Tenacity:  what persistence becomes when matured by emotional intelligence

A trainee in a relationship-oriented training was sharing with her small group, wives of the husbands sitting in their own circle across the room.  “I am persistent, and you may be stubborn,” she said, pointing toward her TA.  She leaned forward and whispered intensely, nodding her head to indicate her husband in the other group, “but he… he is just pig-headed!”

What you consider persistent, stubborn, or pig-headed may depend on your personal agenda and experiences, of course, but tenacity is generally thought to be a good character trait.  We use the word “tenacious” to describe people who pursue their goals with discipline and determination, not easily distracted or delayed for long by obstacles.

When you have tenacity, you don’t get stuck or sidetracked.  You hang in there.

Tenacity is good for you, nearly always.

a)  Tenacity gives you energy.  Especially against resistance.

When you meet an obstacle – the task feels too hard, you can’t see your way around what is in your way, you back up and rub your head where you banged into the brick wall – tenacity keeps you in the game, on course, trying again in a different way.

Tenacity teaches you to lean into hard, to turn difficulty into an ally.

It’s not just that you bear down and try to push past the resistance.  That’s stubbornness, and maybe not the smartest way to proceed.

Tenacity recognizes that obstacles are to goal-getters what objections are to salespeople – keys to taking the conversation to the next step.

When high-EQ salespeople hear an objection from a customer, they know how to turn that objection into another paragraph of conversation.

“So if this price seems too high to you now, maybe I haven’t mentioned the most valuable feature – the one that makes my other customers eager to pay a higher price to gain these benefits.”

“It makes sense to me that you’d like to discuss this with your spouse.  What are you hoping that s/he will say?”

“I’d have been surprised if you didn’t mention that other products seem to do the same thing.  Here’s how this one is different from all the others.”

You can do the same thing when resistance shows up in your own life-management progress:

“Of course I don’t feel comfortable doing this new behavior; I haven’t passed the 24 times threshold, much less the 200 times milestone.”

“No, it’s not something that feels good to do, it’s something that feels good to have done to get the results that I really want.”

“It seems like I want (my favorite feel-good payoff) right now, but the reality is that my inner four-year-old is doing the craving, so I should be listening to the life-manager voice instead.”

Tenacity sounds a lot like a Life-Manager energized by commitment and clarity about what you really want.

b)  Tenacity returns you to your course after a relapse.

Humans don’t usually learn in a straight line.  We zig and zag and take three steps forward and two back on our journey.

Relapses are normal.

We don’t like them, they are discouraging, and they can affect our motivation, but they are the predictable reality of making progress on goals that matter, initiatives that will change the quality of our lives.

Tenacity minimizes zigging and zagging.  It reduces relapsing to a minimum.

Tenacity teaches that a moral compass is not just about conscience and ethics; it’s about integrity.

Integrity is being responsible for making good choices reliably, relatively unconditionally, whether anyone else is watching or not.

And tenacity says “Integrity is guided by single-mindedness.”

You don’t get tempted by distractions that show up along the way.  Your journey forward is on a single focus, not a multi-tasking or pinballing from one distraction to another.

“Integrity” is based on the word “integer” – a reference to a number without fractions, a whole number.  A unified, unfragmented number.

Tenacity reminds you – after a relapse – that you have a mission, a purpose, a vision pulling you forward. A future of integers.

Tenacity gets right in your face and says, clearly and firmly and without flinching, “Re-engage, re-motivate, and re-dedicate. Return to the course!”

Tenacity makes you into a guided missile.

The second week after my Walk, I was complaining online about how much of a roller coaster my emotions were on, how difficult it was to live on contract, and how frustrating it was to have great intentions and keep messing up so often.  My TA sent me the most impactful email I’ve ever received:  “How to Learn to Ride a Bike:  Step 1)  Ride.    Step 2)  Crash.   Step 3)  Repeat.”

c)  Tenacity creates momentum.

Progress in personal development is a lot like getting a massive flywheel moving.  (Remember how it felt to push the playground merry-go-round faster and faster until you managed to jump on and enjoy the ride or get flung off by centrifugal force?)

Most of the effort is required at the start, and you have very little progress to show for it.  You push and push and push, and the flywheel barely moves.  IF you keep pushing, over and over, eventually you build up momentum, and the pushing gets easier, and you have lots of results for very little effort.

In my late childhood, my family had a four-door Ford Falcon.  We pushed that car farther than we drove in it.  

With five boys in the family, more money went to groceries than to replacing a failing battery, so we learned how to start a standard transmission vehicle by rolling it forward until Mom or Dad could pop the clutch.  It was a great lesson in teamwork and tenacity as force multipliers.*  

The four of us bigger kids, none of us even five feet tall and weighing about as much as two sacks of wet sand, would pile out and push really hard for what felt like a long time.  Eventually, we’d get that blasted car moving all of about 5 miles per hour, and that would be enough to start the engine.  Most times.  Sometimes it would take two or three pushes, and we had to learn to not quit pushing just because the clutch engaged the engine.  We would have to keep pushing even when the car started pushing back. Especially then.


How much tenacity do you need?  Enough to get your car started.

How long do you need tenacity?  Until you have enough momentum for progress to be self-sustaining.

Don’t quit till it’s easy.

If it’s still hard, keep pushing.

Exhausted?  Get help!

*(Pathways teaches that solo responsibility with collaborative effort works! That’s how we do contracts, for example.  Note:  collaborative responsibility with solo effort, not so much.)