How to learn persistence

When you follow up you demonstrate your character and your trustworthiness. And, anyway, we can all benefit from a few reminders.

The value of persistence

Few things contribute more to getting what you want than consistently showing up, courageously overcoming your fears, and asking for what you want.

When you get rejected, try again. And when you get told no, denied, or even scorned, use that rejection as a reminder that you are practicing persistence.

How to be persistent

Persistence can be learned. It is a habit, and like any other behavior, the best way to adopt it is through incremental steps.

First, decide that being persistent is something that you want to learn.

Then, look for ways that you can practice persistence in your daily life:

  • Is there a skill you’re trying to improve? Practice doing it one more time each day than you’d planned to.
  • Are you trying to persuade someone of your world view? What’s one small action in that direction?

The 2-minute rule

In his bestselling productivity book, Getting Things Done, David Allen teaches the 2-minute rule, which states that if a task can be completed in two minutes or less, you should do it now.

I prefer a 4-minute rule. If something takes less than four minutes, I try to do it immediately.

That doesn’t always work. When I have a day of back-to-back meetings, I don’t have time to do a variety of tasks in between. But as a framework, I follow my 4-minute rule whenever possible.

If you can, follow up immediately.

Practice skills that require persistence

As I wrote about in the article Specialization is for Insects, I love meta-learning, or skills that train other skills. That’s why I like selling. Sales requires empathy, storytelling, and confronting your fears – all of which are valuable standalone skills.

I practice persistence by training towards a 60-second one-arm handstand. Handstands require a daily dedication to the craft, and very incremental progress.

Leadership requires persistence

I’m reading Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, and am fascinated by T. E. Lawrence’s skill as a leader. I hadn’t realized that T. E. Lawrence made a study of leadership. So much so that when he arrived in Arabia, Lawrence had already cultivated the commanding charisma – not to mention the language fluency – necessary to lead the Arab revolt.

Leadership is the skill of doing little things every day to keep a variety of people taking action together.

Courage to be disliked

One of the reasons that we don’t follow up is that we are afraid to be disliked.

Inaction doesn’t feel like cowardice. Whatever’s scary just feels like something that we’d prefer to avoid.

Fear is insidious. It can feel like a rational fear of rejection or self-recrimination. But fear is often the reason we don’t take action. And the antidote to fear is courageous action.

If you take courageous action – persistently ask for what you want – someone is going to take offense. That’s just the price for trying to be useful.

When you’re hesitant – ask why

There’s a lot of pressure in the world today to “Just do it.” From the Nike slogan to the popularity of men like Jocko Willink and David Goggins.

But when I try to pressure myself to do something, I feel awful. It just doesn’t work. I can’t accomplish something difficult without understanding why.

I’m often afraid to be persistent.

  • When I’m selling something, I don’t want people to dislike me.
  • When I’m asking someone on a date, I don’t want to be turned down.

But when I first spend a few minutes examining my underlying reasons, I’m often able to take action.

Persistence is a superpower. Following up is a skill that makes everything else you attempt much easier. And in the world today, we need more well-meaning people who persist advocate for what they believe.

Until next week,

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