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Persistence: The Solution – An Excerpt from Mark Harrison’s Getting the Life You Want

A Chinese emperor wanted to reward a loyal subject for services to the state, and so he told the man that he could ask for anything he desired. The man, not wanting to appear greedy, asked for some rice: he wanted a single grain of rice to be placed on the first square of a chess board, twice this amount to be placed on the second, twice this amount on the third, and so on until the sixty fourth square. The emperor, thinking this was an innocent request, agreed. But when the rice was placed on the board, it quickly became apparent that the man had asked for the impossible. The number of grains of rice required is more than 9 x 1018 (that’s 9 followed by 18 zeros), more than all the rice in China.

When people say things like, ‘change is difficult,’ they are getting it a bit wrong and misunderstanding a very basic point. Change happens all the time – it is the only constant feature of all our lives and, although we can rarely predict what the change will be, we can be absolutely certain that change will happen. What people usually mean by ‘change is difficult’ is that ‘causing the change I want is difficult.’ Putting on weight seems easy, yet the change I want – losing weight – seems unattainable for so many people.

But the truth is that change is easy. Always. Even losing weight is easy. Getting out of debt is easy. Becoming financially secure is easy. But we do need to understand the nature of change. There is an open secret which we seem to ignore. It has been known, presumably, since the dawn f human civilization. And it is simply this – doing the right thing consistently for a long time will bring results.

Consistently doing the same thing can lead to astonishing results. If you consistently behave in a certain way, change is inevitable, and the results can, over time, be spectacular. Change, when this approach is applied, is rarely instant but it is bound to happen. A dripping tap, in time, fills a bucket. A stream washing over a rock will turn the rock into a smooth stone and, eventually, into a little pebble.

People who are overweight might find it hard to become slim, but they became overweight by consistently behaving in a certain way. Just eating a little too much an exercising a little too little will, in time, cause someone to put on weight. And so, in a sense, losing weight is easy – just exercising a little more and eating a little less will, in time, lead to weight loss. I know because I have been overweight and I am now quite slim – I did it by consistent action over an extended period of time. Every day, I exercise – not much, just ten to fifteen minutes of fairly vigorous calisthenics (body weight exercises); I rarely east starchy foods or sugar. I’ve been doing this for years, and the results speak for themselves.

The key to success is not elusive and difficult, after all. It is easy – just lots of small actions, carried out repeatedly. Buddha said that ‘evil men become evil slowly, one action at a time, and good men become good slowly, one action at a time.’

Do you remember the famous scene from 2001 A Space Odyssey, when the ape throws a bone into the air and it turns into a space ship? We often want life to be like this – massive and instant change – but this isn’t how the world works. The change from pre-human creatures scratching out a living using bones and rocks as tools, to the conquest of space, was not instant, but it was inevitable. The journey consisted of many, many tiny steps, all in the direction of exploration and increased technology. It was a faltering process – two steps forward and one back; it was slow and uncertain, as is any journey worth taking. But the end point was certain because people kept going.

Sometimes, persistence is confused with effort. But persistently putting one foot in front of the other, perhaps stopping occasionally to rest, is not difficult. Each step is easy. And so the journey itself – the change we seek to effect – is easy.

In some systems, there may come a ‘tipping point’ where sufficient change has occurred to suddenly move the system into a completely different state. In nature, there is a system called a ‘freeze-thaw’ cycle – a few drops of rain water get into a tiny crack in a rock and, during the night, the water freezes and puts pressure on the sides of the crack as it turns into ice and expands. When the sun comes up, the ice melts. This process repeats, day after day, night after night, for weeks, months, years, the crack becoming slowly, imperceptibly bigger and bigger, until suddenly the rock splits into two. The splitting occurs in an instant, but the process that has led to it took a very long time.

Change, sometimes, is like this – nothing much seems to be happening, but the repeated action is preparing the system for change.  Sometimes, people who have been doing the right thing consistently for a long time become disheartened and give up, often just as things are on the verge of momentous change. The seed which grows beneath the surface of the soil seems to be sleeping, inert, even dead. But slowly the shoot emerges, and soon the stalk grows strong and sure. What seems like transformation is only the final, visible stage of a long preparation. Philip Larkin’s poem, First Sight, describes this process beautifully as he considers the experience of lambs born into a harsh and unforgiving winter:

As they wait beside the ewe

Their fleeces wetly caked, there lies

Hidden Around the, waiting, too,

Earth’s immeasurable surprise.

They could not grasp it if they knew

What, so soon, will wake and grow,

Utterly unlike the snow.

Whether change is gradual or appears to be sudden, the journey of a thousand miles consists of many small steps. Whatever course you are on, you are bound to get to your destination if you just keep going. Persistence is the key. Change is easy.

This is an excerpt from a ‘Getting the Life you Want,’ forward by best-selling author Raymond Aaron. Download the entire book for free at http://changeyourlife.net/books/getting-the-life-you-want/

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2 Responses to “Persistence: The Solution – An Excerpt from Mark Harrison’s Getting the Life You Want”

  1. Leila says:

    I enjoyed this article a lot. I really liked the poem by Philip Larkin and the analogy of the chess board and the grain of rice – it was a great example of how repeated, incremental change can add up exponentially.

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  2. Ena says:

    there is a paradox in here: change happens because there is NO CONSISTENCY!!! If you are consitent, there is no change in a certain way. You loose the weight because consistently you are not changing something and that is CONSISTENSY ITSELF. So, if you keep changing the way you do things, things change, but if you don’t change something for a period of time, then things do not change. So if i want to change something, i just shift consistency to its opposite or contrast. I change the contrast, but remain consistent with another behaviour. So no change within change, and change within no change. The truth is in the inconsistency of consistensy itself, change without change, no change in the ever changing mechanism of the universe. Very nice article!

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