Let’s Talk About… Persistence

By Jeremy Godwin

What is persistence? And how do you find the determination to persist with the things that matter most to you? That’s what I’m talking about this week on… Let’s Talk About Mental Health — the weekly podcast about looking after your mental health, with simple ideas you can put into practice immediately.

So, get comfortable, and Let’s Talk About Mental Health…

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This podcast episode was originally released on 15 May, 2022.

Hello and welcome to Episode 131, and thanks so much for joining me!

I’m Jeremy Godwin and I talk about looking after your mental health. I spent most of the 2010’s dealing with severe anxiety and depression, after a breakdown in late 2011, and that led me to want to learn more about my mental health… so I went back to school and studied psychology and sociology, and now I share simple tips for how to improve your mental wellbeing, from someone who actually understands what it’s like to go through mental health challenges. Each episode I look at how to improve one specific aspect of your wellbeing.

This episode is all about persistence and I’ll be talking about what persistence is, why it matters and how to be more persistent for the sake of your mental health. So, let’s talk!

Introduction

This is a topic that was suggested to me by someone and at first I hesitated, because I’ve already talked about perseverance before (back in Episode 51) and it felt like the topic was too close to that one. However, I decided to give it some thought and I even went back and reviewed that old episode (which is rare for me, because usually once the episode is released I hardly ever listen to it again or read it) but, when I did, I realised that there is so much more to say than what was covered back then. For starters, that episode was about a hundred years ago (well, it was November 2020 — which feels like an eternity ago) and also it seemed to be very much focused on finding ways to keep going when everything feels like a big old mess… no surprises there, considering what life was like back in 2020! 

So today I have what feels like a much more optimistic message to share about determination and achieving your goals in order to build a life that feels satisfying and meaningful; there may be some overlaps with that other episode, but I think it’s fair to say that we’re all in a different place now (in May 2022) and that will no doubt be reflected in many of the things I talk about.

So, let’s start with some definitions and let’s talk about…

What is persistence?

And persistence describes continuing with an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition (and that comes from the Oxford Dictionary). 

Beyond that more formal definition, here’s how I define persistence: it’s about knowing that anything worth having will likely take work and determination, and it’s about sticking with it even when the journey becomes tough. Think of it this way: new paths don’t just appear in front of you, they need to be created, and often that involves having to do a lot of hard work to take each step. Every single road that exists today was once overgrown, and someone had to do the work to turn it into a path that others could use. 

Putting aside the environmental impact of all those roads, the fact is that getting to a new destination requires you to be a pioneer… and pioneers do the work. I wish we could just blink our eyes, like Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie, or twitch our nose, like Samantha on Bewitched, and make things happen, but life doesn’t work that way… and personally I think that’s a good thing. Why? Because the stuff we have to work hard for is the stuff that we tend to appreciate and value a lot more than if it were just handed to us on a silver platter and requiring little or no effort. 

Lately I’ve been reflecting on my own journey over the past couple of decades, as part of my ongoing work with my therapist, and I can definitely see that it’s the things I’ve been persistent with and determined to pursue that have paid off the most for me, like this podcast and my YouTube channel. 

Persistence means continuing with a course of action in spite of difficulties or opposition; in other words, not just giving up or giving in at the first or third sign of trouble. Why? Because creating a life for yourself that feels meaningful takes determination and effort, and it’s inevitable that you’ll face roadblocks and resistance along the way. That doesn’t mean you stop; it just means that you come at things from a different angle in order to keep going and keep on working towards your goals.

I’m going to come back to that ‘goals’ thing in a moment but, before I do, let me say what persistence is not. It’s not about having such a narrow focus that you don’t see the bigger picture; it’s not deciding that you, and only you, are right about everything, and so never taking on board other ideas and perspectives; and it’s not about flogging a dead horse (in other words, if something is clearly failing or it has run its course, it’s not about still sticking with it in the same shape or form… because that’s not persistence, that’s stubbornness!). Persistence means knowing what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it, and being humble enough to know that you may not have all of the answers of how to make it happen but sticking with it anyway. It’s about knowing when to give up or let go with grace and dignity, or when you might need to try something different or change what you thought success might look like. When you think of it that way, it’s the opposite of ego… because where ego tells us that we have to be right, persistence tells us that what matters more is the fact that we’re doing the work to achieve our goals (rather than having to be right about how we achieve them). And that leads to the next part of today’s topic, so let’s talk about…

Why persistence matters

And it matters because having goals to work towards is what makes life feel meaningful. Think of it this way: if you don’t have anything to strive for, what’s the point of getting up each day? One of the most common things I say on this show is that I believe the purpose of life is to be the best version of yourself possible, and that involves challenging yourself to grow a little every day… because when we grow, we evolve. And when we do that in a way that feels purposeful and meaningful — that feels aligned to who we truly are and what we want to do with our lives — that can serve to ignite a sense of determination in us that can then fuel us even when times get tough. It’s the stuff I talked about last week in the courage episode (Episode 130) when I said that you don’t improve your wellbeing by just doing one or two things; it’s the combination of all the little things you do every day that add up to your general sense of wellness. And so even if it seems like we’re not making much progress, we actually are if we just stick with it and give things time to grow and evolve.

Speaking of your mental health and wellbeing, being persistent in working towards your life goals can actually reduce mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. According to an article in Psychology Today, and I quote:

“People who refuse to give up on achieving specific goals and approach challenges with a positive outlook are at lower risk of clinical depression… generalized anxiety disorder… and panic disorder…”

And you’ll find that linked in the transcript, which is available for free at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes in both English and Spanish. 

So the piece here is about recognising that persistence has positive effects on your mental health; in other words, refusing to give up on the goals you want to achieve and also being more realistically optimistic about challenges that you’re facing will help you to deal with problems more effectively (and that, in turn, helps you to identify solutions and alternatives). Persistence doesn’t mean being rigid; it means focusing on what is within your direct control and being flexible about the stuff that is not.

Let me use my work as an example. There have been several times in the past where I was tempted to give up on the idea of working for myself, and creating content I’m passionate about (like this podcast and my YouTube show). When things became really challenging a few times, there have definitely been thoughts that it might be easier to give it all up and go scurrying back to working for someone else so that I would have the security of a regular pay cheque. But do you know what that was? That was fear and insecurity talking, and those things will keep you small. If you want to do things with your life that feel like they make sense to you, then you have to be prepared to weather the storms that will come your way… because challenges are inevitable and doing anything that pushes you out of your comfort zone will likely feel exhausting sometimes… but like Madonna said in her track ‘Don’t Stop’ on her 1994 album Bedtime Stories: “don’t stop doin’ what you’re doin’” and although I used to think that song was just about going out dancing, knowing Madonna, it was probably far filthier than that, but the message remains the same: don’t stop. Keep going! 

How do you do that? And, more importantly, how do you know when it’s time to try a different approach? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of today’s episode and let’s talk about…

How to be more persistent for the sake of your mental health

OK, first, be clear on what you want to achieve and why — because all things start with clarity; after all, if you were going on a road trip somewhere then you’d need to at least know where you’re headed generally! This can be as general or as specific as you like, but the most important piece here is the ‘why’ — because if you don’t know why you want to or need to do something, then it’s going to be pretty tough to find the motivation and determination to keep going! OK, next…

Know the difference between ‘advice’ and ‘opinions’ — and I say this because lots of people in the world have lots of opinions to share about lots of different things (I mean, just look at social media if you don’t believe me!) but there’s a huge difference between an opinion versus actual constructive and helpful advice. My view on this is that I consider the source of the advice that’s coming my way; if it’s someone I trust and respect then I listen and consider it objectively… but if it’s not from someone whose perspective I value, then it’s an opinion and that means I can just let it go. Let’s be honest here: a lot of people in this world are happy to play small and stay in their comfort zone, and so if you’re trying to do things that are outside of the norm or which shake up the status quo (whether that’s in terms of what is normal in your family, your friend group or workplace, or if you’re playing on a bigger stage) the fact is that you are going to upset some people… and there really isn’t much you can do about that! You only have two choices: stay small to please others, but then that will keep you small, or choose to rise above it by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone… and only one of those choices will help you to grow and evolve. Just remember, if you are doing no harm, if you are kind, and if you give more than you take, then who cares what other people think?! With that in mind, my next point is… 

Be open to new ideas and perspectives — which might sound a bit funny, after I just got through making that point about opinions, but hear me out: this is about listening to ideas which are usually more positive and constructive, rather than opinions which are usually based on other people’s judgements and perceptions. The thing is this: you don’t have all of the answers to everything because you are not an all-knowing magical being, and so if you try to do it all on your own or think that you have to have all of the answers then you’re setting yourself up for either stress or failure (or both!). It’s why I have a coach that I talk to every two weeks about my work so that I can have an external perspective on which direction to head with my work, rather than thinking I know everything and then wondering why things don’t just magically turn out the way I want them to. For any of you that have watched my YouTube videos over the last year-and-a-bit, you’ll see that I’ve made quite a few changes to my approach along the way because I’ve had to learn how to operate on a totally different platform and for an audience who want and need different things than those of you who listen to a podcast; if I had just stubbornly kept on doing things the same way without looking for new ideas and perspectives then I might never have been able to evolve (and it also would have been really tough to deal with the setbacks that I’ve dealt with along the way). And speaking of setbacks, my next point is… 

Know that challenges are opportunities, not dead-ends — and this is, in my opinion, the number one rule of persistence: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Don’t give up at the first sign of trouble, or even the third or fourth, because challenges really are part and parcel of the whole ‘making things happen’ business. Most of what we know today as human beings we know through trial and error; I mean, the entire scientific method is based on rigorous testing and re-testing in order to ensure that results aren’t just flukes but they can be replicated, so there are a lot of failures that happen along the way before success is achieved! Every challenge is an opportunity to learn something, even if that something is what not to do in future, and I genuinely believe that mistakes are only failures if you don’t learn from them. When you adopt that mindset you’re better able to be persistent and to stick with what you’re working towards, because you recognise that a setback is just a course adjustment rather than a complete dumpster fire. I’ve covered a few topics in the past that you might find helpful for this point: I talked about opportunity in Episode 119, setbacks in Episode 77 and failure in Episode 84, so check those out for more. OK, now let’s explore this idea further in my next point which is…

Know when to change your approach — and so the thing about persistence is that it doesn’t mean being completely rigid and inflexible; that’s actually what will increase the likelihood of not achieving your goals! As I said earlier, you need to be humble enough to know that you don’t have all the answers and you are not perfect, so you need to be flexible and that means adjusting your approach as you go along and looking for alternatives when things aren’t going the way you might have hoped or planned for. For example, I do things very differently now than I did even just two years ago and that’s a sign that I’m listening and learning in order to continue to improve as much as I possibly can, little by little, because nobody is perfect and we all have room to improve. Being open to that allows you to increase your likelihood of finding strategies and actions that are more effective and which then increase your success, which in turn helps you to feel more positive and persistent. Alright, so I mentioned the whole ‘nobody’s perfect’ thing before and that leads to my next point… 

Let go of perfectionism — because you will never be perfect and that is just a fact! You cannot predict what will or will not happen in the future, nor can you predict how other people will or won’t behave, and so all you can do is focus on doing your best rather than trying to make it ‘perfect’, because perfect does not exist. Even nature is full of flaws and it’s still stunningly beautiful! I covered perfectionism in Episode 98 so check that out for tips on how to tackle perfectionist tendencies. OK, next… 

Listen to your heart — and aside from being a song by Roxette, ‘listen to your heart’ means learning how to tune in to your gut instincts and following your desires towards the things that matter most to you. I’m a firm believer that decisions should be made with an equal combination of head and heart, because too much of one or the other throws you out of balance. When something feels right emotionally and logically, that’s where you can find the fuel you need to be persistent with making it happen. Speaking of, my next point is… 

Look for the positives — because whether you focus on the positive or the negative, what you look for is what you see. That doesn’t mean you just put your head in the sand and pretend everything is lovely and fine while the building burns around you; it means that you recognise that life is a mixture of the positive and the negative, and it’s possible to find peace of mind through accepting that duality while also choosing to focus on maintaining a realistically-optimistic mindset. I’ve covered this in a few previous episodes: positivity in Episode 90, optimism in Episode 47 and mindset in Episode 31, so check those out for more. Speaking of mindset, my next point is…

Don’t ‘try’, do — and yes, I’m going to use the Yoda quote from Star Wars here: “Do or do not. There is no try.” I’m sharing this point because I find the word ‘try’ to be one of the most irritating words in the English language. Why? Because it’s vague and non-committal. Think of it this way: if you ask someone to do something on the weekend and they say, “I’ll try to make it,” do you really believe they’re coming? No! The word ‘try’ is a fail-safe, a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card that allows us to say, “Oh well, I tried but it didn’t work, too bad!” Either give something your 100% effort and commitment or don’t do it at all… it’s that simple. OK, so with that rant over, my next point is…

Take things one step at a time — which is, of course, one of my favourite things to say in almost every episode and I do so because it’s so easy to think that we have to tackle everything all at once, but that’s just a recipe for exhaustion and burnout… and that’s when it becomes even more challenging to persist with the things we want to achieve. Break things down into their smallest parts and then give your attention to just one step at a time, with a sort-of general focus on the way forward so that you keep on heading in the right direction. Don’t worry about the next 84 steps; just focus on this one and maybe a little bit of the next one. When you take things step by step, and keep your eyes focused forwards, you can achieve great things over time instead of overwhelming yourself. OK, my next point is…

Get support — and this is yet another regular bit of advice here on Let’s Talk About Mental Health because you don’t have to go through things on your own… and nor should you! Get the support you need, whether that’s a friend or colleague to help you do the work or having someone professional, like a coach or counsellor, who can help you to navigate through the things you want to and need to work on. I don’t know about you but every time I’ve ever tried to go things alone, it’s usually ended up a great big mess and that’s because, like I said earlier, I don’t have all the answers — nobody does. Even just a little bit of support can help you to feel more determined and motivated to keep on persisting with whatever it is that you’re focused on.  

Summary and Close-Out

Because when it comes to persistence and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: When you want to achieve something in your life, whether that’s a specific goal or just making general changes to parts of your lifestyle, it takes work and persistence to turn your goal into a reality… which is a pain in the butt, especially if you happen to be impatient like me, but the good thing is that it serves to make you appreciate whatever it is so much more because you worked hard for it and you stuck with it. Persistence pays off, because it’s the little things you do each day that add up to big results. 

The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today? 

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 by American writer Rosabeth Moss Kanter, and it is:

“Too many people let others stand in their way and don’t go back for one more try.”

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Alright… that’s nearly it for this week.

Next week I’ll be talking about discomfort. The things that make us feel uncomfortable can actually serve to teach us more about who we are, and it can be an opportunity to grow… and speaking of growth, discomfort goes hand in hand with growth. So how do you approach things that feel awkward and uncomfortable in order to support your personal growth? Well, next time I’ll be talking about what discomfort is (and what it isn’t), why learning to live with discomfort matters, and how to use discomfort to help you to grow.

I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 23rd of May, 2022. 

If this episode helped you then I’d love it if you left a five-star review on the platform you’re listening to me on, or head over to my Instagram @ltamentalhealth and let me know. And if you’d like to support me and my work then I have a Patreon where I offer exclusive benefits for my supporters; you’ll find the link in the episode description, plus it’s linked on my website at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au (where you can also sign up for my free newsletter, where I share a quick dose of mental health inspiration every Thursday).

And I also have a YouTube channel where I publish new videos every Wednesday… so, if you’d like even more content about looking after your mental health, join me over there (and that’s linked in the episode description as well)!

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 is proudly produced by Reconnaissance Media, helping you find gratitude and meaning. For more information visit reconnaissancemedia.com

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Find more content at www.letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au

Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Simple ideas for better mental health.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2022 Jeremy Godwin.

The information provided in this episode is for general awareness on the topic and does not constitute advice. You should consult a doctor and/or a mental health professional if you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing. You’ll find additional information on the Resources page of this website.

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