The Humongous Difference Between Persistence and Perseverance and How One is Ruining Your Life

Albert-Einstein-Insanity-Quote

If you’re like most people, you use persistence and perseverance interchangeably.

While persistence and perseverance are very similar in a lot of ways, there are a few subtle differences that have cosmic effects on the outcome of your situation.

Imagine this.

You want to become an entreprenuer. Maybe you always have, or maybe this is a new discovery for you. Either way, you find yourself in a bad position to do anything entrepreneurial.

You’re saddled with debt. You live out in the middle of nowhere. You don’t know anything about entrepreneurship. You have 12 kids and twins on the way. And you’ve also recently been in an accident that resulted in a form of brain damage that removed your ability to speak.

Talk about hardship. That sounds like a tough situation. However, if you really want it you’ll get it. You’ll find a way or you’ll make a way. You’ll continue on despite any obstacle or discouragement until you make it to your goal.

Now consider this alternative scenario.

You’re at a job that you hate. Or maybe it’s a relationship that hasn’t been working out. You put your head down and continue to hold yourself accountable and remain loyal to that job/partner regardless of how tortured it makes you feel. You’re committed and you’ll give nothing less than 100% every single time. The payout will come eventually. Won’t it?

You go through this for years expecting some return on your investment of time and energy but, alas, nothing comes but pain, frustration, and resentment. You carry on in spite of these oppositions because you can’t possibly stop now. You can’t quit after putting in all this effort. That would be tragic…wouldn’t it?

So you persist and persist; ignoring that little voice in the back of your head telling you to get out while you still have time to actually live.

Persistence vs. Perseverance

Persistence can be your undoing if you’re not careful.

The illusion that the ability to persist is always a virtue has caused people to stay in relationships with people they don’t respect, put up with jobs they hate, and generally just continue to perform the same painful action over and over again, in hopes that it will be better someday.

Not surprisingly, it almost never gets better. That’s when people turn hopeless and bitter. If you don’t have the courage to admit defeat and retreat to a better situation, then real life, for you, is over.

So what’s the difference between persistence and perseverance and how do you know which one you’re living by?

persist_definition

How do you know if you’re pursuing a lost cause, or if you’re actually carrying on through a tough time?

The definition of ‘persist’ (on the right) gives you a clue as to how to tell if you’re in a no win situation or if you just need to tough it out to get to your goal.

Think about persistence as mindlessly pursuing a cause for the sake of pursuit and for no other end goal. Think telemarketer, debt collector, and reporters.

Also, if you’re doing something with the expectation that ‘this next time’ will finally be the time you get what you want, that’s probably persistence.

Here are a few more examples to help clarify things for you:

  • Children are very persistent. They’ll ask you for something over and over again regardless of how many times you say no. Sometimes they win, but most of the time they just waste a lot of time whining.
  • Have you ever had someone romantically interested in you but you didn’t have the same feelings? And no matter how many times you tell this person, no matter how clear you try to make it, they continue to pursue you. That’s persistence.
  • Can you think of a relationship you’ve been in (or are in) that hasn’t gotten better over time. You continue to have the same arguments and disagreements. When things seem like they’re getting better, something happens that reverses all your progress. That’s you being illogically persistent; keeping the relationship alive past its expiry time.
  • If you’ve ever been in any situation where you are looking for a specific outcome and you continue to do the same things over and over again expecting for that outcome to tire of your persistence and finally reveal itself, then that’s you being persistent to the point of insanity.

Do a quick life scan and see if any circumstances in our life are ruled by your persistence.

When you find them, make sure you’re not persisting a lost cause; a cause you’ve been after for so long you can’t even remember why you were doing it in the first place; a cause that has been such a constant theme in your life that you were blinded to the futile nature of your quest.

perservere_definition

Perseverance, on the other hand, is almost never a bad thing.

The challenges when you persevere aren’t usually constant or repetitive. There’s always a different obstacle or problem that you need to overcome to get to your final destination.

When you persevere, you’re not stubborn or illogically resolute; you’re calm, steady, and strong.

You look opposition in the face and smile with grim determination as you plow right through it.

Use Your Internal Compass

This isn’t to say that persistence is always harmful. While it can often have a negative connotation, it can also benefit you if you use it consciously.

I can give you a guide but, in the end, you’re going to have to decide what’s best for you in your current situation.

Maybe you’re trying to convince an investor to support your startup so you pursue him regardless of how many times he’s said no. You know he’ll benefit from your idea and you know he’ll see that if he just gives you 15 minutes.

Just keep in mind that persistence always has a time limit where going on just doesn’t make sense. How many times are you going to contact the investor before you give up (assuming he hasn’t given you a restraining order already). 10 times? 20 times? 50 times? 10 years?

Perseverance in the name of a clear goal never has a time limit. People have dedicated their entire life to a cause they believe in even when it seems hopeless; even when they’re hit with obstacle after obstacle.

So once again I ask you to take a few minutes today to enter a higher state of awareness about your actions and your life.

Just breathe. Think slow. Don’t hesitate to act. And, most of all, set the terms on which you want to live your life with full consciousness, not obstinance.

{ 21 comments… add one }
  • karen crossett April 22, 2013, 11:31 am

    Hi liz. Great Article . A change to forever reading ” always persist and never give up.” I think discernment is needed. We can spend too much time and energy on jobs and relationships that are never going to be better. We need to go for our goals but be flexible in the action.
    Have a good day.

    Reply
    • Liz April 23, 2013, 4:27 pm

      And it kind of makes you feel bad and guilty when you want to give up right? Giving up isn’t always bad, you just have to use your head and your common sense. Are you giving up because it’s the right move, or are you giving up because you just don’t want to put in the work. No more guilt Karen!!

      Reply
  • Brian April 22, 2013, 1:31 pm

    Went looking through my saved quotes. So many instances of very famous, highly-revered people (including other bloggers we respect) encouraging us to “persist.” But we know these are people who act(ed) very consciously and strategically in their lives. They persevere(d). Without context it’s easy to romanticize unrelenting determination as a noble quality unto itself. No need to wrestle with the etymology. You’re right, it’s all about acting from awareness. I think ego can play into this. If you’re on the quest because you believe the GOAL is right, you’ll accept the journey and be able to turn left or right when needed. If proving YOU are right is more important, you’re likely to keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result and getting comfortable with never setting a time limit.

    Here’s my language lesson for today: What’s a 3-letter synonym for “Astute”? “Liz” 😉

    Reply
    • Liz April 23, 2013, 4:41 pm

      Brian needing language lessons?? Psh! Plus, I know a five letter word for brilliance, and it rhymes with ‘myan.’ Ok not the best example, but not feeling very eloquent at the moment!

      You’re right that we always hear about persisting and going and going and there never seems to be a good time to take a step back and just make sure you’re going the right way. Anyone successful who promotes persistence has given up on one or two projects on that path to success. Right?! Right.

      Liz

      P.S.
      Got your email(s), responding very soon. Sooner than soon. Immediately if not before.

      Reply
  • Tammy R April 22, 2013, 2:56 pm

    Hey Liz, love this one. I never thought about those words as anything more or less than synonymous! Great food for thought. I have had relationships like this – in the past. Now I am quicker at realizing a sinking ship and grabbing the life raft.

    One area in which we’ve perservered lately is the writing of our book and the starting of our blog. When we first started, we were a bit worried about putting ourselves out there. Ok, I was, but CJ was like, Yeah man, let’s DO THIS! After a few months, we kept writing and writing and finally things started happening. Yes, there were some people in our lives who weren’t very supportive, but we didn’t let that deter us. Sometimes change is hard for people and that is ok. I am really feeling great about letting it just be and moving forward. Thank you for the great post!

    Reply
    • Liz April 23, 2013, 4:43 pm

      Hey. Food for thought is the name of the game for me Tammy! Although the life raft isn’t as glamorous as the ship, at least you won’t end up at the bottom of the ocean with nothing but a pretty boat and a claim to persistence ;).

      I’m so so glad you and CJ were able to get through the negative people in your environment. God knows my mother was not thrilled. She still has no idea what I do, but as long as I’m happy, she seems content.

      Your welcome and thank YOU for the great comment as usual.

      Reply
  • Tim C April 22, 2013, 9:16 pm

    Hi Liz,
    Eckhart Tolle has a saying,”the longer you resist,the longer it persists.”And the Dalai Lama says that “not getting what you thought you wanted may be a blessing in disguise.” Whoa !! Great article and great timing-thank you ! Tim

    Reply
    • Liz April 23, 2013, 4:47 pm

      Ah yes! The good ‘ol ‘what you resist will persist’ proverb. It’s so true.

      Tim, have you ever been so angry at a fly that just couldn’t seem to leave you along. It’s like the bastard is purposefully trying to annoy you, and you cant get a handle on the sucker because it’s so fast. And just when you think it’s gone, you hear a jet engine and it’s the damn fly right next to your ear again. And wuddaya know – you slap the shit out of your face and he gets away.

      Anyway…that went on for longer than it should. I guess I have experience with this. My point is that the more you fight the fly, the longer it sticks around. I have no idea why. Next time, try ignoring the fly. It will be hard because the fly seems to know just what to do to get your blood boiling. But if you embrace it’s presence and just ignore it, it goes away. You don’t even realize that it’s gone away because you haven’t put any of your attention on it.

      That’s my rather verbose way of saying, ‘great point well said, Tim!’

      Reply
  • Morgan April 22, 2013, 9:33 pm

    Good point about the two words – persistence beyond a point is idiotic, especially when it involves doing the same ineffective thing over and over. It’s kind of the same issue I have with courage – enduring misery requires a kind of courage, just like changing things for the better. The challenge is knowing the difference. Good post. 🙂

    Reply
    • Liz April 23, 2013, 4:51 pm

      Yes we can become quite blind to ineffectiveness especially when it becomes a habit.

      I don’t really get what you mean by enduring misery…I suppose there might be a situation or two where you endure it to get to a better place, but you don’t accept it. Am I hearing that right? I just never think being miserable is OK. You know what I mean?

      And thanks ;).

      P.S. you have a blog now! I’m so on it!

      Reply
      • Morgan April 25, 2013, 9:04 pm

        Having the courage to endure misery might come up say if you were a slave, or during a war, or if you had to care for a terminally ill family member. Courage is facing what you are afraid of, and sometimes what you’re afraid of you’re stuck with, or it’s important to endure. Just because you are stuck in a crappy situation (sometimes) doesn’t mean you aren’t brave. But it’s still important to keep perspective and make life better whenever possible.

        As if that clarifies things. Lol.

        PS – Thanks for the blog love! 🙂

        Reply
  • Trevor April 23, 2013, 6:16 am

    I confess Liz, I use the two words interchangeably; and throw in “determination” as well. But I’ve never been one for semantics. So long as everyone knows what’s being said.

    But more often than not, I choose the word persist. I just like it. To me it denotes strength, endurance, and willpower. I don’t think of it as obstinate or stubborn.

    To your point, however, mindless pursuit of anything is a waste. I agree. But it can be hard to draw that line between dogged determination and bullheadedness. Especially when you’re only able to see things from your inside point of view.

    In this day and age of instant gratification though, I think the more common problem is a lack of determination. Too many people just plain give up at the first sign of resistance. Perhaps they just need a little bit of that persistence thingy?

    Cheers!

    Reply
    • Liz April 23, 2013, 4:54 pm

      Haha ‘that persistence thingy’ is the best thing I’ve read to date on this blog, including everything I’ve written.

      Yea you know, persistence isn’t ALWAYS bad. I just realize that it traps people more often than perseverance. It really doesn’t matter what you call it right? The point is to have a good purpose for your actions and to not allow them drive you to a dark place.

      I can be very persistent when the situation calls for it. For example, when I’m trying to contact someone, I’m very persistent – up until a point that is.

      Eh, tomato, tomahto, potato, potahto. The point is: stop doing ineffective shit in situation that don’t get better and don’t wuss out at the first sign of trouble when you really want something.

      I shoulda just written that eh?

      Reply
  • Deacon Bradley April 26, 2013, 10:52 am

    Excellent point Liz! It’s funny that growing up conventional wisdom says “Don’t be a QUITTER!” Then when I start studying successful people they quit all the time :). I was having a conversation with a friend recently about a tough topic, “How do you know when to persevere, and how do you know when to quit?” This post makes that a more clear answer: Don’t be persistent and keep trying the same things over and over without results. Switch it up, try something new. Preserver! 🙂

    PS: It turns out I can’t spell preserver correctly on the first try no matter how many times I try. I hope that doesn’t mean anything :).

    Reply
    • Liz May 1, 2013, 5:26 pm

      Haha Deacon! I can’t spell it either trust me. Thank the heavens for spell check.

      Reply
  • Jorge Blanco April 27, 2013, 5:02 pm

    Great article! The distinction between perseverance and persistence was very clear. 🙂 We need to make sure we really know when to just stop pursuing something. We sometimes need to let go of our pride and call it a loss. Remember though that just because it’s a loss, doesn’t mean it will no longer be attainable. It could still be achieved, but perhaps you need to give it a break and approach it in a different perspective. Aim for something else for a while and then get back to it with a fresh perspective.

    Reply
    • Liz May 4, 2013, 11:55 am

      Yes Jorge! Thank you and sorry for responding so late. Spam caught your comment. I think it was the ‘Great article!’ part. So much spam starts with those words. Not that I’m arguing with you on that point ;).

      Welcome to the blog and thanks for dropping by :).

      Reply
  • John Gibb April 30, 2013, 9:52 am

    Hey Liz

    First time I’m reading your blog (I landed on it from a comment which you’ve left on another site)

    What an interesting post!

    I guess beating a dead horse is called persistence, while horse racing, perseverance…

    I nodded with your affirmations, until you’ve made this connection and let it look like a self-explicit, valid argument:

    “Think about persistence as mindlessly pursuing a cause for the sake of pursuit and for no other end goal. Think telemarketer, debt collector, and reporters.”

    Now, I’d not say that telemarketer, debt collector, and reporters are persistent people. Yes, they’re annoying… They’re not just doing a job, but they’re following a specific goal, trying to achieve a measurable and quantifiable result, don’t you think?

    Now, saying children are persistent is also not true, not in all cases. There are multiple case stories and real life scenarios when kids would persevere to sell their lemonade or cookie or ice cream. You could call them born entrepreneurs. If you’ve read many of the popular self-help books, you’ve probably encountered similar stories yourself.

    Hope we can take discussion further, if you care to reply (it’s not my intention to upset or argue with you for the sake of it, I’m just telling what I believe to be true from my perspective).

    Best!

    Reply
    • Liz May 4, 2013, 11:54 am

      Hey John!
      Sorry I’m responding so late. Your comment got caught in spam. I just happened to be procrastinating and saw it. Apparently my website protects me from anyone who disagrees with me ;). Just kidding.

      Anyway, let’s do talk about your arguments!

      There may be some exceptions, but most telemarketers, debt collectors and esquire-type reporters do the same things over and over. I’m not intimate with any of these professions (well…maybe the debt collector is familiar to me..) but I can’t imagine them sitting around a table revisiting their strategies to achieve a goal. What is their goal? It’s that one sale, collecting that one debt, getting that story. And they call over and over and over and over again with basically the same pitch, maybe just escalated in the later stages.

      The difference between a debt collector and someone who’s trying to reduce their debt is the end goal, how they go about acheiving it, and the problems they face. The debt collector just performs a rinse and repeat process hoping for a different result every time they call. The person trying to get out of debt goes about it purposefully and overcomes financial obstacles (like losing a job or hospital bills from an accident). The difference is subtle, but my point was only to make sure that what you’re doing make sense.

      And yes children can definitely persevere. But they can also be very persistent. It’s more likely that a child whines for something over and over again than an adult. Again, that’s a generalization, but you get the idea yea?

      Cheers John! I hope you get a notification about this so we can discuss further!

      Reply
  • Anthony Wells February 10, 2014, 9:13 pm

    Great Article as I begin to tackle perserverance as a topic on my blog and podcast.

    Reply
    • Liz February 14, 2014, 9:14 am

      Thank you!

      Reply

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