When I’m working on something, my tendency is to keep at it until I get it “right” — whatever that means to me in the context.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a physical movement pattern in the gym, a new trampoline skill, editing a piece of writing, icing a cake, or working on something for a client. Our patterns tend to show up across a range of contexts.
I’ve always taken great pride in the fact that I’m so persistent.
As far as character traits go, persistence is one that is universally lauded and encouraged. It’s a cornerstone of success, a key factor in getting what you desire and manifesting your dreams.
If you work in any sales role (and if you own a business, you are in a sales role), persistence is one of the first lessons. Keep calling. Don’t let up. Be persistent.
In Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill writes about the man who dug through the cave and stopped just short of the gold.
If only he had been more persistent….
Can you ever be too persistent?
As it turns out, yes.
The Danger of Persistence
My trainer pointed out that my persistence in my physical exercises and drills often has an unintended negative consequence: as my muscles fatigue, I lose proper form. And once I lose form, my body goes back to what it knows: the old dysfunctional compensation patterns that I’m trying to change.
Basically, too much persistence leads to diminishing returns from my efforts.
My trampoline coach has pointed out the same thing. As we repeat a skill, I’ll see improvements for a while until a point at which we get diminishing returns.
The Mind is a Muscle
What’s true for the body is also true for the mind. After all, the mind is a muscle.
In fact, in my physical training sometimes the muscle that fatigues first is my brain — focusing on so many different points of engagement is mentally taxing. The inability to stay focused and connected can lead to those compensation patterns I’m trying to correct.
This principle applies across all segments of our work. Persistence is a great quality to have, but too much persistence can cause diminishing returns and lead to fatigue and burnout.
You can have too much of a good thing.
The Solution for Too Much Persistence
In physical endeavors, the solution to prevent diminishing returns is to stop working on that skill or exercise for a while and work on something else that uses a different muscle.
I may return to the original exercise later in the training session or in the next session.
This is the solution in work too. If your persistence in a given area is taxing your mental or physical resources, it’s ok to take a break from it for a while. Work on something completely different, or call it quits for the day.
Allowing our physical and mental muscles to rest is essential for building strength and creating healthy movement and working patterns.