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What trait dominates your decision making and actions: patience or persistence?

It’s true that we can have both patience and persistence. However, if we step back and objectively evaluate, one of these two typically dominates our approach to interacting with our world.

· Patience falls on a continuum from low to high. A person with high patience may be perceived as not caring, while someone with low patience may be perceived as being frustrated.

· Persistence falls on a similar continuum. One with low persistence may be perceived as giving up fast; another with high persistence may be viewed as being over-committed.

Having too much or too little patience or persistence can be problematic, depending on the situation and what’s at stake.

This micro skill increases awareness of how these two traits can support or hinder our mental health.


Think of something you really want (such as a relationship, a particular career move). Which of the following traits is more dominant for you to attain your want?

· Patience – Can you relate to any of the following? “I’m waiting for it to come to me;” “I’m waiting for the right timing;” “I need to keep doing what I’m doing and be patient.” Your internal dialogue is not to push; it’s to wait.

· Persistence – Can you relate to any of the following? “I constantly ask questions as to why things are the way they are;” “I push to get what I want;” “I’m clear on my goal and the actions needed to get what I want.” Your internal dialogue is to keep trying until your goal is achieved.

There’s not a right nor a wrong answer. It depends on the want and the situation. The first step is to become aware and to evaluate whether one trait is dampening the other. There are times when it may be best to be patient and others to be more persistent. The challenge is when we’re not aware of the degree of either trait and are operating automatically without self-awareness. This pattern can become a barrier to you achieving your goals.


Each of us is accountable for our own mental health and happiness. Sometimes to achieve these we need to change our approach.

A person who is overly patient may end up in park, stop trying and over time give up hope, as they have no plan. This can result in emotions such as disappointment, feeling trapped and even questioning whether what they want could ever be possible.

Someone who is overly persistent can push others away and turn them off because of their constant driving to get what they want. This can result in losing out. Often, if they were able to be more patient they likely would have a better chance.

If you can relate to this and see how your current degree of patience or persistence may be a barrier, one solution may be to increase your focus on the less-dominant trait to see if this can achieve a different outcome.


If there’s something in your life you really want, and you feel you have waited long enough or have pushed hard enough but have not achieved that goal, one solution may be to change your focus and approach.

How to recalibrate your trait focus:

1. Pick one situation where you’re frustrated with your progress and it’s creating stress and negatively impacting your mental health and happiness.

2. Calibrate both traits on a scale of one to 10 with respect to what you believe your persistence and patience levels are with this situation.

3. Ask what evidence you have that continuing to do what you’re doing will achieve your outcome. If there is none, then it may be of value to consider changing your focus and trait mix.

4. If you’re willing to change your trait mix, the first thing is to consider what it will mean to increase or decrease each of the traits. Be specific, write it out and read the words. This can take a bit of thought and reflection. Set a clear timeline (such as four weeks) that you’ll commit to this new approach without judging success. Sometimes letting off a bit or pushing a bit can be the difference between having what you want and not having it.

5. If within your defined timeline the new recalibration doesn’t work, there are a few things for you consider. Perhaps it’s not meant to be, and it may be worth letting go and moving on. Seek out advice from a peer or professional as to other tactics you can try.

Stepping off the treadmill of life to objectively evaluate decisions and choices can help us see the need to try something different for our mental health and happiness. Albert Einstein has a famous quote which teaches us that to get what we want often means we must be willing to try something different: “Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

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