Doing anything for 60 years is hard. At a 60 year wedding anniversary party, the husband was asked what the secret was to staying married for so long. His response, “Don’t get divorced!” Simple right? Simply work persistently on your marriage for 720 months and you too will stay married for 60 years. The principal of persistence is the secret for staying married for 60 years, succeeding in life, and leading others well.
While the principal of persistence implies success through repeated efforts, it is important to understand that persistence along does not guarantee success. In order for your persistent efforts to achieve success in some area of life, you have to execute correct behaviors, in the proper fashion, completed in the right order, on a consistent basis. Doing the right things at the wrong time, or without consistency, reduces the effectiveness of your behavior.
The Correct Behaviors
There are several acceptable ways to build a roof for one’s home. Many modern homes rely on trusses to hold the sheathing. Back in the day, builders used hand hewn beams to create the rafters. Prairie dwellers used thatching instead of traditional shingles. All work well to their purpose in their location, so long as you completed the right tasks.
Applying trusses requires different steps and skills than if a carpenter is applying a rafter structure. Trusses come preassembled, ready to lift to the tops of the walls to be secured appropriately. There are steps building crews take to secure the trusses to the walls and to the other trusses. Failing to complete any step of the installation correct means the roof is not completely sound. It may survive a normal rainstorm and carry the load of a winter’s worth of snow, but the first big wind that blows, the residents may find they are exposed to the elements.
Along the same lines, a thatched roof may work well to keep the rain off your head on a tropical island. If you build the same home in a cold climate that receives snow, however, you may need to learn to build an igloo! The grass that shed rain lacks the strength to hold solid precipitation.
You can persistently build homes in Canada with perfectly executed thatched roofs, but it is unlikely you will sell many. Correct behavior means not only executing what you know to the best of your ability, but also that the action is appropriate for the circumstances. It is a twofold test to determine correct behavior.
The Proper Fashion
The nation cringed every time the news played clips from the arrest of George Floyd. Two rookie and one veteran police officer struggled to arrest him because they did not understand the proper way to restrain and escort a resistant person. In the case of rookies, one expects them to learn from those with experience and according to one clip, one of the officers questioned the tactic but lacked another solution because of his lack of experience. There are effective techniques to control resistant people. Other police officers around the nation encounter resistant people and for the most part, those resisters are successfully placed in police cars, brought to police stations, and live to tell their side of the story. While most people will not find themselves in situations where the proper or improper actions result in the death of another, when someone fails to execute a behavior in the correct way, there eventually are negative consequences. You may persistently execute that behavior and experience some success, but failure is a more likely outcome.
An example is of the pilot who flew antique WWI airplanes. The particular plane he flew required someone to spin the propeller two times before attempting to start the engine. This procedure had something to do with moving oil or something like that, which prevented the pistons from seizing during operation. This pilot admitted he rarely completed this step and never had a problem except once. As he tells the tale, shortly after take off, the engine seized, causing the propellers to stop turning. He was able to turn around and land safely. He says he never skips the step now. The moral is that persistently following the wrong way to do things eventually results in failure. You may succeed in the short term, but the odds grow against you with time. Do the right things the right way long enough, and you are more likely to succeed.
The Correct Order
Sometimes the order one completes tasks is of little consequence. I was observing a class on preparing a radio for use in the field. The instructor told the students to insert the battery and then turn over the radio and attach the antenna. The point was that before you attach the antenna, the user has easier access to the battery. The instructor was teaching a class of people learning to become instructors. One student assembled the radio by first attaching the antenna and then placing the radio on its side and sliding in the battery. Following this method was typically slower and made it more difficult to align the pins in the battery compartment with the slots in the battery, which could damage the pins and render the radio inoperative.
The instructor trainer failed the student and explained he failed to complete the steps in the correct order. The student replied, “Doesn’t matter; it works!” The instructor trainer explained the reasons for assembling the radio as instructed and directed the student to complete the task again. Again, he did with the antenna first. Eventually the student was removed and spoken to by the headmaster of the training program. The student passed but received poor comments on his evaluation.
While the student’s point about the radio operating by assembling it his way was true, it was not the correct order. The order directed by the instructor reduced the risk of damaging the radio. Just because there are no consequences for failing to follow the order of directions in one iteration does not mean there are never consequences. If the student instructor taught all his people to assemble the radio the way he did it, the likelihood of damaged radios increases. The cost for repairing the radios increases, reducing funds available for other activities. Most importantly, the radio is not available for the operations conducted by the organization. Even if a replacement was immediately available, that may not always be the case.
Taking shortcuts may seem like it saves time in the short run. In the end however, the cost can be great. One may not break a radio pin, but what if an employee fails to follow a procedure and as a result people are injured or killed?
Consistency is synonymous with persistence. However, they are not exactly the same. Consistency is the principal regular adherence to a course (derived from dictionary.com and merriam-webster.com). Persistence is consistency without stopping until you reach the objective. It is possible to be persistent without being consistent. Your results will take longer to achieve. Depending on how inconsistent your persistence is, you may find achievement not possible.
Consistent action goes a long way to improving attainment and speed of results. It is better to do a little bit on a regular basis than trying to complete a long list of tasks a single time (See Ten Minute Rule). Acting consistently allows you to determine how to adjust actions. You can beat your head against a brick wall for years hoping to break through it. If you bang your head against that wall five times every day, you will realize sooner that there is probably a better way to break down that wall and waiting until Saturday and banging your head for an hour without evaluating your results.
Persistence is an important principle of success. It implies you do not stop until you achieve your goal. However, repeating unsuccessful habits do little to move you forward. As you travel down the path toward your goal, it is important to do the things that work, effectively, in an order that builds on previous successes, consistently. That means you stop periodically to evaluate that you are doing the right things effectively in the right order on a regular basis. Persistence is more than never quitting. It means you evaluate to avoid making the same mistakes and hoping for a different outcome. Persistence requires periodically stopping to apply the lessons you learn so, you do the right things more effectively. If you are persistent and do not occasionally stop to evaluate your progress, you may find you ended up someplace you did not want to go. Take a breath, look around to see where you are, then adjust so, you stay on the path as you persistently move forward!