The brave aren't fearless, they just do the right thing despite their fear. The same goes for resilience. You might think the truly mentally tough never want to quit, but the truth is that perseverance is usually about keeping going even though you really want to stop.
So how do you do that? How do you push on when you're at your lowest and just want to crawl away and hide from the world for awhile? As people are often less than excited to talk about their darkest days, it's an important question that's rarely discussed in detail. But psychologist and author Rick Hanson has advice.
In the introduction to his Just One Thing newsletter recently, he discussed a recent trip to Haiti and the awe he experienced seeing people who were facing dire circumstances press on despite nearly insurmountable challenges. Their perseverance inspired him to share his step-by-step guide for those who are tempted to quit but want to find the strength to keep doing.
Step 1: Make sure your goals are worthy of your perseverance.
Sometimes you actually should quit. Make sure this isn't one of those times before you do anything else. "You can be determined to a fault," Hanson cautions. "Don't 'keep going' down a tunnel with no cheese." Also consider the collateral damage to your health, relationships and integrity that your quest is causing.
Step 2: Recall past persistence.
Remembering times in the past when you refused to give up can help you summon more perseverance now. "It could be fierce, strong, stubborn, unyielding, clear, inspired, surrendered, on-mission, purposeful, focused, committed - or all of these. Recall a time you had this feeling, and know it again in your body. Call it up whenever you need to draw on resources inside to keep going," instructs Hanson.
Step 3: Take a step.
Don't get caught up in thinking too far into the future. Often there's something you can do to make some small progress right now. Hanson uses rock climbing as an analogy: "I've taught many people to rock climb: Beginners will often have one foot down low and one foot at knee level, on solid placements, plus two good handholds, yet they can't find any new holds, so they feel stuck. But when they simply stand up on the higher foothold - taking the step that's available - that brings higher handholds and footholds within reach."
Step 4: Set your pace.
Once you're in the swing of things again, you don't want to find yourself back in the doldrums a week or a month later, so avoid frenzied activity that will just burn you out once more. As the old saying tells us, slow and steady often wins the race.
Step 5: Just keep going (even if it's only in your mind).
Having faith that your efforts will pay off and just putting one foot in front of the other is the most basic aspect of perseverance. But sometimes even that's impossible, practically at least.
Sometimes you're well and truly stuck -- maybe you've come down with an illness, say, or your ambitions are waiting on someone else's move -- but just because concrete progress isn't possible at this moment, doesn't mean there's nothing you can do to keep your momentum going and your spirits up.
"You can continue to reflect on what's happening, learn to cope with it better, and love the people around you. And over time maybe things will improve," Hanson reminds us.