This section is from the book "Applications of Psychology to the Problems of Personal and Business Efficiency", by Warren Hilton. Also available from Amazon: Psychology and Achievement - Applied Psychology 12 Volume Set.
ARE you an unusually persever ing and persistent person?
Or, like most of us, do you sometimes find it difficult to stick to the job until it is done?
What is your usual experience in this respect?
Is it not this, that you work steadily along until of a sudden you become conscious of a feeling of weariness, crying "Enough!" for the time being, and that you then yield to the impulse to stop? Assuming that this is what generally happens, does this feeling of fatigue, this impulse to rest, mean that your mental energy is exhausted?
Suppose that by a determined effort of the will you force your lagging brain to take up the thread of work. There will invariably come a new supply of energy, a "second wind," enabling you to forge ahead with a freshness and vigor that is surprising after the previous lassitude.
Nor is this all. The same process may be repeated a second time and a third time, each new effort of the will being followed by a renewal of energy.
Many a man will tell you that he does his best work in the wee watches of the morning, after tedious hours of persevering but fruitless effort. Instead of being exhausted by its long hours of persistent endeavor, the mind seems now to rise to the acme of its power, to achieve its supreme accomplishments. Difficulties melt into thin air, profound problems find easy solution. Flights of genius manifest themselves. Yet long before midnight such a one had perhaps felt himself yield to fatigue and had tied a wet towel around his head or had taken stimulants to keep himself awake.
The existence of this reserve supply of energy is manifested in physical as well as mental effort.
Men who work with their heads and men who work with their hands, scholars and Marathon runners, must alike testify to the existence of reserve supplies of power not ordinarily drawn upon.
If we do not always or habitually utilize this reserve power, it is simply because we have accustomed ourselves to yield at once to the first strong feeling of fatigue.
Evidence of this same fact appears in our feelings on different days. How often does a man get up from his breakfast-table after a long night's rest, when he should be feeling fresh and invigorated, and say to himself, "I don't feel like working today." And it may take him until afternoon to get into his workaday stride, if, indeed, he reaches it at all.
You cannot yourself be immune from the feeling on certain days that you are not at your best. Somehow or other, your wits seem befogged. You hesitate to undertake important interviews. Your interest lags. And though crises arise in your business, you feel weighted down and unable to meet them with that shrewd discernment and decisiveness of action of which you know yourself capable.
But you realize, in your inmost self, that if you continue to exert the will and persistently hold yourself to the business in hand, sooner or later you will warm to the work, enthusiasm will come, the clouds will be dispelled, the husks will fly. Yet you have had no rest; on the contrary, you have, by continued conscious effort, consumed mora and more of your vital energy.
Obviously it was not rest that you needed.
What you required was the impulse of some strong desire that should carry you over the threshold of that first inertia into the wide field of reserve energy so rarely called upon and so rich in power.
Under the lashings of necessity, or the spur of love or ambition, men accomplish feats of mental and physical endurance of which they would have supposed themselves incapable. Here is what a certain lawyer says of his early struggles:
"When I was twenty-three years old, married, and with a family to support, I entered the law course of a great university. Of the many students in my class, seven, including me, were making a living while studying law.
"By special arrangement, I was relieved from attendance at lectures and simply required to pass examinations on the various subjects, and was thus enabled to retain my place as principal of a large public school. During the third and last year of my law course, I was principal of a public day school of two thousand children and an alternate night school with an enrolment of seven hundred and fifty, and I worked at the law three nights in the week and all day Sunday.
"After eight months of this, the final examinations came around. They consumed a full week - from nine in the morning until five or six at night. I had no opportunity for review, so I rented a room near the law school to save the time going and coming and reviewed each night the subjects of examination for the following day.
"I did not sleep more than two hours any night in that week. On Thursday, while bolting a bit of luncheon, a fishbone stuck in my throat. Fearful of losing the result of my year's effort, I returned to my work, suffering much pain, and kept at it until Saturday night, when the examinations were concluded. The next day the surgeon who removed the fishbone said there was no reason why I should not have had 'a bad case of gangrene.'
"When I look back on that year's work I don't see how I stood it. I don't see how I kept myself at it, day in, day out, month after month without rest, recreation or relief. I am sure I could never go through it again, even if I had the courage to undertake it.
"I ranked second in a class of one hundred and eighty in my law examinations, won the second prize for the best graduating thesis, received a complimentary vote for class oratorship, and much to my surprise was soon after offered an assistant superintendency of the public schools by the school board, who knew nothing of my studies and thought my work as a teacher worthy of promotion.
"It was not only the hardest year's work but the best year's work I ever did. It exemplifies my invariable experience that the more we want to do the more we can do and the better we can do it."
The following is an extract from a letter quoted by Professor James as written by Colonel Baird-Smith after the siege of Delhi in 1857, to the success of which he largely contributed:
"My poor wife had some reason to think that war and disease, between them, had left very little of a husband to take under nursing when she got him again. An attack of scurvy had filled my mouth with sores, shaken every joint in my body and covered me all over with scars and livid spots, so that I was unlovely to look upon. A smart knock on the ankle joint from the splinter of a shell that burst in my face, in itself a mere bagatelle of a wound, had been of necessity neglected under the pressing and insistent calls upon me, and had grown worse and worse until the whole foot below the ankle became a black mass and seemed to threaten mortification. I insisted, however, on being allowed to use it until the place was taken, mortification or no; and though the pain was sometimes horrible I carried my point and kept up to the last.
"On the day after the assault I had an unlucky fall on some bad ground, and it was an open question for a day or two whether I hadn't broken my arm at the elbow. Fortunately it turned out to be only a severe sprain, but I am still conscious of the wrench it gave me.
To crown the whole pleasant catalogue, I was worn to a shadow by a constant diarrhoea and consumed as much opium as would have done credit to my father-in-law (Thomas De Quincey). "However, thank God, I have a good share of Tapleyism in me and come out strong under difficulties. I think I may confidently say that no man ever saw me out of heart or ever heard a complaining word from me even when our prospects were gloomiest. We were sadly crippled by cholera, and it was almost appalling to me to find that out of twenty-seven officers I could only muster fifteen for the operations of the attack. However, it was done, - and after it was done came the collapse.
"Don't be horrified when I tell you that for the whole of the actual siege, and in truth for some little time before, I almost lived on brandy. Appetite for food I had none, but I forced myself to eat just sufficient to sustain life, and I had an incessant craving for brandy, as the strongest stimulant I could get. Strange to say, I was quite unconscious of its affecting me in the slightest degree.
"The excitement of the work was so great that no lesser one seemed to have any chance against it, and I certainly never found my intellect clearer or my nerves stronger in my life"
Such is the profound resourcefulness and enduring power of the human mind.