What Does It Take To Stop You?

Jude M. King, PhD
Apr 13 · 6 min read
Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

Imagine someone woke up this morning with the sole mission of stopping you on your way to your goal. Armed with a singular aim of killing your joy, derailing your progress, putting spanner in the works of your forward march…how hard would their job be?

What would it take to stop you?

And you really don’t need to imagine.

It happens everyday.

Well…, Well-intentioned

Yes, its unlikely someone got up from bed with the goal of stopping your progress or putting spanner in your works, but well-intentioned people in your life — your spouse, co-worker, friend, neighbour, family, boss, mentor, colleague, brother, sister, coach — do it everyday:

The praise for your work that wasn’t forthcoming?

The writing you poured your heart and soul into that went unappreciated?

The encouragement that would have done you a world of good, but wasn’t given?

The credit for your hard work that your boss withheld?

The compliment on the difficult DIY that your spouse stopped short of giving?

Name it.

The truth is: well-intentioned people in your life have, for various reasons, stopped short of giving you the encouragement or the support you think you deserve. And this has sadly built up apathy. The goal that meant the world to you not too long ago is now slipping away. Your progress is gradually grinding to a halt. Your enthusiasm to make a success of that project is ebbing.

A Far From Ideal World

In an ideal world, we would all appreciate support and encouragement at every turn. We would all appreciate our hard work yielding commensurate result quickly.

But our world isn’t ideal. Its the real world, where positive feedback and results can lag our hard work in a very annoying way. And what’s more, people often aren’t very supportive.

No. It’s not that people are bad, malicious or evil.

It’s for perfectly understandable reasons: people are preoccupied and busy with their own struggles, family and friends think your goal is crazy and unattainable so they withhold their support or encouragement to force a rethink. Reasoning that, by doing so, they act as a shield from inevitable failure .

So, here’s the situation:

On one hand, you always need support for your goal from people; in form of positive feedback; in form of commensurate result. You always need the encouragement and quick results. On the other hand, people are not very supportive. Positive feedback often lag efforts. The results you seek are often delayed.

Combine the two, and you get some sad truth:

Needing encouragement every step of the way, is almost a guarantee you will not last the distance. It would be just a matter of time before you crash wearily at the wayside.

Your Stick-to-it Ability (SA)

The fact of life is that success in many endeavour comes down to how long you are willing and able to ‘stick to it’ without constant positive feedback.

It is, of course, not the only factor, but your stick-to-it-iveness in the face of negative feedback or no feedback at all is a huge determinant in whether you’ll get reach the finish line or whether you’ll crash.

The problem then is that drugged on encouragement as most of us are, we find it extremely difficult to stick to our goal when the encouragement are not forth coming.

Unlike motivation which responds to results and positive feedback, your Stick-to-it Ability (SA) measures your ability to keep going in the face of zero positive feedback or encouragement towards your goal.

Your SA is to your goal what fuel efficiency is to a car. The car’s fuel efficiency is how far the car can travel before needing to be refuelled. Your SA is how far you can last before you need the fuel of encouragement or positive feedback.

Imagine how hard it would be to do a long journey with a car that has an abject fuel efficiency. Imagine the nightmare of trying to do a 9 hr journey in a car that needs refuelling every 15 minutes or so. The constant need for encouragement or validation does the same thing to your goals and ambitions.

Some goals last years and even decades, so it’s a safe bet that you won’t get far if you’re needy of encouragement at every turn.

Thus, your SA is simply how long you would be able to keep going on your goal without any positive feedback.

If it takes you a couple of post and 2 weeks to quit on your goal of becoming the writer who earn a six-figure book deal and high-paying speaking engagements — a journey that would normally take several months and years and several hundred to thousand posts — your SA is two posts and two weeks!

If it takes you 6 months to quit on a goal that normally takes a 2–5 year commitment to achieve because the results or positive feedback ain’t coming quickly enough, then your SA is 6 months!

Deceived by Exponential Growth

The thing is that most growth and improvement are exponential. A key characteristic of an exponential growth is an incommensurate ROI at the early stages. You’re working towards your goal as hard as you’ve ever done, yet to little or no movement of the needle on the dial after a few days or weeks or months. It’s beyond frustrating. But this is where successful people, who have developed a higher than average SA, excels.

They understand that working hard at a goal with little or no positive feedback or encouragement at the initial stages is not an invitation to quit. They understand that crashing the hammer into the rock 40, 50, 60, 70 times with barely a scratch on the surface does not, in any way, justify quitting. They know every hit of the hammer builds on the one before, and the breakthrough, though as yet unseen, is building up. The rock eventually give way on hit 100 but they know, it is the 99 hits that came before that makes the falling apart at the 100th possible.

They are well aware that no single strike of the hammer is enough to split apart the rock, but when one strike build on the one before and the one before and the one before…great things happen.

But this is what the uninitiated see and call an “overnight success”. Never realizing it was an overnight that was several years — of sweat, of sticking-to-it — in the making.

Albert Bartlett remarked that “the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.

We think linearly and have not evolved to intuitively understand the exponential function. Yet it is the secret of how small things that build on itself gets seriously big.

It’s why “stick-to-it-iveness”, consistent daily action is more powerful than we think. We underestimate the power of little action that builds on itself from one day to the next. Since we can’t see the positive feedback or commensurate encouragement for effort, we let the goal die.

Building a Higher SA

Motivation get talked about more, but a higher Stick-to-it Ability is what is needed more. Motivation fires us up when the prospect looks good; it excels when in anticipation or in presence of brilliant results or positive feedback. But in the doldrums of no feedback or incommensurate feedback despite consistent action? That’s SA’s forte. That’s where it excel.

Understand the power of consistent daily action

SA will help us finish more things. Achieve more goals. Make more impact. Live a more meaningful life. And understanding the power of the exponential function — how little but consistent daily action folds on itself to become something seriously huge — is the place to start. It’s the winner-take-all that ensures, that only those who are willing and able to remain in the game for the long haul, in the face of little or no encouragement, gets all the benefit. So before you begin, be ready to go the distance.

Find intrinsic enjoyment in what you do.

We avoid things we don’t enjoy. So if you think the monetary reward is important enough to set a goal or start a business you don’t enjoy, you won’t last. You start to run on fumes as soon as it taking longer than you envisaged. Instead, find a way to enjoy what you do, irrespective of the feedback and you’re halfway to a higher SA. Setting a goal and doing things you intrinsically enjoy can give you the persistence to keep going when the encouragement are not forthcoming or when the progress is flatlining.

There are those who rise to the top, who are living the dream, and reaching their goals.Then, there are those who have developed an extreme, almost unhealthy amount of Stick-to-it Ability in the face of no feedback, or external encouragement. The key is to realize that these two groups are often the same people.

    Jude M. King, PhD

    Written by

    Research Scientist | Entrepreneur | Teacher | I help you gain empowering insights on skill-building, learning, entrepreneurship and personal development.

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