Perseverance is the key to both overcoming adversity and achieving goals.
Perseverance and determination are what keeps us going despite setbacks, hurdles, getting stuck on a plateau of performance.
Progress in anything is rarely straightforward, improvements in performance or ability are seldom achieved in a smooth upward curve or even a straight line on a graph or chart.
Progress, improvement and the learning of new skills are almost always incremental.
This is an area where many self-help and personal development gurus fall short. They imply that their secrets, plans, programmes or systems will allow users to steadily climb the ladder of success, one rung at a time, making steady, smooth progress.
The journey from where you are now to where you want to be is not that simple, the ladder analogy is inaccurate. If anything it would be more like a ladder with rungs set at varying intervals, some missing altogether. It is often more like a journey along an undulating road in hilly country. Sometimes smooth, but mainly up and down, some fruitless side trips down roads that look good but turn into dead ends.
The secret is to keep going, accept that there will be some downs, accept that progress will be rapid at times, when the road is smooth and not too steep. Slow at other times when the road is rough or the slope steeper.
Accept that progress is incremental, sometimes the transition from one level to the next easy and quick, others more difficult and slow. Some increments represent huge gains, others small.
That’s life, the way it is. People who persevere and enjoy the journey are the ones who lead extraordinary lives.
My running speed, endurance and distances improved gradually. Running 6 days a week, every week, it still took over two years to get good enough to run my first ultra-marathon. I had setbacks along the way, injuries from pushing too hard. Days when business or family commitments made it difficult to run according to my preferred schedule. Days when I did not feel like running. But I did run, except for my designated Monday rest day, I rarely missed a day for years.
More recently I have gone through another slow, incremental learning curve. Learning to play the guitar and read music.
To put this into context and explain why this is a huge challenge for me, here is the background.
My father had played the clarinet in a military band and could play a recognisable tune on a number of musical instruments. As a child, I had very occasionally heard him play a piano, guitar and harmonica. The musical skill skipped a generation, although my elder son showed some musical ability, I had absolutely no talent.
So little that at junior school I was banned from singing, told to bring a book to read during singing class because I was so bad that I put everyone else off. (The good old days before political correctness extinguished honesty).
I grew into an adult who, although enjoying listening to a wide range of music from pop to classical, believed that I was destined to be a musical incompetent for the rest of my life.
When electronic keyboards became popular in the 1980s, my two boys and their mother persuaded me to buy one. It was the type that in teaching mode, lit up the key to be pressed to play a pre-selected tune. Supposedly idiot proof, according to the instructions, so simple that any one could learn to play in no time.
It was not idiot proof enough, within a few hours my elder son and my ex-wife could play reasonable versions of several popular songs, like John Lennon’s Yesterday. My younger son was not as good but still way ahead of me. Even with the indicator lights, weeks later, I still could not play a tune.
A man can only take so much ridicule from his family, I abandoned the idea that I might have a hidden musical talent and gave up. I did not think about learning to play an instrument for the next 25 years or so.
After my heart attack, I realised that my marathon running days were over, I had no desire to climb mountains or swim across lakes but I needed a big challenge.
I set a goal of learning to play the guitar and read music before I turned 65.
In October 2012, I bought a guitar. I watched videos produced by talented musicians and started practicing. It has taken me 18 months, but I can now play the major chords, and a few simple (slow) tunes. I can follow music without first having to write the letters of the notes on the page as I did when starting.
It has been slow and difficult progress. Hurdles like stiff wrists and fingers from a combination of age, old horse, motor bike and farming type injuries have been overcome by perseverance.
In many ways, it has been a more difficult goal than running an ultra-marathon. One of the major obstacles was convincing myself that I was not totally incapable of following a tune despite what the teachers had told me all those years ago. Another was forgetting my dismal failure with the idiot proof keyboard.
As with running, progress has come in small increments. Sometimes I have slipped back, unable to do what I had managed a week before, but I have kept going in the knowledge that the next week I would have regained that small step.
Perseverance and those small steps have been the key to achieving my goal with a year and a bit to spare. Will I ever be good enough to play in a band? Highly unlikely, but that was not my goal. At least the cats no longer leave home when I do my evening practice.
The biggest factor has been consistency. I set a goal of practicing for 30 minutes a day 6 days a week. It is rare that I miss a day.
Achieving goals comes down to consistency, perseverance, determination and the acceptance that progress usually comes in a series of steps, a few big but mostly small. With a few hurdles to trip us up thrown in to keep things exciting.
How do you see your path?
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