Continuing to work on my book, I have been thinking and writing about consistency recently. It is a trait that is important to accomplishing most things in life. As I have mentioned in previous posts, my book-writing strategy centers around Anne Lamott’s guidance, “A page a day is a book a year.” Adhering to that basic pace is working. I have written nearly 29,000 words. If life gets in the way of my daily page, I catch up the next time I am able to write. With a hectic first week of classes at the University and a completely occupied Saturday yesterday, I will be catching up today. With consistent practice, I am making steady progress.
What we do—or don’t do—on a regular basis sets the stage for what we are able to accomplish in life. This is true for our health, our relationships, our academic and professional endeavors, even our spiritual growth. Our patterns create our lives.
Why is this true?
Consistency allows us to plan. Whether it’s a cross country training program or a regular meditation practice, we can plan when we are consistent. When a coach has a consistent, coherent, structured program and openly communicates that plan with his or her athletes, they know what to expect, how to eat before practice and how to supplement practices with outside training. Absence of consistency—randomness—leaves us floundering. Performance suffers. Mental sharpness deteriorates. When we are consistent in our practice, or when we are provided with consistent structure to our days, we know what to expect and can plan effectively.
Consistency fosters trust. When people in our lives are consistent, we can trust them. We feel safe. Inconsistency leads to unpredictability, which is not comforting in a work, home or school environment. When we are consistent in our habits, we can trust ourselves to do what needs to be done.
Consistency simplifies decision making. Because I have a consistent daily habit of exercise, I don’t have to debate with myself whether or not I will exercise. The type, duration and intensity of physical activity varies from day to day, but I plan it into my schedule each day. I don’t have to decide. My consistency is my commitment to myself.
Consistency creates excellence. Consistent effort is how we get good. No matter how much innate talent someone has, dedicated work on a consistent basis is still necessary to become highly skilled and to perform reliably. Practicing any habit or skill in an arbitrary fashion will limit the progress that can be made. Consistency facilitates a solid foundation on which to build stronger skills and from which to reap benefits.
“Consistent” does not mean “boring” or even “the same.” Some people place a high value on spontaneity and shrink away from the idea of being “tied down” to consistency. They fear that life will become dull and monotonous if they develop and maintain consistent habits. I disagree. I believe consistency frees us to have bigger wins and more fun. We are better able to direct our energy and effort into productive activities when we are consistent. Rather than internally battling over whether or not we will eat in a certain way or move in a certain way, we just do it. We can trust ourselves, and we can plan our lives.
“He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign” ― Victor Hugo
How do we build consistency into our lives?
- Schedule: In my experience, the best way to ensure that something we say matters is accomplished is to schedule it. Either put it physically into the calendar or at least know when it will be (definitely) done. It is difficult to achieve consistency—whether in a training program or in taking daily steps toward a goal, like writing a book—unless we schedule when the activity is going to happen. Scheduling automatically elevates the priority level of the activity. It becomes non-negotiable when we equalize it with other important appointments in our lives.
- Commitment: Schedule it; then, follow through and do it. Keep the promises you make to yourself. Believe that you are worth it. Truly believe that it is a non-negotiable part of your day.
- Purpose: Know why you want to become consistent. Why does it matter if you follow through with what you said you wanted to do? What does consistency achieve for you? What do you have to lose if you are not consistent? By taking the time to consider these questions and answer them for yourself, you have something on which to draw back when life throws challenges your way. When we are clear why something matters and frequently remind ourselves of the reasons consistency is important, it becomes so much easier to maintain.
No matter what it is you want to achieve, I encourage you to ditch erratic efforts and decide if a habit, a practice, a training program, a nutritional strategy really matters to you. If it doesn’t, maybe that is what you need to ditch. Stop pretending it is important. Admit it is not. Move on. If it truly does matter, then schedule it, commit to it and do it. Consistently.