Friday 20 September 2019

John Masteron: I will persevere, and do my best to keep on persevering

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Stock photo

John Masterson

Perseverance is much underrated in my book. As with many human behaviours we think of it as a quality, or ability that a person either has or doesn't have. I think it is much more about the decisions and plans that you make as to whether you keep up, or abandon, a desirable behaviour. Such as doing 10,000 steps every day. Or going to the gym in the months after January.

I noticed recently on a walk that I hadn't worn my step-counting watch for a while. It was sitting there fully charged but I had got out of the habit of wearing it. I was still walking every day because I like walking and it is a good time to think. But was I making my targets? I have no idea. I do know that in the past with my watch on there would be an evening when I was about to pour a drink and realised I had not felt the buzz on my wrist. There was nothing for it but to walk to the end of the road rather than face the failure which would have spoiled the enjoyment of the drink. If I had had a plan, or a graph, or a box to be ticked every day I would always make my target. Without a visible consequence I have no idea what I did. I know one thing for sure. I did less rather than more. This is not because I became lazy. It is because I ceased to monitor the behaviour.

I have a friend who is very good at going to the gym. I have not noted her being exceptional at persevering at other things so I asked her how she did it. "I have a few simple rules," she told me. She did four sessions a week and always tried to do them on work days so as to have the weekend off. In winter she always tried to go before work, as she knew she would not do it on the way home. In summer it did not matter. She tried to schedule two classes because it is much more difficult to miss a class than a session on your own. She varied it so she was not always doing the same things or the same duration.

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This system worked. There has not been a week for as long as she can remember that she did not meet her target. I am sure there were some near misses, but if you have to put a tick on a chart in the kitchen you are much more likely to do what has to be done. You can call it perseverance if you like. I think it is much more about having an achievable plan, monitoring the behaviour, and varying the task. And giving ourselves rewards for targets achieved.

Sometimes just achieving the goal is reward enough. But I am a big fan of bonuses. Particularly for myself. Even back when I was in TCD I used a schedule of study times, short and long ones, and made rewards contingent on doing the time. That may have involved a pub or a film but it was something I wanted to do and probably wanted to do more than study. But you have to do one before you get the other.

The choice of reward is important. At the moment my reward for walking is somewhat self-defeating. An ice cream cone. If I make my step target. The word 'large' seems to be uttered Tourette's-like. The psychologist in me is screaming that I have to vary my step and increase the average. I am listening.

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