Consistency is key. You ever heard that?
I’m not a fan of clichés, but this one gets a pass because it’s true. Consistent habits appreciate over time, like good investments. Making slight progress on a task three times a week will yield greater results than making great progress on a task sporadically. It’s not about generating amazing output every time you sit down to work. It’s about sitting down to work.
It’s about grabbing your hoodie, your water bottle, or your favorite chewed pencil and showing up. The person who shows up is the person you need to watch out for.
Here are five ways to achieve and maintain consistency:
1. Don’t Be Afraid of Commitment
Why do you do the things you do?
What is your reason for putting effort into something over a long period of time? You’re going to have to find one, or else you’ll jump ship on your goals.
When you start pursuing something, you’re motivated. Everything is fresh and exciting. You can visualize your endpoint and see paradise on the other end. Showing up is fun at this stage.
Until it starts to suck, which anything worth doing will. You’re going to say, “Why did I do this? This is terrible. I’m not cut out for this. It isn’t worth it.”
This is why the New Year’s Resolutioner phenomenon exists. Gyms around the world see a huge spike in attendance around January 1st. About two weeks later, attendance dips back down. People can’t maintain enthusiasm for their goals. They forget their “whys.”
He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.
A Navy SEAL once said that discipline equals freedom. The more disciplined you are, the more likely you’ll reach your goals. If you’re disciplined with your time, you’ll have more time. If you’re disciplined with your money, you’ll have more money. Discipline is one of the most powerful traits a human being can develop.
That being said…
2. Allow Time for Rest
Consistency is achieved when you strike a balance between non-action and self-destruction.
I’m talking about burning out. A person’s health is often sacrificed in the name of work. Hustling has my respect, but it’s clear that constant labor will eventually drive you into the ground.
Entrepreneur Alex Soojung Kim Pang campaigns for taking breaks in his book Rest. He argues that deliberately resting makes you more creative and productive in the long run. According to the research Pang compiled, your subconscious mind works to solve problems after you’ve walked away from them. This unfocused “incubation” period can lead to breakthroughs and Eureka moments in your work.
Rest and leisure should be planned into your schedule if you want to maintain consistency. There will be times for intense work, and there will be times when you have to pull the reigns back. Pang suggests you use rest to increase your productivity, but that shouldn’t be the point. Plan to rest for your own sake, and to give you the energy to keep showing up.
3. Roll With the Punches
I used to be a slave to my schedule.
When life would happen, or my plans fell apart, I would rage. I could not handle any deviation from my agenda.
If something goes haywire and you can’t do the things you wanted, what can you do that day? Do you call the day a botch just because you overslept or screwed something up?
Learning to roll with the punches is an essential skill for staying consistent. If you get held up at work and end up missing the gym, do push-ups in your bedroom instead. If you sit down to write and nothing comes to you, start writing how you’re feeling. If you have to give a presentation and can’t sleep the night before, use your loopy twilight zone sleeplessness to charm your audience. You can always find ways to improvise.
4. Appreciate the Little Wins
When you’re chasing a goal and trying to be consistent, you run the risk of becoming a harsh perfectionist.
To avoid this, you need to reward yourself for the progress you make, instead of punishing yourself for the progress you don’t. This can be a difficult dynamic to shift, but it’s important.
According to a study published by the Harvard Business Review, small moments of meaningful progress are what produce long-term results. The researchers called this the “progress principle.”
By supporting people and their daily progress in meaningful work, managers improve not only the inner work lives of their employees but also the organization’s long-term performance, which enhances inner work life even more. Of course, there is a dark side — the possibility of negative feedback loops. If managers fail to support progress and the people trying to make it, inner work life suffers and so does performance; and degraded performance further undermines inner work life.
Think of yourself as your manager. If you take the time to appreciate your small wins, you nourish your drive to move forward. But if you beat yourself up for not reaching a goal, you shut yourself down before you have a chance to improve. If you never acknowledge your progress as meaningful, no matter how slight, you end up sabotaging yourself.
Most days, small wins are the best you can ask for.
5. Get Comfortable With Sucking
You need to meet your quota of sucking before you start getting good at something. People stop being consistent when they get embarrassed by how much they suck. Sucking is normal, expected, and if you keep showing up, worthy of respect.
In the War of Art, Steven Pressfield explores the phenomenon of Resistance and how it keeps people from their goals.
Pressfield’s Resistance is a kind of spiritual force that represents all your fears and hang-ups about change. It’s your procrastination, your excuses, and your fears, all rolled into one. His definition of a professional is someone who works against Resistance and is willing to be seen struggling.
The professional keeps his eye on the doughnut and not on the hole. He reminds himself it’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.
If you’re tempted to waver on your commitments, see it as Resistance trying to sabotage you. You beat it by showing up despite how embarassed you feel. How many of us are brave enough to struggle in front of the crowd?
How to Keep Showing Up
- Find your why, and marry yourself to it.
- Plan to rest. Don’t destroy yourself in the name of consistency.
- Bob, weave and improvise through your off days.
- Reward your achievements more than you punish your failures.
- Be willing to suck, because struggling to get good at something always beats sitting around and fantasizing about it.
If you can find intrinsic reasons to push yourself forward while taking care of yourself at the same time, you can maintain your consistency.