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Persistence or Flexibility?

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Persistence or Flexibility?

Scott Miker

Quotes are a big part of our society.  They can elicit emotional responses, get us shaking our head in agreement and can cause us to be wowed by their simplicity and grace.  But I have found that while quotes can be helpful reminders they really don’t tell us much.

In fact, I find that many quotes are opposites of each other.  And yet, we never really pay attention to the opposite of that advice.  I have also noticed that many authors do this as well.  They will go into one extreme in one chapter, then the next chapter discuss something completely paradoxical.  

The Tao Te Ching is considered by many to be the wisest book ever created.  It goes through advice that is as valid today as it was 2,500 years ago when it was written.  But the Tao is based on the fact that it is paradoxical.  Each chapter seems to say that both extremes are present at the same time.

I have found throughout my life that this is actually true.  We try to make everything into black and white but it isn’t that clear.  Pushing forward could mean persistence, but it could also mean stubbornness.  Changing directions could mean being flexible and pivoting to adjust to change, or it could mean a lack of perseverance.  

Here is a quick example:

Calvin Coolidge once said “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Albert Einstein once said “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

We can certainly take these very literally and try to dissect their true differences but to me that is pointless.  We can almost always find justification in what we decide to do and just as easily find something that shows we made an error.

There are two things that I have learned to help cope with the paradoxical nature of things.  First, learn to relax.  We put way too much pressure on ourselves.  This pressure often results is stress, anxiety and guilt.  What I have found is that negative emotions such as stress, anxiety and guilt are not motivators.  They suck the energy from us and too often force a state of hesitation.  

If we learn to relax our mind we can then move forward confidently, always knowing that things could work out or there may be difficulty ahead.  It becomes more about our effort going forward rather than whether or not we made the perfect decision.  We start to realize that there is good and bad in everything and our life choices aren’t between good and bad but more about balancing the various pros and cons in a way that we feel is the right path.  

The second thing is to know yourself.  When I was younger I tended to stick with things longer than I should.  Then as I went to college I seemed to jump from thing to thing and never saw things through.  But over time I have been able to slowly get closer and closer to the center point where I feel I can make decisions based on how I tend to respond rather than blindly following advice from someone else.  

If you tend to be the person that sticks with things long after you should, try to remain flexible.  If you tend to be a person that is always changing then try to see things through a little more.  This is the key to personal growth.  

Then, over time, you will start to see these great quotes as simply helpful reminders but not as decision-making tools.  You will start to learn when to persist and when to be flexible.  But through it all make sure you remain relaxed because a tense mindset will almost always result in a half-processed response.