then it behooves us to find one or more practices to inculcate each of these virtues into our lives.  I will be inquiring into what the nature of these practices might be over the next few days.

Practicing Persistence

Why do you persist in your practice? What do you do when you get discouraged? How do you make yourself do it again when everything in you says “No mas!”?

I am trying to learn the answers to these questions. So please share your experience with me.

It is easier to quit when I lose sight of what I’m trying to accomplish, or lose faith that I can accomplish it, or lose the expectation that my practice will bear fruit.

So to persist, I need to continually revisit and sharpen the vision or description of the expected results of my practice in all its blossoming glory.

I need to carve my practice into a series of small achievable steps of gradually increasing levels of difficulty, with well defined milestones along the way. These milestones are the “small wins” that will build my confidence and my expectation of future success.

I need to document these wins, so I can go back and look at them, and remind myself when I’m discouraged that I have succeeded in the past.

I need to surround myself with like minded individuals, who share in these experiences, who share their encouragement, with a mutual expectation of success.

I need a mentor who is a model of practice, persistence, and who has already accomplished what I want to achieve.