Many people who want to get things done in the world become impatient and demanding. They know what they want and take no prisoners along the way. But this aggressive posture is neither the only nor the best way to get things done. A kinder, gentler approach holds out more hope for the future.
This week’s Provision comes in the third major section of our series on health, wealth, and wisdom. Although I wrote two weeks ago about the importance of releasing entitlement, I want to separately consider a related and even more common problem: impatience. We may live in a “mad, mad, mad” world, but it really is time to get off.
To understand the problem of impatience, we can begin by getting the distinction between “persistence” and “insistence.” Like the distinctions of the past two Provisions (“outrage” vs. “enrage” and “comprehension” vs. “apprehension”), the former is productive and helpful while the latter is destructive and hollow. Impatience comes with a substantial cost and often fails to get us where we want to go.
Persistence, on the other hand, is the key to all significant accomplishments. The old adage reminds us that, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” And you can bet there were quite a few setbacks along the way. But with persistence, things get done. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Energy and persistence conquer all.”
Many an author has written about the importance of persistence. Brian Tracy concludes his bookGoals! with a chapter on persistence. After all is said and done, after all the goals are set and all the plans are made, after all the success systems have been put in place, one thing is certain: we will experience disappointments, setbacks, obstacles, and adversity along the way. In fact, as Tracy notes, “the higher and more challenging the goals you set for yourself, the more disappointments and adversity you will experience.”
This is the paradox. We seek health, wealth, and wisdom. Yet they so often come only as we contend with disease, devastation, and death. What’s the difference between those who make it through to the other side and those who do not? Persistence!
In studies of lucky and unlucky people, or those who think of themselves as lucky or unlucky, a clear pattern emerges: lucky people hang in there longer than unlucky people. In other words, they hold on to their dreams long enough for luck to find them. Instead of stopping just short of the goal, when the going is the toughest, they persist all the way through to the score.
There is a critical difference, however, between persistence and insistence. While “persistence” refers to “holding firmly and steadfastly to a purpose, state, or undertaking despite obstacles, warnings, or setbacks,” “insistence” refers to “asserting or demanding something vehemently.” In other words, while “persistence” has to do with determination, “insistence” has to do with demandingness.
Are you more noted for your determination or for your demands? Of course quitters may not be known for either one. But let’s assume that you have the stick-to-itiveness to see things through to the end. How do you make things happen? Chances are, if you are known as an impatient and demanding person, then you are more about insistence than persistence and you are not as healthy, wealthy, and wise as you otherwise might be.
That may not, at first, appear obvious to you. Perhaps you can recount stories of how your impatience paid off. You wanted something done, and done now, so you made a pest of yourself until it happened. Like the proverbial bull in a china cabinet, you blustered and blew without regard to the devastation you were kicking up all around you. You were focused on one thing, and one thing only, to the exclusion of all others. You may even have come to equate your desire with God’s justice, which can take that demanding spirit to a whole new level.
Remember the ancient story of Job? He was healthy, wealthy, and wise • or so he thought. Then one calamity after another fell upon him until he finally demanded that God explain and relieve his suffering. “Oh, how I miss those golden years,” Job reminisced, “when everything was going my way and nothing seemed too difficult. But no longer. Now God has undone me and left me in a heap. What did I do to deserve this? Isn’t calamity reserved for the wicked? Isn’t disaster supposed to strike those who do wrong?”
“Apparently not. God has proof of my integrity. I’ve been faithful to my wife and fair to my employees. I have neither ignored the needs of the poor nor turned my back on the indigent. I have never set my heart on making big money nor boasted of my wealth. I have never exploited the earth for my own profit nor dispossessed its rightful owners. I have never crowed over my enemy’s ruin nor gloated over my rival’s bad luck. But still I suffer. I demand an answer from the Almighty One. I demand a hearing with God! I’m ready to present my case.”
Do you see how Job’s experience of adversity exposed the reality of a demanding heart? Job was sick and tired of chronic pain. Job had had enough of poverty and loss. Who could blame him! Times had gotten very tough. But instead of persistence, Job responded with insistence. Instead of remaining steadfast he shook his fist at God, demanding both an answer and a solution.
No wonder God answered him from the eye of a storm so violent that it brought Job back to his senses. “I’m speechless and in awe,” Job responded in humble adoration. “I should never have opened my mouth! I only muddied the water by becoming so demanding. I was babbling about things far beyond me. I am content now to trust your purposes. I’ll never again raise my hand to you in defiant impatience.”
Hopefully we don’t have to go through the devastation of Job to let go of defiant impatience. There is a distinction here we need to get. We can be persistent without being impatient. We can be gentle without being weak.
I remember a colleague who mastered this distinction. She could say the hardest things in the most pleasant way. Her feedback, whether positive or negative, was always honest, sincere, and on target. But she never lost sight of the person in the process. She could be firm and direct without being rude or dismissive. Her commitment to the cause was unflappable but so was her consideration of the company.
She had learned how to be persistent without being insistent. This is yet another distinction between Type A and Type B Behaviors. It’s not that Type A Behavior gets things done while Type B Behavior goes with the flow. Both Behaviors get things done, they just do them in very different ways.
Type A Behavior is insistent. It demonstrates a perpetual sense of time urgency and impatience. There is never enough time to get things done. “This impatience,” writes Meyer Friedman, “frequently becomes so intense that it creates and sustains a chronic sense of irritation or exasperation.” It should come as little surprise, then, that Type A Behavior often gets things done at the expense of others and one’s own personal health. One never ends up being as successful as one might hope because of the cost associated with this impatience.
Type B Behavior is persistent. It knows the goal but it also knows the process. There is always enough time to get things done because there’s no illusion of having the time to get all things done. Like the tortoise and the hare, Type B Behavior is content to move forward slowly but steadily. It’s patience is exemplary. When mistakes are made, it learns and corrects with loving kindness. No wonder people live longer and enjoy working this way. The results often far exceed the expectations because of the synergy it creates.
Which kind of person are you? The tortoise or the hare? Both kinds of people get things done in the world, but the persistence of the former will out do the insistence of the latter every time. Some would even say that this underlies some of the problems in the space shuttle program. People had become more insistent than persistent, more demanding than determined, more impatient than intrepid.
If you want to shine beyond measure, then maybe it’s time to adopt the gentle attitude of persistence rather than the hostile attitude of insistence. It’s never too late to change.
Coaching Inquiries: Are you known more for your determination or your demands? Are you more of a Type A pusher or a Type B puller? How could you make the shift to patience and persistence?
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
I appreciate your reminding us of the context for Roosevelt’s famous reflection on “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
I have found that whatever I have freely given has been returned to me 100 fold! Maybe not in dollars and cents but in other, often tangible, ways. Jesus said it is in giving that we receive. So true.
After our children’s bedtime prayers, we’ve gotten in the habit of asking 2 questions: (1) What made you happy today? and (2) What made you sad today? The second question gave us insight to things we needed to address, but had been unaware of up to that point.
Don’t forget the great muscle relaxing technique used on the old Bonnie Prudden exercise record at the end of the exercises (to Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”!): lie still, flat on your back, eyes closed, and starting with your toes, visualize the musculature (as seen in picture books/anatomy-biology class) or even just the outside of the body parts, and “watch” them relaxing, easing out of their knotted state. Try it. It’s fascinating, and also a great way to induce sleep if that’s being evasive after a long, knotty day . . .
I want to thank you for this week’s Provision on releasing fear. It speaks to my own experience as I am starting my own business as a sole practitioner in a new and unfamiliar discipline and land. My wife talks to me a lot about my past experiences as a base for present confidence. I haven’t felt that they were a guarantee of success in this endeavor, but you’ve offered some good confirmation. Thanks for your thoughtfulness.
It’s validating to hear someone else use driving as an analogy for life. I’ve spent many years on the road, and have invested countless hours pondering the meaning of life as it relates to people’s driving habits. People seem to display their true character behind the wheel. Gee, who knew I was so deep?
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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