Reality Check: Persistent or Stubborn?

Last time, I wrote about constancy of purpose and the importance of having a long-term view to guide your decisions.

Why is constancy of purpose important? Because few big goals are achieved quickly and easily. If you want to achieve something substantial, persistence helps when that little voice inside you says, “Stop. Give up. Do something easier. Feel good right now. Forget about years down the road.”

Persistence is generally viewed as a positive characteristic. Albert Einstein had it; he’s said to have said, “It’s not that I’m so smart; I just stay with problems longer.”

Now, you’re undoubtedly also aware of the characteristic known as stubbornness. You have certainly seen it displayed by others. Maybe you’ve even exhibited a bit of it yourself.

The wisdom around stubbornness is, “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you are getting.” The implication: stubbornly clinging to your current behaviour will lead you to more of the same results.

So, what’s the difference between persistence (generally seen as positive) and stubbornness (generally seen as negative)? Is the difference just in the eye (the perception) of the beholder?

A helpful starting point in any inquiry is, “What do you want?” If you can become clear about what you want, (your constancy of purpose) you may also become clear about whether you are exhibiting helpful persistence or unhelpful stubbornness.

For example, Sara wants a comfortable relationship with the father of her children. Even though they are no longer together, she knows that it’s best for the children if she has a non-conflict-laced relationship with their father.

When her ex asks for exceptions to their visiting arrangements, Sara has choices. She can choose stubbornness and demand rigid adherence to the rules of their agreement. Or she can choose to be flexible and work with him to accommodate his needs.

Sara also wants to be a good role model for her children. To that end, she is going to school to improve her employment prospects. School is difficult, time-consuming, and doesn’t leave as much free time for her children as she would like.

Again, Sara has choices. She can choose persistence and continue with her studies, delaying the gratification of spending more time with the kids. Or she can choose to give up, claiming that her situation doesn’t allow her to continue.

Notice that I used the term “stubbornness” in the first case and “persistence” in the second. That labeling carries a value judgment with it, doesn’t it?

However, whether one action is helpful and another action unhelpful doesn’t depend on how we label it; it depends on whether the action leads to the goal.

In the first case, flexibility—not stubbornness—around the rules will help Sara’s goal of maintaining a good relationship for the children. In the second case, persistence will help Sara’s goal of setting an example and providing a better life.

If you find yourself asking, “Am I being persistent or stubborn?” here’s a way to tell the difference. Persistence is maintaining effective actions toward your goal. Stubbornness is continuing ineffective actions.

Are you persistent? Stubborn? Let me know

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