Flexible Persistence Leads To Success

You parents probably told you as some point in your life that if at first you don’t succeed, try again and again until you succeed.  Even if you never heard this growing up, the basic idea – don’t give up when you encounter an obstacle – is something you probably understand very well.  Actually putting this concept into action, however, is much harder than just saying the words.  The key to doing it successfully lies in something called flexible persistence.

Persistence, not stubbornness

For some people, the difference between persistence and stubbornness is not obvious at first.  They think, when faced with a challenge or obstacle, all they need to do is keep battering away at the “brick wall” in front of them and eventually they will break through.  The reality, however, is somewhat different.  Stubbornness is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different or better results.  Persistence, on the other hand, is something else entirely.

True persistence is flexible.  When you face an obstacle with persistence, you don’t just bang your head against the wall over and over again.  Rather, you think about what you are doing.  You try different things to see what will work.  If one particular approach does not work, you try another one, and if that one doesn’t work you try again and again until you find the right one.  With this kind of open mind and flexible approach, you will eventually find something that works.

It’s simple, really; when you encounter a brick wall, don’t waste time trying to go through it.  Go around it, go over it, or go under it; whatever it takes to get to the other side.

Approach the problem with openness and flexibility

A good place to start is with a list.  Make a list of all of the possible things you could try, no matter how wild or how unlikely you think they might be.  Let your creativity loose and brainstorm like crazy.  As you go through this process, watch out for any limiting beliefs that might be holding you back.  These are the “rules” that exist in your mind, but most of the time they are not really rules at all.  They are things that have been taught to you at some point or that you have decided on your own at some point, but they are not necessarily true.

Take a look at your list and pick out the first thing you think absolutely will not work.  Now ask yourself why you think that.  Why won’t it work?  Is the answer you come up with based in fact?  Is it based on something someone else has told you but that you haven’t experienced firsthand?  Is it based on something you are guessing or speculating might be the case?  A good way to formulate the best answers to these questions is to try to think of all the reasons why it won’t work, and for each reason brainstorm one or more ways that you might be able to make it work.

Go down the rest of your list this same way, taking notes and writing down your thoughts and ideas about each one.

It’s all about options and choices

Even if something looks like a “sure thing”, without any question about the method or the outcome, take another fresh look.  What other options or choices might be there that you haven’t considered yet?  You might not think so at first, but they are there if you look hard enough.  Gather additional information, talk to other people who have faced the same issue or challenge, and be humble enough to acknowledge that you may not know everything there is to know after all.

Here’s another way to look at the situation.  You’ve most likely heard the phrase “think outside the box” at some point, but have you ever really considered what the box actually is?  What does it look like?  Where does it begin, and where does it end?  Now take another leap of flexibility and purposefully look outside of the box you have defined for yourself.  What new and interesting options and choices do you see now?

Bend the rules but stick to your guiding principles

An important concept to keep in mind here is the difference between the “rules” and your guiding principles.  Most of the time, it’s okay to bend the rules and challenge your limiting beliefs, but you should never violate your values or your guiding principles.  Remember that it’s not worth losing yourself or your integrity in the pursuit of a particular goal or objective.

Sometimes, though, it’s appropriate to re-evaluate the goal you are trying to achieve.  Have the circumstances changed, and if so, should the goal change as well?  Is it still worth the time and effort to reach the goal as it exists right now?  Is there something else, something more important, that you should be doing instead?  These are all important questions to ask yourself, but it’s also important to be brutally honest with yourself.  Be sure you are changing the goal (or not changing the goal, for that matter) for the right reasons.  Never lie to yourself or attempt to trick yourself into believing or doing something you know is not the right thing to do.