03/11/2009 12:26 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Right Mindset: Pt. II

Last week's e-letter was about the mindset and strategies we all need to bring to the economic crisis, the goals being both survival and prosperity.

I would be remiss in discussing any challenge without focusing on the subject of persistence. In both good times and bad, an unwillingness to give in to circumstance is critical for success in any endeavor. But, let's take a deeper look at persistence and analyze what it is and why it is so critical.

Persistence is not the doing of the same thing over and over and hoping for a better result. In fact, that is one definition of insanity. Rather persistence is an adaptive refusal to quit in pursuit of a goal, the operative word being "adaptive."

Are you a golfer? Have you ever noticed that when you hit a bad shot and then drop a ball to take a second swing, the second shot is better. That is not an accident. The fact is that most of us who take that second shot factor in what we learned from the first (oftentimes subconsciously) and thereby improve on the result. It is said that one of the keys to Jack Nicklaus' greatness is that he could remember every shot he ever took on a golf course so that every shot he took was essentially a "second" shot.

Here's another example: have you ever written something that you put aside and then reread? Are you sometimes amazed when what seemed like good writing on day #1 required (and benefitted from) a rewrite on day #2? That is because you are seeing your work with a new set of eyes, influenced by whatever stimuli you are experiencing on day #2. You are factoring in a new perspective and improving on the first try.

I could give many more examples but let me use a metaphor that I recently read in an excellent book titled Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Jeffrey Colvin (which I will refer to again in coming weeks). Colvin talks about the benefits of "deliberate practice" - a conscious, incremental approach to improvement that focuses on areas of weakness.

Colvin tells the story of Shizuka Arakawa, the gold medalist in figure skating in the 2006 Winter Olympics. Arakawa's specialty was a move called the "Ina Bauer" that involved skating while bending backwards leading into three jumps. This move was so difficult that Arakawa fell many many times trying to perfect the move. In fact, Colvin extrapolated from her training schedule that she fell on her butt at least 20,000 times learning the "Ina Bauer." But, of course she kept getting up - trying again and again after factoring in what she did wrong on the preceding butt flop.

Life can be a series of many butt flops - especially during tough times. But, it is those who keep getting up, not afraid of falling again, adjusting their approach over and over and over, who eventually prosper by surmounting whatever slips they encounter.

Jim Randel is the founder and co-author of the Skinny On: series. His most recent book The Skinny On Credit Cards: How to Win the Credit Card Game is available at