Tag Archives: persistence

What are you pursuing, exactly?

12 Aug

How do you define success?

Every time I get on Facebook, someone has posted a new quote apparently designed to ooze motivation and enthusiasm for trying harder, being better, striving more, pushing further, and demanding success…and all in the name of what? Most of these quotes have a hard-body in the background, muscles rippling, iron in hand, a look of determination on the model’s face. And again I ask, in the name of what?

Success is great, it is. I love it when I can close my laptop after having turned in my research paper that took me well over 30 hours to complete. I am ecstatic when I walk away from giving a great lecture and even more thrilled when I get emails telling me that the  material really resonated.

I wouldn’t be thrilled, however, if I received a poor grade from my professor. In fact, it has happened, and I’ve just about flipped out. A few expletives later and some deep breathing, and I’m okay. But dang, it’s a bit wounding. When this happens, first I get pat myself on the back for not getting even more angry. Second I waffle back and forth between wanting to send my professor a scathing email and justify why I did what I did or said what I said in defense of what he/she blasted me for versus just getting down to business and peeling back the layers of the comments with a fine-tooth comb to learn and synthesize the info in a new way. Third, I pat myself on the back again for not sending an email and  start digging in with the understanding that this is what I better get used to and find challenging rather than damaging if I expect to complete this PhD. Finally, I remind myself that this is far more than “getting a PhD.” I get to learn a boatload of information and apply it in a way that will help others!

That last sentence is important. You might want to reread it. Studies show over an over that goal achievement in anticipation of feeling good (imagine all those times you said, “I’ll finally feel like I measure up when….” or “Once I complete ________, I will actually believe I can do it”) will leave you largely unsatisfied. Self-esteem, defined as our overall sense of self-worth, if measured by our successes, is super fragile.  So I ask you, what are you pursuing, exactly?

Sure, having high self-esteem confers some benefits. It does make us want to persist. People who have higher levels of self-worth also report less depression and greater feelings of happiness. A study by Baumeister and colleagues found, however, that a significant disadvantage of high self-esteem could severely override the positive consequences, namely poor estimation of our personal frailties or deficits. What are the drawbacks to this?  Ever met someone who won’t take responsibility? Who blames others or the “thing” when they perform poorly (the teacher or the test)? Ever heard anyone say, “how dare he treat me that way!” ?

Yes, you know what, you are important, you do matter, and you need to be cared about and loved. But most people don’t even have low self-esteem. A study conducted in late 80s showed that the overall American self-esteem score was far above the midpoint, and it’s growing exponentially. In 2008 a similar study was conducted  on high school students and scores were significantly higher. Yet higher self esteem barely has any impact on grades, relationship quality,  or even likelihood of engaging in substance use.  Why am I telling you this? Because if you’re pursing self-esteem, you need to get over yourself!

If you want to feel lousier because you base your worth on mistakes or failures; be a victim of circumstance; find that your motivation roller-coasters like your weight does; and avoid trying new things or taking risks for fear of failure, which actually has you falling short even more, well keep saying, “I’ll feel better about myself when I….” The benefit of happiness as it relates to achievements doesn’t last long. It’s fleeting and even after achieving something major, it returns to baseline levels fairly quickly. I was surprised after I earned my first pro card at just how UN-monumental it felt. And each subsequent win after that was even more anticlimactic. I have  medals and trophies and tons of competition photos, and I’d be happy taking all of them to the dump. More than anything, it’s the memories that are most meaningful to me, and not even the memory of winning. The events surrounding the win, the effort that went into preparing, and the friendships I developed through the process stick with me.  NOW, I can say that. Earlier in my competitive career, I couldn’t. I was chasing self-worth.

My point to this is that I have clients who I know have their self-esteems tightly wound to their accomplishments, and it never ceases to surprise me–and them–just how horrible they feel when they fail and how just barely elated they feel when they succeed. This has much to do with what motivates us also. Self-determination theory explains how it is those intrinsic, value-oriented, internally-based drivers that create a long-standing and enduring motivation to persist toward a goal (Check out my article in the next issue of Oxygen Women’s Fitness, as well as that coming out in Alpha–The Evolution of Fitness)– not the hard body you see on a poster with a get ‘er dun look.

So where do you go from here? First, ask yourself what you’re pursuing, exactly. Second, maybe consider doing what Joey did in an old Friends episode. Stepping out of his typically selfish, ego-driven, me-centric world, he decided to act with selflessness and found the benefits to be tremendous! (I wish I could find the clip!)

Acting with compassion toward others and showing support and responsiveness leads to a greater feeling of connectedness and self-trust! When you do make a mistake,  acting with compassion toward yourself means you’ll fall a little softer. Think if you don’t beat yourself up that you won’t work harder the next time? Think again! Studies show that the likelihood of taking responsibility for your behavior happens more often, and you’ll approach the issue from a more solution-focused perspective as opposed to feeling discouraged and wanting to give up.

Hmm…sounds to me like a worthwhile goal to pursue. Makes me wonder how someone like Lance Armstrong would have behaved if his self-esteem weren’t tied so heavily to success.

Success consists of going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm ~Winston Churchill


The Secrets to Success Aren’t Secrets at All–Strive and You Will Thrive!

13 Nov

Yup. Here I go again. Doing a running pole vault onto my “you’ve gotta fail to prevail” soapbox.

How can I not go there when research resoundingly and repeatedly supports the concept of goal striving for success. The individuals who “make it” have worked for it.

Striving, by definition, is action oriented! It’s powerful and carries an inertia about it that was brought front and center for me this weekend with so many of my clients competing in some very challenging shows. Some individuals, having dieted for over a year, exemplified what striving truly is: 1. To exert much effort or energy; endeavor. 2. To struggle or fight forcefully; contend. They knew what they wanted and they took the steps necessary to get there. Certainly not always easy, they contended with obstacles that threatened their ability and motivation to continue. Some questioned the reasons they were making the effort. Some were unwavering in their pursuit but acknowledged that they were suffering in some ways. Others dug deep enough each day, each moment, and exerted whatever energy they could to stay positive and mentally tough. No matter how they got to their goal, each of them failed in some way along the course. But they kept going.

What makes the difference between those individuals who decide to throw in the towel, adopt an “I’ll never be able to…” attitude, or believe they “just don’t have what it takes”  and the “all-in” folks?

Who are my weight loss clients who achieve success?

Who are my competitive clients who achieve their personal bests?

Who are the kids in our country who go on to college, graduate from college, and start successful careers DESPITE what would appear all odds being stacked against them– single parent homes, low incomes, poor modeling.

The ones who struggle and keep going.The ones who fall apart, pick up the pieces, look for alternatives, and move forward. And the ones who don’t expect to get something for nothing.

I could continue this blog with a rant about the election and what appears to be a country that is expecting handouts– yes, a lot of the younger population voted for a president who appears to want to increase reliance on the government, and I can only imagine what this might mean for the next generation– but I’ll stick to the facts.

Go all the way back to attachment theory, which states that kids need a nurturing relationship and environment to grow up in, especially in the early stages of development, to learn how to self-soothe, develop a measure of emotional management skills, and delay gratification. Recall Carol Dweck of Stanford who developed the theories of growth and fixed mindsets, and her research demonstrating how children who believe their achievements come from hard work and effort (extrinsic drivers) as opposed to being born with brains or without ( you can reference her studies in her book Mindset and my articles which describe what she found) expect to make mistakes and will try at something repeatedly before giving up. You’ve got the studies done with students who’ve come from various educational systems and socioeconomic backgrounds as well, and no, it’s not the kids who score highest on their SAT’s and ACT’s who are most likely to go to college and actually graduate. It’s the kids who get good grades in high school– the GPA is more indicative of college success than standardized achievement tests. Over and over again we see that it’s the work, time, effort, and perseverance toward the goal that makes the difference.

How come then, do I meet so many people who  1) expect for the journey toward whatever they’ve got their sights set on, to be easy; and 2) believe that something must be wrong if they can’t skate through the process without trips and stumbles?

Ask yourself this too: how often do you end up frustrated and mad, disappointed, or despondent because you can’t figure something out right away? Be honest. I’ve worked with many an individual and the word “breathe” is often one of my first pieces of advice when I see that crazed look in their eyes as if to say, “HELP ME!!!” I’ve also been met with this statement far too many times than I’d like to admit: “You’ve never had to struggle with something like this, Kori.” Or my favorite, “You wouldn’t understand. It’s always been easy for you.”

Ahem! Perhaps it’s not that it has been easy more than it has looked easy because I expect that in order to meet my goals I am going to suffer a bit, squirm around and not get what I want immediately, and wallow in the toil that comes with the minutiae and small steps toward the grand achievement. This is exactly what one researcher from UCLA has shown recently in his studies with children regarding teaching and learning.

As a graduate student Jim Stigler traveled to Japan to learn about the teaching methods there and how they compared to the approaches most often implemented in the U.S. What did he find? While there it became clear just how differently the children themselves took the learning process. They expected to struggle! They understood, because of the teaching style, that struggling was their opportunity to test their mental metal! They knew that solving problems meant being able to withstand the emotional conflict often experienced when you have to persevere as you trudge through the muck.  This is a far cry from the “you either get it or you don’t” mentality, right?
There has been a lot of coverage in the news recently about how far behind U.S. school children are in academics as compared to children in other countries. Teachers start out getting paid a lot more than in other countries. The class sizes are smaller. U.S. children spend more time overall in the classroom per year than most other countries’ kids. And yet they rank 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading. I’m not writing this to blame teachers. What I am proposing is that this has a lot more to do with the focus being in the wrong place. Academics are important. There is no arguing that point. But if we focus ONLY on academics  and getting the right answer versus what it takes to come by the answer, aren’t we missing the boat?

In his book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough described the differences found between children who acquired their GED versus those who graduated from high school, when their educational path was followed. 46% of high school graduates, at the age of 22 years, were enrolled in a university. Care to guess the percentage of GED recipients? Try 3%.  Factors such as annual income, employment rate, illegal drug use, and even divorce were considered, and GED holders looked just like high school drop outs. AND they are considerably more intelligent than high school dropouts! So what does this mean?

Cognitive ability, while important, did not net these individuals success. So what did? And what traits can you begin to learn to be that steadfast, determined, mentally tough, driven individual? Each one of us knows someone like this– that person we want to emulate and just soak up as much of their energy as we can. Here’s what they’ve got:

Many of these traits and skills are related to one another. For example, an individual who can manage his emotions effectively (i.e. discern stress and calm himself down so he doesn’t become overwhelmed to the point of giving up) can delay gratification in order to focus for a longer period of time on one step toward the bigger goal. Behavioral flexibility would allow the dieter who has been exercising daily but has just gone on a business trip and has no access to a gym to anticipate how she might work out while she’s gone but in a different way, for example, a hotel room workout.

Allow me to repeat. You must learn how to strive in order to thrive. You must learn how to fail if you want to prevail.

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

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