Consistency is vital for success. Whether you want to succeed with fitness, your career, personal life, or something else, random and inconsistent action won’t get you there.
But here is the thing:
Being consistent is not the same as being perfect. Intuitively, we all know that. But, this doesn’t stop countless people from unnecessarily boxing themselves in and sabotaging their long-term growth.
Let’s see why that is.
The Common Trap Most People Fall Into
Many people carry an all or nothing mindset when it comes to making positive changes. They either commit 100 percent to the process or don’t bother at all.
A while back, I received an interesting email from a reader. In the email, the person complained that, while dedicated to fitness, he had stopped going to the gym because he couldn’t train five times per week. Naturally, I probed, “What makes you think you need to train five times per week to make good progress?”
He didn’t have a good answer, but he was convinced that training three or four days per week wouldn’t do much for him, so he didn’t even bother.
I did my best to explain that he could still make fantastic progress, and I’d like to believe that I managed to change his mind. But here is the fundamental problem with this type of thinking:
Instead of looking at the big picture and how even three weekly workouts add up to 156 sessions in a year, he declared, “That won’t do!” This is an excellent example of the all or nothing mentality that plagues so many people today. Instead of making little progress, they choose none.
Here are some other examples:
1) You diet religiously, and despite adhering perfectly for 30 days, a single cookie is enough to derail you and make you feel like a failure.
2) You commit yourself to a high-frequency program, and even though you don’t miss a single workout in two months, you had to skip one workout. Now you feel like it’s all gone to waste.
One possible reason why we feel this way is because we mistakenly associate consistency with perfect execution. In other words, consistency isn’t about training regularly and making good progress. It’s about never missing a workout, no matter what.
But here is the thing:
Being consistent is not about being perfect, not by a long shot. Trying to be perfect is probably holding you back. Worse, it could be stopping you from even getting started.
The ‘perfect’ approach eventually fails because, well, we are human and life happens. If your idea of consistency is never missing a workout, guess what: you’ll fail eventually. Life happens: you might injure yourself, an emergency might occur, gyms might close. Making progress isn’t about never missing a workout but about getting back on track as soon as you can.
Consistent effort, even on a smaller scale, will deliver much better results than going all-out for a month and then giving up. So:
As Newton’s first law states, “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.” and it applies to our behaviors, as well. Be consistent, expect the occasional slip-up, but keep moving forward. More importantly, look at your long-term trajectory, not short-term hiccups.
The Process vs. The Event
We live in an event-driven world. Everywhere we look, we are constantly bombarded with headlines of events:
This idea of pursuing events has been ingrained into our minds, and we quickly become frustrated when our efforts don’t yield results right away. This is incredibly common in fitness, as countless people get frustrated and give up because they don’t see the results as fast as they expected.
But here is the thing:
We often notice the events, but we don’t see the process that led to these events. The man that lost 100 pounds? Sure, everyone pays attention to the headline. But few people ever notice that he’s dieted diligently for over a year and has had over 150 workouts in that time. While most people lived on fast food and visited the gym three times a year, he stuck to his daily calorie goal and did his workouts no matter how he felt.
The same goes for the ‘overnight success’ NBA star who signed a $50 million contract and got sponsored by Nike. We see the event, but few people saw the process behind it: the late nights, the early mornings, the injuries, the rejections, the fears, and frustrations.
Most of what we see in our lives is the result of an underlying process. An overweight person ended up this way because of a process, much as the fit person did. The only difference is, their choices pushed them toward different outcomes.
What does this mean for us?
Well, for one, it means that we should focus on the day-to-day. Sure, you have a goal, as does almost everyone else. The question is, what actions are you taking to get closer to your destination? Without an actionable plan, your goal is nothing more than a bland statement written somewhere.
Second, it means that we should focus on being consistent instead of trying to be perfect. Since I’ve already given a basketball example, allow me to do so again:
Michael Jordan has reportedly missed over 9,000 shots in his career, 26 of which would have been game-winning. Yet, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players to ever step on the court. Why is that? Consistency. Sure, he’s had his fair share of failures. But because of sheer consistency, he’s also been able to land 32,292 career points and 25 game-winning shots.
In other words, no matter what we pursue, we need to fail a fair amount. And the only way to overcome failure is to persist through it and come out on the other side.
Something Interesting I’ve Learned About Consistent And Productive Work
Hopefully, you’ve realized just how important being consistent is. No matter what you want to achieve in life, you can’t get anywhere without it. But here is the thing:
Consistency can get boring and tedious. After the initial wave of motivation fades, discipline and habits are what keeps us going. Plus, we rarely get to see instant results for our efforts, which can make the whole thing feel boring. Still, we have to focus and do the work no matter how we feel about it.
The general trajectory is what matters a lot more, and we should focus on getting better in the long run. For example, if your goal is to improve your squat, but your last workout sucked, you have two options:
1) You can focus on the short-term (the last workout was terrible) and get frustrated.
2) You can focus on the long run and ask yourself, “Where will my squat be in one year if I stay consistent and don’t pay attention to these occasional hiccups?”
No single action (be it good or bad) is enough to shift our trajectory. But small and consistent improvements can lead to significant changes in the long run. Take, for example, lifting weights. We can all agree that bad workouts happen, and there is little we can do about them. If you have enough workouts throughout the year, some are bound to be bad, and that’s okay.
Let me illustrate it for you. The below graph represents a year of your life:
The colored boxes represent all of the workouts you have within that year. Greens are for your good workouts, yellows are for your average (neither great nor bad) workouts, and reds are for your bad workouts.
What’s most important is that you put your best foot forward and walk in the gym with confidence. A bad workout doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things. Don’t dwell on it.
This applies to almost every other aspect of life. The occasional bad performance is the price you have to pay for being consistent. We are human, not machines, and it’s only normal to make mistakes, feel under the weather, and generally feel unfocused and less productive at times.
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