It’s a funny concept, really.
Usually we think of stubbornness as something that works against us. It’s like a form of closed-mindedness or self-sabotage to us.
There aren’t many people who have a nice thing to say about stubbornness, really.
But what if we’ve got it all wrong?
What if we could turn this negative view of stubbornness on its head … for our own betterment?
Imagine stubbornness being on “our team” … instead of “working against us”!
Many years ago, I read a good book of real life stories.
They were written by an English veterinarian.
Yes, that’s right, someone who takes care of the physical health of animals.
Now, you might be thinking, what the hell does a veterinarian have to do with human stubbornness?
Well, bare with me a minute to be surprised.
The story that really stuck with me was about a local farmer and his prized cow.
Now this much loved prized cow was struck ill with a rather unpleasant udder infection. Of course, the farmer got on the phone and called in the veterinarian.
When the veterinarian looked at the cow, he shook his head.
“Not good”, said the veterinarian. “Better put her down, right away.”
Now this was pretty distressing news to the farmer. This was his prized cow. Not only was she worth a lot of money to the poor farmer but she also held plenty of sentimental value.
“You sure there’s nothing we can do?”, implored the farmer.
“No, best do it now. It’s a pretty hopeless situation”, the veterinarian replied sternly.
But the veterinarian could see how distressed the farmer was becoming. It was clear he needed to feel that he’d done absolutely everything in his power to save his prized cow.
So when the farmer implored one more time, “Are you sure there’s nothing to be done?”, the veterinarian decided he’d make an effort … for the farmer’s sake, not the cow’s.
“OK, listen. We can try this cream for two days. But if there’s no change in the condition, we’ll have to put her down.”
The farmer took the cream and, as the veterinarian was about to leave, he said, “How much should I put on?”
“Just put on as much as you can. I’ll be back in two days”, replied the veterinarian before leaving.
Now two days later, at the appointed time, the veterinarian returned to the farm to inspect the cow’s udder. He totally expected the worst, of course.
When the farmer’s wife led him into the barn he could see the farmer sitting on a small wooden stool beside the cow.
As he got closer, he couldn’t believe what he saw.
The cow’s udder seemed to be completely cured.
But that seemed impossible. The infection had been terribly advanced.
“What did you do?”, he inquired with disbelief.
“I did what you told me”, the farmer replied.
“Yes”, the farmer’s wife said, “he’s been sitting on that stool since you left, rubbing that cream on her udder … day and night, non-stop!”
So it turned out the farmer had taken the veterinarian’s instructions very literally. “Rub in the cream as much as you can”, he had said. So the farmer did. He sat there, rubbing the cream onto the udder continuously for 48 hours!
Now for most people, the veterinarian’s instructions would have meant they’d rub the cream onto the udder a couple of times a day … maybe.
But for the farmer, who’s motivation was something else, took the instructions “to the extreme”.
In fact, the farmer exhibited what I would term functional stubbornness.
Of course, functional stubbornness by itself cannot guarantee success in all situations … like it seems to have done here in the farmer’s case.
It does, however, open up a whole new realm of potential possibility.
I have a very personal story to share that gives us another example of how functional stubbornness can help us achieve the seemingly unachievable.
Many years ago, I suffered a very severe asthma. It’s something I’d developed in early childhood and lived with through to my adult years.
Sometime during my early twenties, I took to researching asthma. I wanted to find a cure.
As part of my research I read stories of Olympic swimmers who’d taken up swimming because they suffered asthma. They claimed swimming had cured their asthma.
It seemed marvelous. So I decided to look up the scientific evidence on the subject. But what I found was less than supportive of the Olympians’ beliefs.
The general scientific consensus seemed to settle on the notion that, while good for general health, swimming did not make a significant difference to breathing function.
This seemed pretty surprising to me. After all, I’d read the interviews where a number of renowned Olympic champions had claimed swimming had cured their asthma.
Now, being the curious type that I am, I decided to look more closely at how the scientific research studies that denied swimming had any major impact on asthma were themselves set up.
What I found was interesting.
I noticed that many of the studies were set up over a period of only 8 to 12 weeks. The participants with asthma were required to swim for periods like 20 minutes, 3 times per week, for 10 weeks. On the basis of this exercise load, no benefits were discovered.
Now, on reflection, we might be surprised if under those experimental conditions any effect would be found. Indeed, we might be surprised to find that a serious lung condition could be significantly altered with such a relatively mild level of activity.
But from a practical point of view, the research studies were limited in their time, scope, funding and the availability of willing participants to go through the experiment.
There was only one thing for it.
I decided to conduct my own experiment.
In my experiment, I swam an hour a day, 6 days a week, for over 9 months.
What I found was that my lung function testing improved by over 60% in the 9 months of swimming effort. This result was achieved using a critical measure called FEV1.
And to this day, that level of improvement has been maintained, even though I do not swim at that level of intensity anymore. I haven’t done so, in fact, for many years.
I do still have asthma medication in my medicine cabinet, just in case. But I do not feel that asthma is really a part of my life anymore.
Again, we might call the actions required to conduct that experiment to be a form of functional stubbornness, too.
When we employ the idea of functional stubbornness, it’s best that we be careful not to do it blindly.
The asthma experience I had was set up in such a way that the realistic downside – or worst case scenario – would be that all I’d get out of it is to be a bit healthier and a little fitter.
The best case scenario was something much better. It could (and did in my case) lead to a real direct impact on my asthma.
I did, after all, know of a number of top athletes who’d reported that they had achieved success. With their testimonials, I had a strong basis to assume that success was in the vague realm of possibility.
So, in a way, it was an investment with only a little risk of loss.
Let’s contrast our cow udder tale and my own asthma busting swimming experiment with another case.
The bottom line is, no amount of flapping your arms over a period of 9 months is going to give you the power to fly!
There are times and circumstances where functional stubbornness can work to your favor.
Trying to take off by flapping your well developed arms is not one of those moments.
The potential downside of applying functional stubbornness to the wrong situation could be a lot of wasted time.
OK, you’re arms will look bigger, most likely (if you didn’t suffer a serious injury in the 9 month process). But …
The cost-benefit analysis would fail miserably, in this case.
We should always consider “where and why” we would apply functional stubbornness before leaping blindly ahead.
The potential upside is you might find out that some of your limits were just beliefs and perceptions.
But then, in the right circumstance, you might also discover what you’re really capable of!