Persistence. Tenacity. Not giving up. These are some consistent themes that have weaved themselves into my blogs as of late.
“Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.” Barack Obama
But what happens if you are persevering with something that is not right for you? That even in achieving it you know it won’t make you any happier. No one likes to be thought of as a failure so abandoning your course of action is not an option. Or is it?
There is a difference between persistence and stubbornness. It is easy to confuse the latter with the former. Stubbornness is the determination not to change, despite good reasons to do so. It can be due to pride, fear or both.
Recognising when it’s time to say “I’m done” can be difficult. Here are 3 warning signs to look out for when deciding if you should change direction and adjust your goals.
1) Your health is adversely affected
We can put our bodies under a lot of stress if we are unhappy.
Over the years, I can remember feeling some of the below – these have been my own indicators that I have had to make changes in my life.
- Constant replaying in your head of what you need to do differently or how you wished your life was different?
- Trouble sleeping – either interrupted sleep or waking up very early and being unable to go back to sleep
- Old health issues flaring up again for no apparent reason
- Feeling persistently anxious
- Being ‘over emotional’ – where your feelings are consistently close to the surface
Some stress can be positive, it improves our athletic performance and also can motivate us to make changes.
However persistent stressors can cause illness and depression if left unchecked. If you are experiencing a situation and hoping that through perseverance it will get better, I would urge you to think again. If your health is being negatively affected, it’s time to make some changes.
2) You want to make others happy
Having aspirations to do better, be better is important. But only if you are clear on the reasons why.
Occasionally we can keep going (out of stubbornness) because we are afraid to walk away, because we are worried what others might say or because we don’t want to let anyone down. The need for status and recognition from others is an important psychological need for all of us, but not to the detriment of our own happiness.
We are brought up in a society that bases a person’s value of the job they do (their job title, salary etc) and employers will cultivate that by encouraging us to feel that their approval is an important part of our self-worth. How many times do we meet new people and one of the first questions that is asked is ‘what do you do?’
We can also suffer from pressure around us to live up to others expectations; our parents, our friends, our loved ones, what is pushed to us via the media and advertising.
These pressures can subconsciously steer our decisions on what we would like to achieve in our lives and fulfilling these achievements may not be ultimately what makes us happy.
3) It is damaging your self-worth
If you are constantly working at something and you feel that you are not making progress, over time you being to doubt yourself. A previous post 3 ways to rebuild your confidence after a setback highlights some of the negative thought patterns that affect our sense of worth.
If we keep telling ourselves that we will ‘quit’ – quit that job, that relationship, that friendship but we never actually do anything about it, it’s usually because we have in some way damaged our self worth and we lack the confidence to make a change.
What holds us back? Our psychological need to feel safe and have security. Better the devil you know (than the devil you don’t) – is a phrase often used by those who are not happy with their current situation but equally are not quite ready to make the leap to change.
Everyone will progress on their own timetable and what’s right for one, won’t be right for another. However, if you find yourself constantly making excuses for staying in a situation that is not making you happy, it’s time to really evaluate the reasons why.
So all my efforts been for nothing?
No. If you have remembered to celebrate your small successes or cherish the great memories along the way (it would not have all been bad) then it will never have been a waste of time.
Think about the lessons you have learnt along with the way. You will have discovered a lot about your character, you sense of worth and your values. It means that when you focus your mind and efforts on different goals, you will be that bit wiser. It will be harder for you to make the same mistakes and you will be mindful of evaluating your aspirations as you go along so you can adjust your sails so to speak.
Abandoning a course of action because you have taken the time to evaluate if it is right for you is not something to be ashamed of.
It is so freeing when you recalibrate what you want to achieve based on what makes you happy and in some cases, what legacy you want to leave behind. More often than not you will be annoyed with yourself that you waited for so long to make the change – ‘I should have done that sooner!’
Being stubborn is not the same as persistent (no matter how many motivational quotes there are to say otherwise. Many a time I should have changed the course of where my life was heading but I was stubborn and mistook that stubbornness for persistence. That’s why knowing the difference between the two can be one of the smartest things you’ll ever learn.