by Monica A. Ross, LPC
Perseverance is really about persistence and daily practice. It’s about habit. I remember taking an AP or Advanced Placement English class my senior year in high school. Students who take AP coursework do so in the hopes of gaining college credit.
Our teacher for the class assigned a portion of William James’s Habit. I hadn’t read Habit, written in 1890, since then. It’s been over 25 years. I reread it for this post.
In Habit, James quotes another man M. Leon Dumont who wrote: “Every one knows how a garment, after having been worn a certain time, clings to the shape of the body better than when it was new; there has been a change in the tissue, and this change is a new habit of cohesion. A lock works better after being used some time; at the outset more force was required to overcome certain roughnesses in the mechanism. The overcoming of their resistance is a phenomenon of habituation.”
James goes on to say that if these outward things in life are due to plasticity of materials would it be so far-fetched to conjecture that the brain is somewhat plastic, as well? He draws the analogy from these outward examples of habituation to our inward bodily states.
In other words, James, again this is in 1890, makes the case for neuroplasticity and the importance of the brain and body in the body-mind paradigm. He was ahead of his time.
James states, for example, that the body after injury sustains greater susceptibility to future injury in those previously injured places. The analogy could also be made here with trauma. Those formerly injured emotionally are sometimes easily triggered or have a susceptibility to getting emotionally injured again.
In Habit, James talks about the importance of the association between thoughts, feelings, and actions and how the sequencing and repeating of our thoughts too becomes automatic, “. . .so that we find ourselves automatically prompted to think, feel, or do what we have been before accustomed to think, feel, or do, under like circumstances, without any consciously formed purpose, or anticipation of results.”
This sounds much like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) described in an earlier post. This pattern of thoughts-feelings-actions is the same for good as well as bad habits, James states.
A lot of the work we do in therapy is to undo some of the unconscious habits we find ourselves getting in to—to consciously become aware of maladaptive patterns and to begin the sequencing of patterns that are more adaptive. Cognitive behavioral therapy takes the approach of first working on automatic thoughts.
Another component of resilience then is about persevering through daily practice the implementation of more productive ways of thinking and being, such that we begin to form habits that bring about the results that we seek in life. Easier said than done.
But arguably if it was habit that got us into the state that we’re in, wherever that is, and with whatever it is we are unsatisfied with in life, then it’s going to be perseverance, practice, and habit that is going to get us out.
Deliberate, awkward at first perhaps, but then through time—more fluid and automatic like a key you first attempt to open a lock with, with fits and starts but over time with ease.
When launching a new habit he advocates as much momentum as possible and to do it strongly and decidedly, putting oneself in situations which only reinforce it. The other advice James gives is not to make any kind of exceptions to daily practice until the new habit is firmly planted. A third maxim he points out is to seize on every opportunity that presents itself to act on the new resolution.
I hope the new year has gotten off to a good start for you and that whatever resolutions you have they have momentum, you’ve been able to keep on track, and that every opportunity you have to practice, you’ve seized upon.
Monica A. Ross, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Austin, Texas. Monica can help you to foster resilience. To schedule your appointment with Monica, you can reach her at (512) 572-0055 or request an appointment with her on the Empathic Psychotherapy Scheduling Calendar.