Perseverance, or the Art of Just Not Giving Up

At today’s deAsra Foundations’ Entrepreneur Excellence awards, Sonali and Anand Deshpande shared 5 ingredients that they believe were instrumental in Persistents’ remarkable success. They are dream and dream big; create your team, you must know you can’t do it alone; focus; be ethical and lastly persist. These are certainly great ingredients for me to take back with me from the event, especially that last bit.

I’ve written about perseverance in the past. I believe it’s the most necessary ingredient of the five. There’s always more to write about it as there are several miles to go before I’ve made it.

I do work with people who care about their work deeply. The upside is that when they’re charged up, it’s inspiring to watch them go at it. The downside is that when things aren’t going to plan, frustrations and tempers can tend to get in the way. I also know of colleagues who can be both passionate about their work and calm, composed all the time. I admire that quality, I don’t have it and if you know you don’t perhaps my experiences will help.

The temptation to simply give up due to change always lurks around the corner. It isn’t easy for all you entrepreneurs, innovators and even the smallest of revolutionaries out there. If you’re selling a product- perhaps the market’s changed, or if you’re leading a company- your backers believe you’re CTO material and not CEO (i), or there’s just been something unprecedented. Or imagine for a moment, you’re in the middle of that umpteenth pitch to a customer for a partnership you want, and it goes south in the exact same way that all the others went in the past. As you walk away disappointed, that recognizable thought crosses your mind “I think I’d like to just walk away from all this” (ii).

A similar sequence of events regularly triggers the urge of giving up from inside me. In the first of my many encounters, I’d cave in, respond aggressively by taking none of the responsibility for working on the root cause. Over time I realized that my response was working against me. If I wanted to thrive I’d have to figure out a way to beat that. While I’m now better at staying in the game, the cue still leaves me dispirited and it takes a day to recover momentum. I’ll need to make more progress to beat that response as well.

I’ve read about and applied a simple habit reversal training (iii). I’ve seen how it can help adapt and change responses to everyday situations. But can it work with the more complex and infrequent triggers?

The way it works is to help you in unraveling the instinctive activation of the response you want to change. A good intervention should allow your higher decision-making capability to step in and take control over instinct. Simply put, you then decide if you wish to respond differently.

The first step is to observe and list triggers that lead up to the behavior. Next, you’re required to notice and write a post-it or card for every instance you believe triggered the habitual response even if you went through with your habitual response. An x on the card can help indicate if you successfully sidestepped the cue, or a check mark if you gave in. At the end of the day, you count your cards and start over the next day. Repeated enough times, the act of writing “did not give in” notes on cue ought to replace the expected reward you’d otherwise get by giving in. If you stopped writing the “give in” notes altogether you shouldn’t even have that thought cross your mind (iv).

I’m optimistic that anyone can work on changing themselves and I’d like to give it a shot and share what I’ve learned here.

(i) I just couldn’t help that quip :-).

(ii) I’ve been there and it still takes me a while to bounce back from such an event even if I’m not going to give into it. Realising that you’re not going to give in also sheds light on what you really want from the situation.

(iii) Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg.

(iv) I wouldn’t say they never cross your mind as learned habits don’t really disappear but become dormant.

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