How to Persevere without Perseverating

January 2013 Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter


Perseverance is an important part of reaching goals. Successful people treat setbacks and unforeseen obstacles as challenges to overcome. Some of the ways that my clients have persevered include: taking the bar exam seven times before passing; volunteering in order to acquire needed work experience; changing careers, twice, to find the right match; interviewing more than a dozen times before receiving a job offer; returning to college.

I have also worked with clients who perseverate, and become fixated on one idea or action. Although anyone can perseverate, it is common among individuals who are on the autism spectrum.

Perseverating isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many people with Asperger’s Syndrome describe how losing themselves in an area of special interest, or engaging in certain repetitive behaviors, relieves stress. Perseverating is problematic when a person becomes locked on thoughts or behaviors that are not productive. For example: wanting to work for one particular company, only; refusing to consider a different career, despite repeated job losses; spending months challenging a performance review, instead of correcting productivity short-falls; insisting on doing something one’s own way; continuing to argue against a decision that has already been made.

Individuals who productively persist toward their goals are those who:

  1. Set goals that are personally meaningful. It is much easier to move past setbacks when you are working toward something that you value.
  2. Pursue goals that are realistic and achievable. This means having, or being able to access or acquire, the necessary education, skills, or resources.
  3. Track progress against pre-established benchmarks. They can then identify what is working, and what activities are not producing results.
  4. Establish time limits. A deadline for achieving an objective, or a key benchmark, helps you develop an action plan. It also enables you to evaluate whether your actions are getting the desired results. A deadline can be driven be factors such as personal financial resources; education or training requirements; considerations of a spouse or significant other; and unforeseeable changes, such as to the economy, an industry, one’s health, etc.
  5. Have realistic expectations of themselves. They are willing to push themselves to try new things, but not to the point where they become overwhelmed. Small steps that you can consistently follow through on will produce faster and better results than sporadic large leaps.


Finally, individuals who are persistent do not allow negative experiences from the past to define their futures. This doesn’t mean that they do not experience disappointment, doubt, or anxiety. However, they find ways to put these feelings into perspective, so that they are not paralyzed by them. Rather than staying stuck, they seek assistance as needed from a family member or mentor, or a professional such as a therapist or coach.


© 2013, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching.