The Difference between Persistence vs. Obdurate Resistance
Monday June 5, 2023

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There is an often fuzzy line between deciding to persist in the pursuit of something, whatever that something might be, and recognizing the gift of not attaining what you are persisting after.

I was thinking about this truth recently when I happened to listen to NPR’s Sunday puzzle with Will Shortz (better known as the puzzle master), and the winner who had been selected to play the puzzle on this particular week shared that the reason that they solved the puzzle (you must solve a preliminary puzzle first in order to be part of the group from which they select the person who will be on the program with Will Shortz) was due to not winning a particular puzzle event in previous months at a local establishment and the answer in the latter situation was at the forefront of her mind which helped lead her to the answer (by mere chance) that would provide the opportunity to be on NPR.

While the guest puzzle solver had yet to understand the gift that the first ‘failed’ attempt gave to her, responding after she tore through the puzzle in lightning speed on the air with such great ease it was impressive, “take that”, I think most of the listening audience quickly ascertained that not acquiring the ‘win’ in the local scenario was what gave her the opportunity to win and take part in something far more awesome.

I share this trivial example because it extols a larger truth: Sometimes when something doesn’t work out as we hoped it might, or we aren’t able to acquire or achieve what we want when we want it, it is the universe’s way of helping us either look in a new and unexplored direction or try a new idea that will actually render better results than we could imagine at the time, or better yet, spare us pain or loss that we need not experience in order to live the life we want to live.

Eckhart Tolle underscores repeatedly the importance of accepting the present moment in his book The Power of Now, “Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.” In other words, to use Tolle’s words again, “Always say ‘yes’ to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? What could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? Surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.”

However, this is where the line gets blurry. Are we giving up or accepting? Are we choosing defeat and losing the momentum to try again bringing more wisdom and knowledge of how clearly we know we are drawn to something or are we simply receiving the message to do something differently?

Business consultant Robert Sher shares on Forbes, “Messages on persistence are important: many wonderful things in life do take an enormous effort.  Only by weathering disappointment along the way can we enjoy the fruits of our labors.” And he’s right. I have written numerous times here on TSLL (here, here and here) that what we bring to fruition in our lives through hard work, patience and much effort over often great expanses of time can give us many wonderful benefits alongside the goal that is eventually achieved – confidence, strengthened self-esteem, and deep appreciation just to name a few, but between understanding and learning from the sunken cost fallacy (the errant belief that to abandon a strategy or course of action because one has invested heavily in it thus far would be to lose more than to gain, when in actuality it is clear that abandonment would be more beneficial) to being able to step back and objectively accessing why you are choosing to persist despite being thwarted, when we can bring this level of awareness to any situation, then we know which side of the line we are falling.

In other words, once we practice awareness, we can more easily ascertain if we are persisting because we are obdurate (extremely stubborn) and don’t want to trust that this is for our benefit down the road (the wrong choice), or are we being nudged to find a different solution or practice more patience and trust it will work out because it is worth waiting for it to work out (the most productive and constructive choice).

When we shift our perspective to trusting that life is trying to help us out as we travel along our journey so long as we are engaged and an active participant, continually trying to learn, being brave enough to be our true selves (and figure out who that is along the journey to that outcome), then any situation, large or small, that doesn’t work out as we had imagined holds wisdom offered to us to discover should we choose to see the gift.

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32 thoughts on “The Difference between Persistence vs. Obdurate Resistance

  1. Happy Monday Shannon from a glorious sunny France. Wise words. So often when we’re not present and things don’t work out we expetience it in a negative way. But when one door closes another one opens. I do believe in this old adage We never know what gifts are a waiting around the corner.
    Have great week.
    Kameela😊 xx

    1. Kameela,

      Thank you for sharing this awareness you have learned. Your point about not being present is crucial and key to being aware that everything indeed is happening to help us, we just may not understand how or why in that particular moment. Thank you for stopping by today as a new week begins. ☺️

  2. Kameela’s reminder of a door opening as another closes made me think that perhaps that is the key to recognizing when to move on or persist. If we patiently wait for another door to open and it never does maybe it’s time to swing back around to that other door we “closed”!
    Food for thought this morning, thanks.

      1. Your question got me thinking, thanks. Hmmm, have I done this and how DID it turn out? The few things that pop into my mind first are some very close relationships that were estranged for long periods of time despite my best efforts, one being my mother. 🙁 I must’ve never truly closed those doors because events in life (ones actually that felt only negative at the time) thankfully brought us back together. Not sure if these count as another door opening or a revisit to a closed door that ended up opening, but thanks for the extra pondering opportunity. I’ve learned the last few years that if something is meant to be it will be, and it will be exactly when it is meant to be. That may sound overly simplistic but I’ve found that much of the time no matter what I did or didn’t do things came and went in my life despite my great effort either way. I just try to stay open now to any possibility and more often than not I’m pleasantly surprised!
        This kind of reminds of a Cuppa question, when Shannon asked what “stories” in our life have we rewritten from negative to positive.
        I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this post, too.
        Have a lovely day!

  3. Nice picture, btw…does it (the empty pot) signify our attempts to make something work out that just won’t?

      1. Ohhhhhh, thanks, I was reading way too much into that! 🙂 It made me think of your stories about the tulips in the pots that just didn’t work out…

  4. Are you saying being aware of who we are enough to understand our characteristics that influence our behaviors?

    And the emotions that these decisions can bring, to discern which is true or is not? In other words what can be a random thought that might bring on an emotion, but in truth has no bearing on our decision?

    That all is not lost in the experiences we have while pursuing our desires, for it is those experiences that create the life we lead, which helps us to better understand what choices we should make that best suits our original or altered intentions?

    1. All of our emotions are “true” at the time, as you have described it. It is our awareness of self (often strengthened through meditation) that gives us the ability to step back from our emotions and feelings and observe them almost as a third party. To be able to acknowledge where the emotion or thought is truly rooted and to not react, but to thoughtfully respond and see the opportunity in every moment whether it was desired or not. All outcomes are helpful in our life journey. It is our mind story that determines if we will choose to see it as such.

      1. Yes agree, to be aware of my emotions to be able to step back from them. This is why I spend time thinking about my thinking, I look at how am I thinking. Examples: is it a repeated pattern, is it serving me to think this way, can I create a new way of thinking(new neural pathways to create get me excited to explore). It helps me to break down and analyze possibilities. I find it especially useful when something has gone awry and I need to know why. That is good for acknowledging my stubbornness or if I chalk it up to lesson learned, to move forward in another way. Good discussion to ponder, it is wonderful that you encourage interactions between your readers as it helps to see how others think, and possibly to glean something new.

  5. In the quest to not be just the observer in our own lives, the mindfulness we curate through life and times, trial and error, one has to know the disappointments to appreciate the successes. It takes this travel through the years and our experiences to guide us to the person we want to become as well as the person who we can respect. This search for the life we want to live is a lifelong exercise, I don’t think we are ever really finished. There is always more to learn. Oh gee, it has been a long day! Have a nice week and soak in the joys of the season. I know these are the days I live for.

    1. The beautiful aha I have realized is that the events that at the time felt (and were errantly labeled) as disappoints were actually gifts pointing me in a much better direction. This shift in perspective is elevating and changes now current unwanted moments as I see them as the universe’s wisdom saying, trust me, this is happening to help you live the life that is most fulfilling for you although I cannot see it at the time.

  6. Sometimes, when we try to continue ‘not giving up ‘ , we repeatedly come up against blocks and problems ………this can be a way of showing us that we are on the wrong track .

    Often, once we are able to see and understand this , and choose a different approach, things begin to flow more harmoniously, and people and opportunities present themselves to us.

    This is not to say that we will never encounter difficulties along the way , but if we truly take time to stop and reflect , to ask ourselves if we are really using perseverance, and not just stubbornness , the answers will become clearer 😂😂………we need to remember that we always have choices , even if sometimes we don’t want to make them !

    “ When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change .”

    Have wonderful week everyone 🙂

    x Anne x

  7. I’m using that lesson now; changing the way I’m looking at a certain situation and now it has become an opportunity.

  8. So much in the world is not in our control. The ability to discern when to continue and when to stop is an ongoing process. There can be multiple futures – one where one continues and one where one changes course. There is often no “right” or “wrong” (though there are guardrails, no one should endure abuse, etc) – just different outcomes and futures. When we choose along the peaks and valleys to change course, this leads to an infinite number of different paths which then become a new starting point. When we have faith that regardless what we choose that we have the self-possession and resolve to make needed choices (to continue or change course), resilience to rebound from steps which take us on detours, and ability to reframe that sometimes there are beautiful detours and maybe our journey is more important than the destination. Wherever you go, there you are sort of thinking. N.B. I do not have this all figured out….as with all things, in transition. The delta is where interesting things happen….

  9. *incomplete sentence – when we have faith……destination, then we have peace and contentment. We have made a choice of a future and while we reflect on things we don’t lament the absent, what “wasn’t” and we can fully embrace what “is”, not take ourselves too seriously and experience joy (and tears sometimes, too) along the way.

  10. For example, I am the Queen of the Run-On Sentence. 😂. Lovely post, Shannon, and so important. And so appreciate everyone’s comments – much deliciousness to contemplate!

    1. Good thoughts and I concur, it really is more about the journey, isn’t it, because once you arrive at The Destination, you don’t just burrow into the easy chair and start growing moss, you start thinking about some other curiosity, pick up the rucksack, and there you go, off to the next The Destination. And I wouldn’t worry too much about run-on sentences, lack of punctuation didn’t seem to hurt ee cummings…😉

  11. I love the word ‘obdurate’, don’t you? It sounds just as it means, an unmoving heavy rock of blind stubbornness, says the one who has been exactly that in my unyielding youth.
    It is imperative that we dwell in the present if we are to know ourselves, our place in this journey, and how to move forward in this journey. The past is just that, gone and never to be changed, the future will never be, it’s just a dream, a hope, so the present, the now, is all ours, to make as wonderful and conscious as we can. Of course there will be grief and betrayal and sadness, that is part of our human journey. But there is so much goodness and light and possibilities and hope. Epictetus said that we do not control things outside of ourselves, but what we do control, is our response to those things. It has been a great help to me in my journey to step back and discern what is in my control and what is not. Great piece, Shannon.

    1. As always, the conversation here often grows on a premise or what seems to be a reasonable conclusion. With each comment a new perspective opens to me. Also, as the undeniable queen of stubborn, possibly more now than in the past, I study my own reactions and responses. I am actually much more comfortable doing that and using that wee bit of stubbornness to examine my response rather than my reaction….if that makes any sense. This is likely because I have the time to ponder actions and events. I always enjoy your take on these thoughts. Have a lovely day!

      1. Lucy, I hope your week has been lovely. It makes perfect sense, well, to me anyway😊. And yes absolutely, response rather that reaction, I think Shannon has examined that difference beautifully in a number of TSLL posts. Response is our reasoned choice created by the logical brain, reaction is from our ‘lizard’ brain, akin to a paramecium being prodded under the microscope, stimuli-response-stimuli-response. Have a wonderful weekend! XOX

  12. Great post Shannon. Every experience offers us lessons to learn, wisdom to gain and self development !
    Sarah

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