What provokes the determination in you?

While visiting Dresden, Germany on holiday, I saw in a fabulous museum a cherry pit with 185 tiny human faces carved into it. A person needs a magnifying glass to see the faces clearly.

I am sure the unknown artist needed a magnifying glass to see what he was carving 400 years ago. That artist was a determined person.

On a hot day during the same trip, I saw many runners who looked as if they were dying. They were participating in an ironman competition that involved 4km of ocean swimming, 180km of cycling and 42km of running, with one activity immediately after the other. One of the athletes stayed in the same run-down guesthouse as me.

He said he had trained for two years for the competition.

That is determination.

One day a few years ago, I showed a modicum of physical determination.

I swam a ways (in a pool), cycled a ways, and ran a ways. I then called myself not an ironman but a phosphorous man, because I was active but soft.

Ordinary people often act with determination. Some individuals go to work determined to do a day's work for a day's pay. At times, that work is exceptionally challenging.

For instance, I once had a student who worked two full-time jobs, in addition to completing an unpaid practicum for university credit. He worked and worked and worked and did everything well.

My friend “Violet” who works as a store clerk, recently had to deal with an insanely angry customer. The customer felt slighted by the clerk and complained bitterly.

Violet, determined to play out her role, apologised and spoke in a calm tone of voice. When the angry woman said she “ought” to complain to a supervisor, Violet offered to call him over.

Nothing satisfied the angry woman, and Violet neared tears.

This being Australia, another customer told the angry woman to stop causing trouble. The angry woman left in a snit. Violet felt satisfied with her own performance and with the help of the supportive customer.

Contrast Violet's determined performance with that of the legendary flight attendant who told off passengers on the intercom when the plane completed a routine landing. He then left the plane (and his job) by going down the emergency exit slide. Whee!

What stimulates determination in you?

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, University of New England.