When you were a child did your parents read to you the famous poem by William Edward Hickson, which begins, “It's a lesson you should heed, Try, try again. If at first you don't succeed, Try, try again.” I hope they recited that little childhood rhythm to you because it’s one of life’s greatest lesson’s – don’t give up if confronted with difficulties. Did you ever hear the tale of Robert the Bruce and the spider?
Robert the Bruce, was the true king of Scotland, and he tried six times to regain his crown and his land from the English occupiers. Six times he failed, and when he was on the run and pursued by the English, his arm in tatters he hid in a cave. Exhausted and depressed, on the cusp of giving up he watched a spider hanging from the ceiling. It was working on a web, and was trying to fasten its next strand to a stone. It jumped, swinging through the air, but missed, then steadily climbed back up and started again, but another attempt, another failure. Robert the Bruce was transfixed by the spider as it tried again and again to reach the stone. Six times it swung through the air, and six times it failed. “I know what it is to lose six times,” Bruce told the spider. “My heart goes out to you.” But the spider didn’t quit, it again lunged at the stone and this time it made it. “Yes!” the king cheered. “So shall I try a seventh time! I will not give up hope!” Robert the Bruce raised an army and won over the support of the people of Scotland. This time he beat the English and won Scotland’s independence at the Battle of Bannockburn.
Do you persevere in the face of obstacles or do you call it a day and throw in the towel?
What is perseverance?
Perseverance is the strength to keep going and working towards your goals in spite of obstacles. People who persevere have steadfastness and courage and stamina and keep going regardless of how hard it is or how long it takes to reach a goal.
Perseverance is true grit. It separates the wheat from the chaff as they say in the Bible. You don’t have to be the cleverest, the strongest, or the most attractive but if you persevere, you will succeed.
How do you teach perseverance?
The only true way to learn perseverance is to fail. You need to learn the hard way that you can get over a setback, and get to where you want to go. Once you have recovered from one setback you know you can come back from other failures. You need to tell yourself and your kids and your friends, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going while only the weak give up.”
The latest research on perseverance
A new study from Pennsylvania State University has found that people who persevere in the face of hardship lower their risk of mental health disorders in the decades that follow that initial challenge. The study has just been published in The Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
To assess how perseverance impacts on mental health, the researchers looked at data from more than 3,200 participants at three time points, 1995 to 1996, 2004 to 2005 and 2012 to 2013. They tracked people’s mental health over the years – rates of depression, anxiety, and panic disorder.
The study looked at three variables: goal persistence, self-mastery, and positive reappraisal.
To measure goal persistence, people rated their agreement with statements like, “When faced with a bad situation, I do what I can do to change it for the better” and “I rarely give up on something I am doing, even when things get tough”.
For self-mastery, or feeling in control of life, the study participants rated statements like “When I really want to do something, I usually find a way to succeed at it” and “Whether or not I am able to get what I want is in my own hands.”
For positive reappraisal people had to agree or disagree with statements like: “I find I usually learn something meaningful from a difficult situation” and “Even when everything seems to be going wrong, I can usually find a bright side to the situation.”
Perseverance protects your mental health
The researchers found that people who persisted in achieving their goals had much lower level of mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and panic attacks over the following 18 years. High scores in self-mastery or positive reappraisal did not protect people’s mental health nearly as well as perseverance.
The study also found that people who began with fewer mental health problems persevered more toward life goals and more positive reappraisal than people with poor mental health. The question of course is do you persevere because you have good mental health or does perseverance protect your mental health? This study found the latter – you are likely to stay strong mentally and ward off depression, anxiety and panic if you find the strength to tackle setbacks and solider on.
Tips to persevere
1. The only constant in life is change
Sometimes we struggle with life because it just doesn’t turn out as we anticipated. Things go wrong and take unexpected twists and turns. Well, instead of fighting change, accept it and embrace the challenge. Complaining that things have gone wrong is a waste of energy – come on, just get over it.
As Stephen Hawking says, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”
2. Choose to do something, not nothing
Even when things seem dark and difficult you can still choose to solider on. It may be tempting to hide away but remember you still have the power of choice. Celebrate that, and celebrate and praise yourself for finding the courage to go on.
3. You will get by with a little help from your friends
You don’t have to be a hero and soldier all alone. Be smart enough to seek help from loved ones. Sometimes it makes sense to get some encouragement and support from friends. Seek out the input and wisdom of others when making difficult decisions. Accept a shoulder to cry on from time to time, but don’t waste too much time feeling sorry for yourself.
4. Have a sense of humour
Always remember that this is just a stage and it will pass. Remember and seek out what gives you joy, and when you can laugh.
Facing hardship is not easy. It can be really hard to keep up the good fight, but this is best for your future and mental health. Never forget you need to persevere with persevering! Good luck.
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