Cam Taylor

Be inspired. Be focused. Be tenacious.

6 Steps to Strengthening Your Perseverance Muscle

When I ask people what is landing with them as they read, Detour: A Roadmap For When Life Gets Rerouted, more than once they talk about the chapter on perseverance. To be honest, I exercise perseverance on a daily basis!

Below is an excerpt from the perseverance chapter that I hope inspires you to not give up but to dig deep and be a finisher, not just a starter.

If you haven’t bought your copy of my new book Detour, please go here and order yours.

How you start matters, but how you finish matters even more. In order to finish well, perseverance is required.

Perseverance is “steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.”*

Perseverance is an inner quality developed one choice at a time. Julia Cameron said, “Often it is tenacity, not talent, that rules the day.” Titus Lucretius Carus underlined the power of perseverance when he said, “Constant dripping hollows out a stone.”

One of the days I definitely needed perseverance

Perseverance was as necessary as oxygen during my detour. It was the muscle I used regularly to overcome difficulties, obstacles, and discouragement and to keep going when the minutes turned into hours, the hours turned into days, the days turned into months, and the months turned into years.

There were many days when I called upon perseverance. Each time I had a major surgery, I needed it. Here is one of those days that stands out (the book described in detail five other days as well).

Day 1004

The last major surgery took forever to arrive. This, my ninth surgery, gave me greater range of motion in my knee—from 80 degrees to around 120 degrees (eventually).

Day 1004 found me in a taxi early in the morning, so I could be at Royal Columbian Hospital in time for surgery. I felt like an experienced surgical patient as I was wheeled into the operating room. I knew what to expect and what had been planned for the surgery. I was prepared for three procedures—a knee release, a quadricepsplasty (a procedure to pull the quadriceps muscle away from the femur so the knee could bend farther), and a tibial tubercle osteotomy (a repositioning of the patella or knee cap). Dr. Viskontas arranged to have a knee specialist partner with him during the surgery to increase the chances of success.

The surgery started with five failed attempts to administer an epidural, which itself produced serious discomfort. The anesthesiologist ended up giving me a general anesthetic, which put me right out.

When the surgery was over, I woke up as usual in the recovery room next to the operating room. I took some comfort in hearing that the surgery had gone well and that the tibial tubercle osteotomy had not been needed. I was shocked, however, to be greeted by a physiotherapist in the recovery room—while I was still pushing the morphine pump and sipping on ice cubes to quench my thirst. At the sight of the physiotherapist, my inside voice said, “There is no rest for the recovering soul. What’s a physiotherapist doing here?” The physiotherapist was there to strap a continuous passive motion (CPM) machine onto my right leg. It was an ingenious device that kept my knee bending back and forth, automatically, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Without it, the quadriceps muscle that had just been unstuck from my femur would reattach and nullify the surgery’s impact.

I persevered. When I went home a few days later, I was fitted with a home version of the CPM, and for thirty days I stayed tied to that machine twenty-three hours per day. I would carry the CPM to bed with me at night so my knee would keep moving.

I eventually said goodbye to the CPM and persevered to do the work necessary to grow stronger every day. I never quit believing I would get through this, and even though I didn’t know what my new normal would look like, I pressed on, continuing to strengthen my perseverance muscle.

Six strategies for working the perseverance muscle

Enduring when the days were long and the nights were longer required both a positive attitude and a plan. More effort didn’t always help. Sometimes I needed a new direction, a new perspective, or a new strategy. Perseverance is an attitude that needs a strategy to go with it. Perseverance believes things will get better eventually but learns to deal with the brutal facts and realities faced on a regular basis.

1. Be fully present where you are.

I didn’t always want to be where I was, but I realized if I fought against where I was, I would remain stuck much longer. Henry Cloud said: “Living in the present will make your stress go down and your happiness go up. Even if the present is sad, to embrace those feelings is part of having them pass. Feelings we avoid, get stuck in our system and will return until we face them, so whether in good times or bad, the lesson is to be ‘in time.’ Be there, in the now.”

2. Be grateful even on the darkest days.

Gratitude expressed changes the way we feel and the way we see the world. When I intentionally looked for and found ways to be grateful, I found myself inching forward just a little.

Henry Ward Beecher said, “The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.” I never stopped thanking God for the people he brought into my life to help me. I was practicing the advice John F. Kennedy gave: “We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.”

3. Be a curious learner.

Curiosity and learning go together. I never stopped learning and being curious about what was going on all around me or what needed to change within me. Even when my mind was in a fog or I was completely exhausted, I learned what I could and passed it on. When interns looked at my bone transporter and my X-rays in the cast clinic, they would often have questions. I always enjoyed answering some of their questions, based on what I had learned by observations, asking good questions, and research.

4. Breathe deeply.

Perseverance is a journey, not a destination. On the detour, I learned to stop to smell the flowers, smile as the dogs chased the birds, and take deep breaths as I rode my scooter by the path alongside the stream. On some days, I stayed too long in the house and knew I needed to get outside and breathe some fresh air. When I did, it changed my view and my mood. There is a Swedish proverb that says, “Fear less, hope more. Eat less, chew more. Whine less, breathe more.”

5. Take baby steps.

How did I get from day 136 to day 1004? Baby steps. I learned to tackle one surgery at a time, one physio session at a time, one bag of antibiotics at a time, one needle at a time, one painkiller at a time. Perseverance is best served in bite-sized pieces. Be near-sighted. Take one day at a time. Take one hour at a time. Take one minute at a time. Take one baby step at a time.

6. Process your emotions.

When we are in pain or going through a rough patch, emotions will bubble up from the inside—including anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, and fear. One strategy I used to process my emotions was journaling. It helped me flush out and flesh out what was going on inside. I also processed emotions by talking to trusted friends, talking to God, and letting the tears flow.

Where do you need perseverance the most in your life?

What habit do you need to develop in order to strengthen your perseverance muscle?

Go now and buy your copy of Detour to develop grit, strengthen your perseverance muscle, and find your way after getting rerouted in life.


About Cam Taylor

Life and leadership coach, transition & change specialist, husband, dad, leader, writer, life long learner.

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