If you’re on my email list, you likely saw yesterday’s Monday motivation email about consistency. If you’re not, get on the list so you get some weekly motivation! Anyway, today I want to expand on the topic.
You’re here because you want to be successful. You’re here to figure out how to set goals and then reach them so that you can live the life that you’ve always wanted to live. You’re here because you want to learn self-discipline.
In my opinion, the most important ingredient in achieving any of these things is staying consistent. It doesn’t matter if you do one great workout or study hard for one day or write one great post for your blog. What matters is that you are consistent.
Being decent consistently will get you much farther than being amazing one time.
What does success look like?
I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you that success doesn’t happen overnight. As I’ve mentioned in several blog posts recently, success happens one small step at a time. Success is the direct result of consistency.
If you’re still holding out hope that one day you’ll finally take that first step on whatever project you’ve been dreaming of and find instant success, I’m here to tell you that that’s not how it works and without a mindset shift, your chances of success are very, very slim.
Success looks different for everyone. You may want a high-powered career, three kids, and a husband who cooks, cleans, and stays home to care for them. On the other hand, I want none of those things. That doesn’t mean either of us is wrong.
No matter what success looks like in your mind, you’ll have to be consistent to get there. That career, kids, and husband won’t magically drop into your lap. You have to consistently show up and put in the work, both in the workplace and in your relationship.
Success requires patience. Not only do many of the things we’re striving for require consistency, but they require months or years of it. Staying consistent for a few months is manageable for most people. Staying consistent for years? That’s where the struggle arises. That’s where grit comes in.
How does consistency lead to success?
This question has more than one answer. Yes, of course, there’s the obvious. You have to consistently put in the work to see results. You don’t get results without putting in the work. But staying consistent leads to success in a number of other ways as well.
Consistency takes the pressure off
I cannot tell you how many people I’ve seen who are afraid to start or afraid to finish because they fear that they won’t be perfect. They’ve decided that each attempt needs to be flawless, which means that these attempts are not only anxiety inducing, but they’re few and far between.
When you’re consistent, you give yourself room to make mistakes. You give yourself room for bad days.
Consider creating art. If you were to decide that you needed to create one masterpiece and you had one attempt to do it, I’d be willing to bet that you’d procrastinate. You’d be worried, and in all honesty, your masterpiece probably wouldn’t be all that great.
But if you spent three hours a day in the studio and aimed to do just a little bit better each day, that masterpiece would come. You’d have off days where you hated everything you created, but after enough time, a masterpiece will come despite the bad days. When the bad days don’t matter, it’s easier to keep going because you don’t have to fear being imperfect.
And since I haven’t said it in a while, perfection isn’t real.
Consistency allows you to learn
This ties in closely to the previous point. If we return to the previous example where you only had one shot to create a masterpiece, there’s no room for practice in that scenario. But when you give yourself the chance to be consistent, that consistency is practice.
The more consistent you are, the more practice you get. If I had only written on this blog sporadically, rather than consistently, it wouldn’t be as good as it is now. But instead I’ve written consistently and continued to improve. And as I continue to write, it will continue to improve.
Consistency helps you outwork the competition
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” - Either Kevin Durant or Tim Notke, depending on who you ask
Consider two people who are both learning to play an instrument. One practices for thirty minutes every day. The other practices for two hours a day but gets burned out and gives up after two months. In the long run, who will be a better musician? Hint: the first guy.
However, if you’re like me—or most other people—the second guy’s story probably sounds pretty familiar. We dive into things quickly and aggressively for a number of reasons: we want results right away, we’re excited, we enjoy the newness of it. But this often leads to burnout, killing our consistency.
When you start small and stay consistent, in the long run, you’ll outwork the people who dove in too quickly, burned out, and quit. And I know you don’t have to look very far to find examples of things that other people have quit after a short time.
Consistency allows you to develop passions
Passions are one of the best places to find success. When you find a passion, you find something that fulfills you. Passions make a great cornerstone for whatever it is that you’d like to achieve in life.
But passions don’t just happen. It’s a common misconception that passions arise because one day you tried something new and fell in love instantly. It’s also a misconception that working on your passions will always be easy and enjoyable.
Passions have to be developed. It takes work and effort to find and develop a passion, and it won’t always be easy. If you jump back and forth between new ideas all the time, you aren’t giving yourself the chance to find a passion. Passions take intentional cultivation through—you guessed it—consistency.
If you want to learn more about finding your passion, here is a blog post about that!
How to Stay Consistent
Staying consistent is another one of those things that is simple but not easy. Obviously, if you want to be consistent, you just have to repeat your chosen action on a regular basis. But since that’s much easier said than done, here are some of my favorite little things that you can do to help yourself be more consistent.
Know that sometimes you’ll fall off the wagon—and that’s okay
Yes, in an ideal world, we’d all like to make progress toward every single one of our goals every day. But this isn’t an ideal world. Sometimes things come up. Sometimes you have bad days. Sometimes you forget.
If you set out expecting to have some off days and knowing that that’s normal and okay, it will be much easier to deal with them when they happen. This is great because the last thing we want is for you to feel guilty or beat yourself up for missing a day. It’s okay.
Rather than focusing on the fact that you’ve fallen off the wagon, instead focus on how quickly you can get back on. If you missed four workouts last time life got busy, aim to make it three this time. The past is the past and guilting yourself for it only holds you back. Focus on what you can do to get back on track as quickly as possible.
Also, though there are legitimate reasons to miss a day here and there and that’s okay, don’t use this as a reason to make excuses. There’s a big difference between “I needed a mental health day” and “I stayed up until 3 a.m. watching reruns of The Office.” I’m not giving you permission to make excuses.
Set small goals
If I had to venture a guess as to the most common reason that people struggle to say consistent, I’d guess that it’s because we set goals that are way too big. I know I’m guilty of this.
We think we need to do big things to see success or we want to impress someone or we want to see results quickly because we’re impatient, so we set out with big goals. We decide we want to work out six days a week or spend four hours a day writing or cook every single one of our meals from scratch without realizing just how big these goals are.
Start smaller. You’ll see success faster than you expect. In fact, start so small that it seems kinda pointless. The easier your goal is, the more likely you are to stick with it, and once you get started with the easy thing, it’s easier to keep going.
Start with a half hour workout twice a week. Start with meditating for a minute every day. Start by studying for ten minutes every day. Spend three minutes each day cleaning. Whatever your goal is, make it so small that it seems really easy. You’ll have a much easier time staying consistent and you’ll likely see results much more quickly than you’d expect.
Acknowledge the slump
When you start a new project, there’s almost always going to be a slump after the excitement wears off but before you start seeing serious results.
When we start something new, it’s exciting. That keeps us motivated. We make progress quickly as we pick up a new skill, and it’s typically not too hard to keep going for a little while. But before too long, progress starts slowing down, things get harder, and we realize that the goal that we’re working toward is a long way away.
This is when the slump hits.
This is where most people quit.
When you know about the slump ahead of time, you give yourself a better shot of making it through. This is where that small goal that you just set comes in handy.
When the slump hits, your best bet is to remember your Why (which I’ll talk about in a second), stick to your small goal, buckle down, and get through it. Success is on the other side of the slump.
Find your Why
I have a whole post about finding your Why that I strongly recommend reading, but essentially, your Why is the set of reasons why you’re undertaking whatever goal it is that you’re working on. These reasons should be direct results of your actions and be things that resonate deeply with you.
Take time to really sit with your Why when you’re in the early stages of something new. If you find that this new thing doesn’t actually matter all that much to you, maybe it’s not the best way to spend your time. If those reasons do matter to you, keep them handy and refer to them when you’re feeling reluctant to take action. They’ll help you get moving.
This is another topic that I have an entire post about. Gamification is the strategy of using elements of gaming to make tasks more exciting. Apps use it all the time. Every app that encourages you to keep a streak is using gamification. It can be an extremely successful tactic if used correctly.
In fact, I’ve found that the times in my life when I’ve been most consistent almost entirely occurred when I gamified my actions. Gamification is great to boost your motivation and add a little bit of outside accountability and incentive to keep you moving forward. Check out my post about it to learn more, including five ways you can gamify your productivity.
Schedule intentional breaks
Scheduling intentional breaks is a great way to combat those accidental falls off the wagon that I mentioned earlier. This is why athletes have cheat days and good employers encourage you to take vacations. When you take intentional breaks, it helps you maintain the energy and discipline needed to go hard the rest of the time.
The important thing here is that they need to be intentional. Too often, breaks that aren’t carefully planned end up being way more intense than you expected. One day off your diet turns into a month. A week away from the gym turns into a season. Before starting your break, create a solid and specific plan for exactly how you intend to pick your habit back up when the break ends so that your break doesn't turn into you abandoning your goal.
Ultimately, like most things that I talk about on this blog, consistency requires grit. There will be bad days. There will be days where you don’t want to. You’ll feel bored, lazy, tired, whatever. But you can’t let that stop you.
When I’m struggling to stay consistent, I remind myself that the alternatives are much worse. If I want to live my dream life, I’ve got to just get up and do it. So I do, and so can you.