On Mental Perseverance
And The Value Of Slowing Down
With over two years of podcasts guests telling their inspiring stories about managing their bump in the road, certain themes have emerged. Perseverance is one of them.
Perseverance is powerful. Nearly all my guests exhibited this trait as they navigated their bumps in the road. Erik Weihenmayer ( who went blind at 16) persevered to climb Everest, kayak the Colorado River rapids, and so much more. Martha McSally persevered to become the first woman to fly jets in combat. And Mary Neal, MD relentlessly questioned her own preconceived ideas to arrive at a new reality. She too persevered.
I admire each of these people. There were no short cuts. They studied, they questioned, they adapted, they practiced and they persevered, sometimes in spite of all odds. Their efforts required great personal honesty, about their strengths and weaknesses, and how to move forward with both.
There are many aspects to perseverance–mental, physical, philosophical and social, to name just a few. All can be difficult, but the topic that speaks to me today is mental perseverance.
I’m reading several books, one of which is Johann Hari’s Stolen Focus. There are elements of the book I don’t agree with, but overall it is a wonderful blend of science and anecdote about our faltering, fragmented minds resulting from our electronic addictions.
I see this tendency towards distraction in myself. I resist. Sometimes I win, sometimes the Pavlovian whistles of my devices win.
I recently moved and have been unpacking some of my book boxes. I was pleased when I came to a box with some of my cherished cookbooks. I don’t cook much these days, at least not like I used to, and my emotional reaction took me by surprise.
As I opened each box and removed each book, one at a time, memories of different eras, cultures, and places hit me hard. Each book is rich with its own unique personal tale of culinary and personal history of meals, friends, and favorite bookstores.
Certainly I can find what I need on-line where I can search, skim and quickly click. There’s an endless flow of foodie photos, videos, information and recipes, and there’s no need to get too attached to anything. There’s always more with just one click. There’s just so much.
A physical book is different. You are literally attached to it as you hold it in your hand. It has weight. It’s tangible. It’s a slow way of browsing, limited in its scope, chosen for its appeal. Marcella Hazan, Bobby Flay, Mario Batalli. Each brings a totally different philosophy to the table. The depth of the perspective bound in a book forces me to slow down.
I don’t want to lose that ability to focus and go slow. To persevere. Because perseverance is, by its very nature, slow and incremental. So I carefully guard and cultivate my attention. I meditate. I read many books, for my podcast and for myself. I don’t (gasp!) watch TV, although I do subscribe to streaming services.
Staying focused takes perseverance and practice. Johann Hari, author of Stolen Focus, notes that the on-line world trains us to crave frequent rewards.
“Once you’ve been conditioned to need these re-inforcements… it’s very hard to be with reality …it doesn’t offer as frequent and immediate rewards.”
Surfing the web also means you’re constantly switching tasks, not focusing. This leaves you less attentive.
How does one combat this and why does it matter?
First, it matters for your mental health. And that spills over into everything you do.
Over the years I’ve realized the need for good mental health. Six years of on again, off again cancer treatments severely tested my sanity. I learned that I had to take control of my mind. I had to find peace.
My trek towards peace wasn’t always very peaceful, but I persevered. Now, a daily meditation practice helps me be more present and to distance myself from the mindless energy of random thoughts and the frantic, click-bait nature of on-line information.
But I have to work at it. It’s a meditation practice. Every day.
It requires perseverance.
I have to persevere when the tasks of life stare me in the face; when bills wait to be paid; when random events disrupt my timeline. I have to persevere through my morning email, the blogs, the comments and the responses. I’ve had to persevere at work; at the airfield; on-line.
And along the way I’ve learned that persevering for one’s mental health is everything.
Mental health is about finding and holding onto soulful meaning, peace, and happiness. It’s about living an authentic life, true to your values. It’s about connection with others in meaningful ways. For me it’s about inhabiting that stillness I find in my daily meditation and bringing it with me into my waking hours.
It’s a slow process, built over years of perseverance in a daily practice.
Perseverance is my friend. Right now I am recovering from a hip replacement. That means persevering and doing the physical therapy I need to do. A host of exercises, twice a day, every day. It’s relentless and it’s a royal pain, but I see how the incremental effort is translating into greater strength. I am so joyful at being able to walk again, that some days the joy overwhelms me. So I persevere.
Perseverance defined my flying career. When I think back on the bumps along the way, it is amazing that I stuck it out. But I wanted to fly more than anything, so I persevered, first with low performance planes, then high tech aircraft and then with the amazing adventures that ensued, many of which tested me and my drive to persevere.
I am working on a book that requires perseverance. It’s turned out to be a much larger, more difficult project than I had imagined. But I persevere, writing, organizing, editing, nearly daily because I need to share the wisdom it contains.
More lately, I am on a personal quest to be my best authentic self. I try to integrate, health, spirituality, integrity, community and so much more into a balanced life. I fail on a nearly daily basis, but I persevere because I know that is my path forward, wherever that may lead.
Perseverance is slow. It’s the gradual iteration of important tasks and themes to reach your goals. And it allows you to emerge on the other side in strength of mind, body and soul.
What is important enough to you that you will stick with it, no matter what? What do you persevere at and why? What’s your favorite personal perseverance story?
Stay tuned for the book, Bump In The Road, that explores the inner strengths that help you navigate life’s bumps. Sign up on the website, BumpInTheRoad.us, to enjoy the wisdom of my weekly guests and to stay in touch.