Let’s Talk About… Perseverance

By Jeremy Godwin

Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast full of simple ideas for better mental health by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on practical and simple things that you can do every single day to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing, based on quality research.

This is Episode 51 and this week I’m talking about perseverance – I’ll be discussing how to persevere, even when you’re dealing with setbacks and difficult times. So, let’s talk about mental health!

Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the article/transcript version.

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FIVE-POINT EPISODE SUMMARY
  • A big challenge when we feel overwhelmed by external or internal events is finding the strength and determination to push through so that you can keep on moving forward
  • Change is a constant aspect of life; we might not want things to change, but they’re going to change whether we like it or not, so it’s up to each of us to keep persevering by taking steps every day towards being the best version of ourselves that we can be
  • ‘Perseverance’ is about grit and determination; it’s about tenacity, and continuing on with things
  • Perseverance matters because if you give in or give up, then you’re stuck as a victim of your circumstances
  • Perseverance is about pushing yourself to keep on going, even when things might seem hopeless, because often it’s a matter of holding on until the tide eventually turns — and it will eventually turn

Introduction

Has anyone else been absolutely exhausted lately? I have been so tired for the past few weeks that even getting simple things done has felt like an ordeal — I tried ordering some furniture from a big Swedish retailer (you know the one) and between their clunky online system and the joy of Mercury retrograde repeatedly sending my computer and their website into a meltdown, the whole thing took hours and hours (when it should have just been minutes) and it was so frustrating that I needed a good lie-down afterwards because I had expended all my energy persevering through the repeated issues (and don’t get me started on my experiences when I called their customer service line!). 

With everything going on in the world as well as the stuff that inevitably happens in our personal lives, sometimes it can become overwhelming and we can feel like we’re running out of steam. I’m a highly sensitive person so I can find myself feeling inundated by the weight of everyone else’s emotions on top of my own, and then add to that the fact that I’m an introverted extrovert and so quite often I find myself needing to retreat back into my shell in order to recharge (and yes, I am a typical Cancerian if you’re into astrology… actually, speaking of introverted extroverts there was an article on Buzzfeed that perfectly sums up that personality type so I’ll include the link in the transcript if you’re interested… it made me laugh! Find it here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/genamourbarrett/things-you-know-if-youre-an-extrovert-but-also-a-little). 

The tricky part of feeling overwhelmed by external or internal events is finding the strength and determination to push through all of that (and to push past the desire to just crawl back under the covers) so that you can keep on moving forward; because as much as we might want things to be simple, even simple things can be challenging. And then of course we have to deal with that constant aspect of life: change. We might not want things to change, but they’re going to change whether we like it or not (which I’ll be discussing next week), so it’s up to each of us to keep persevering by taking steps every day towards being the best version of ourselves that we can be (even if those steps are so small that nobody else would even recognise them as steps — for example, a few weeks ago when I was struggling, I cleared out the contents of one storage container in my home office and even though nobody else really knew about it, I could see it and I could feel the difference that it made in terms of helping me to feel like I had found a little bit of strength and the ability to persevere). And that’s what today’s episode is all about: finding that strength, even when you’re struggling, so that you can persevere.

Let’s go through some definitions.

What is perseverance? 

‘Perseverance’ is about grit and determination; it’s about tenacity, and continuing on with things even if they take longer or require much more work than we might have expected, and especially if we’re experiencing setbacks and challenges as we try to achieve specific goals or outcomes. And it’s about getting back up again in spite of how many times life might knock you onto your butt.

I talk a lot about all things requiring time, effort and perseverance, and I do so because I think it’s fair to say that as a society we’ve become so used to getting things immediately or in a short amount of time that when we have to wait for something or put in longer-term effort, our interest and our commitment to whatever it is that we want can wane over time. The danger of our desire for immediate gratification is that we miss out on all the stuff that takes time to develop and grow; giant trees grow from the tiniest of seeds, but they don’t just shoot up overnight and it takes years, decades even, for them to reach their full potential.

Perseverance means that you keep going; that you put one foot in front of the other and that you adjust your course when necessary. It means that you work towards achieving your goals a little each day, because results are the product of multiple small actions over time.

When COVID hit and our elderly cat became ill at the same time, in late March I had a day where I just couldn’t do any of this anymore. I can recall it vividly — it was the 29th of March 2020, and I sat down to work on the next episode (in the exact same spot I’m in right now) and I just had nothing; no inspiration, no energy, nothing. I wrote a post for Instagram to tell all of you that I was taking a break for a few weeks, and then I started taking down all of the post-it notes on the wall of my workspace which have my upcoming episode ideas and bigger-picture goals that I am striving towards with my work. Once that was done I put them all away in a notebook, went and grabbed a blanket and curled up in a ball on the couch; I had hit a wall and it got worse over the next couple of weeks, then went into overdrive when my cat Pushka died on April 14. I ended up coming back to working on this podcast in late April and I’m so glad I did because I needed something to keep me going through the grief and the sadness and the generally-difficult times at home combined with all the COVID stuff. You know, I often have listeners reaching out to me to thank me for my work and I really appreciate that, however I think it’s important to say that I get just as much out of this as many of you do — I get to be creative and feel that I’m doing something worthwhile, and this program quite often becomes a way for me to work through things that are going on in my head and in the world, so I thank all of you for tuning in every week and letting me do all that while also making sure that I serve up useful content that isn’t just me talking about me (it’s a fine line to not make it too much about me and I will admit that more than once I’ve had to edit out a block of audio in post-production because it sounds more like my personal therapy session than a program about simple ideas for better mental health!). Anyway I bring all of that up about my period of wanting to throw in the towel because there was a piece in an article in Science Daily by the American Psychological Association (which I’ll link to in the transcript; see link below) that summed up how I feel about what happened:

“[It’s important to] understand the vicious cycle caused by giving up on professional and personal aspirations. Giving up may offer temporary emotional relief but can increase the risk of setbacks as regret and disappointment set in… [improving your sense of] optimism and resilience by committing to specific courses of actions to make dreams come to full fruition despite obstacles can generate more positive moods and a sense of purpose.”

American Psychological Association (Source: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190502100852.htm)

I will note here that I’ve talked about a few of the concepts in that paragraph at length in previous episodes: optimism in Episode 47, resilience in Episode 23, and purpose in Episode 20 (and also, quite broadly speaking, a lot of this is about strength which I explored in Episode 40) — I highly recommend you check those episodes out if you haven’t already to give you a more in-depth look at how to address those areas of your mental health and wellbeing; find those and all past episodes for free at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes where you can read the transcripts and listen to the audio.

So why is perseverance important for good mental health?

Well, because giving up sucks. That’s my oh-so-scientific take on the matter, and I’ll get to some proper research in a minute, but let’s just call this what it is, shall we? If we give in and let ourselves become controlled by external circumstances or even our internal struggles, we’re giving up… and when we give up, nothing changes. Life is challenging enough without then being stuck in a position where we’re weighed down by the weight of all the crap that comes our way. No matter how tough things might become, there is always a way to get through it.

There was a section in that article by the APA that I mentioned earlier (link in transcript) which I think sums up why perseverance matters so much:

“Often, people with [depression, anxiety and panic] disorders are stuck in a cycle of negative thought patterns and behaviours that can make them feel worse… [A study conducted over 18 years has found that] people who don’t give up on their goals (or who get better over time at not giving up on their goals) and who have a positive outlook appear to have less anxiety and depression and fewer panic attacks… [These] findings suggest that people can improve their mental health by raising or maintaining high levels of tenacity, resilience and optimism… Aspiring toward personal and career goals can make people feel like their lives have meaning. On the other hand, disengaging from striving toward those aims or having a cynical attitude can have high mental health costs.” 

American Psychological Association (Source: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190502100852.htm )

Look, it’s natural to become exhausted with setbacks and challenges… but if you give in or give up, then you’re stuck as a victim of your circumstances. And I don’t know about you but I refuse to relinquish control of my destiny to anyone or anything. I refuse to be defined by the shitty stuff I’ve experienced in life; instead, I want to be defined by how I responded to that stuff and how I managed to thrive in spite of it… and that takes perseverance.

I’ve talked before about having a breakdown in late 2011 followed by crippling depression and anxiety for quite a few years, and during the first couple of years post-breakdown I found just getting out of bed so exhausting that it took most of my strength, and when I had to visit the doctor or go to the supermarket it rendered me completely useless for the rest of the day… and yes when you’re feeling that way or feeling weighed down by other struggles, there’s a temptation to give up trying because it might seem easier, but is it really? No. No, it’s not. Because then nothing changes and the weight of those challenges will eventually become suffocating. Perhaps that means that you need to summon just enough strength to pick up the phone and ask for help; perhaps that means that you need to find someone to work with who can help you take those first baby steps towards overcoming those feelings. Or perhaps it’s more about finding the internal strength to push yourself to have a shower or leave the house, or maybe it’s summoning the motivation to put down those words floating around in your head and start turning them into something more structured. Whatever it is, setting goals and striving towards them gives your life meaning and purpose (which in turn makes life feel more fulfilling, and helps you to build even more strength to persevere).

So that feels like a nice segue into the how-to section of today’s episode…

How to persevere 

I’m going to share some general ideas about perseverance today; this won’t be a “follow these five steps” kind of process, but more of a series of things that you can do to help you to persevere. Before I do, I wanted to share this quote by the American author Harriet Beecher Stowe;

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe

To me, that sums up what perseverance is all about and the mindset that it requires: it’s about pushing yourself to keep on going, even when things might seem hopeless, because often it’s a matter of holding on until the tide eventually turns — because it will. When the tide does turn, ride the rapids but remember there is still work to be done so that you don’t get swept away!

So let’s look at a few things you can do to help yourself work towards that tide-turning moment:

  • Start by choosing a positive mindset, which I explored in Episode 31. What you think about, you bring about… so if you’re focusing on the negative or the hopelessness of a situation, that is what you will find (ah, the joy of the self-fulfilling prophecy, where you believe in something so hard that you actually wind up creating the outcome). If you look for the negatives, then that is what you will find; if you look for the positives, then that is what you will find.
  • Choose to see challenges as opportunities — I think that, at this point, I have said those words at least 4,000 times in this podcast if not more… and why is that the case? Well it’s an extension of the mindset thing I just spoke about: if you only look for challenges or problems then that is exactly what you will see, whereas if you push yourself to consider how a challenge could become an opportunity to grow then that is what you will find. Speaking of… 
  • Adopt a growth mindset — I explored this in a lot of detail in Episode 37 so check that out, however what I want to say here is that if you choose to put your growth as a person at the forefront of everything you do, then you will find yourself making decisions that are aligned to achieving those higher-level goals; for example, I’m doing a daily intentions thing at the moment which I started a few weeks ago and one of mine is about saying each day “I am patient” and reminding myself of that throughout the day (since I know patience is one big development opportunity for me, as anyone who has ever met me will probably attest to!); doing so reminds me to focus on that higher-level goal which is a big part of growing as a person.
  • Set goals and then break them down into smaller goals — having things to work towards keeps us motivated, but setting enormous goals can become so overwhelming that it can be hard to persevere, so setting a series of small goals instead is more practical and has a greater chance of success. For example, let’s say you want to learn French; I studied it (and Italian) for a while and I can tell you first-hand what a tough goal that is. Instead of trying to boil the entire ocean (i.e. Instead of setting a goal so big it will take you years, decades or even a lifetime to achieve), try breaking it down into smaller goals and work towards those; you could break down language-learning into key milestones like being able to recite numbers fluently from 1-20 then being able to order various meals… in other words, mastering bite-size chunks rather than setting a big goal like ‘learn French’ which will make your head explode when you try to wrap your mind around all the grammatical rules! The point here is to have goals to work towards (as we discussed before, that’s a good thing for your mental health) but to do so in a realistic way, which then makes it more likely that you’ll persevere and achieve those goals (which will add up over time to bigger achievements).
  • Spend your time around people who lift you up and encourage you — it can be really difficult to stay motivated when you’re constantly around negative people who try to drag you down or discourage you from giving things a go, so choose to limit your time with those people (and don’t let them get into your head about the things you want to achieve; that might mean choosing not to talk about your goals with them so you’re not giving them a chance to talk you out of new things or trying to grow as a person). Find positive people to connect with so that you can encourage one another, and reinforce all of that positivity with things that help you focus on the positives — like this podcast! 
  • Be flexible and prepared to adapt — when I started this podcast over a year ago, there was no way I could have anticipated all the things that have happened since then; the only constant in life is that there are no constants, so you need to be flexible and be willing to adapt. That’s how viruses like the common cold and even everybody’s best friend, Coronavirus, hang around for so long, because they’ve learned how to adapt. If you’re completely rigid about what you’re doing and how, you’ll find yourself running into brick wall after brick wall when circumstances change (which they will), so be prepared to adapt. You’ll thank me for that one the next time the shit hits the fan and you’re able to keep on going because you’re able to adapt.
  • Be patient — do you know why the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” has been around for hundreds of years, if not longer? Because no city, no great Empire, no masterpiece, was ever created in the blink of an eye; all things take time, they take effort, and they take perseverance. Be patient and keep going. If you need a small break then take one, but don’t make it so long that you have to go back and start all over again. It’s like with your phone; instead of letting it run out of battery entirely, it’s better to charge it before the battery dies completely because then it doesn’t take as long to get up and running again, and you’re not starting from scratch.
  • And what about when you’re struggling to find the strength to persevere? Ask for help. Family and friends are great for support, but I highly recommend talking to someone impartial and objective (like a counsellor or therapist) because they can have much more honest conversations with you that aren’t weighed down by all the emotional stuff that is attached to your relationships with friends or family. It’s never too late to talk to someone however I always recommend that you don’t leave it until you’re so overwhelmed that you just can’t function; talking to a professional is a mature way to work through all the ups and downs of your life so you can find meaning and help yourself to grow, and it’s a case of ‘prevention is better than cure’ (in other words, if you do it often enough then you’ll find yourself better equipped to deal with setbacks and difficulties).

Summary and Close-Out

Because when it comes to perseverance and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: when we’re faced with challenging situations and internal turmoil, it can be tempting to run and hide from our problems or to give up trying to achieve the things that we’re trying to achieve. But all that does is set us back from becoming the very best version of ourselves that we can possibly be; and even though that goal is one of those ones we can work our entire lives towards and never fully achieve (since our personal growth is never completely done), it does help us to feel as fulfilled and satisfied as we can possibly be with our journey through this strange-yet-wonderful thing that we call life. 

Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is another one by Nelson Mandela, who I quoted last week, and it is:

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

Nelson Mandela

Next week I’ll be talking about change. It might seem almost redundant of me to point out that change is constant, especially since our current reality looks nothing like what it did a week ago (let alone a year ago), but change is the one single thing that we can all rely on in life; nothing is guaranteed in life except that things will change. So next week I’ll be talking about why we resist change, and why not just accepting change but embracing change is essential for good mental health and wellbeing.

I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Monday morning in Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region; Sunday evening in the UK, Ireland, Europe and the Middle East; and Sunday afternoon in the US, Canada and the rest of the Americas. 

You can find past episodes and additional content at the website which is letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au. You can also find Let’s Talk About Mental Health on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest as @ltamentalhealth, and discover additional content on the Let’s Talk About Mental Health YouTube channel (click here) — if you haven’t already subscribed to the YouTube channel please do as there will be a lot of extra content coming to that platform very soon.

If you enjoyed this episode, please take a moment to leave a five-star review on your preferred podcast platform and tell someone you know about the show (because word of mouth really helps new people to discover the program).

Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.

Jeremy 🙂

Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Because the more we talk about it, the easier it gets.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2020 Jeremy Godwin.

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