Consistency is the key to almost anything in life. Small, consistent gains, almost always beat short large gains over time. Consistency of actions and thoughts can vary – it can be something something as simple as diet and exercise, or something a bit more complicated like learning or building wealth.
The hard part is remaining consistent.
The thing about small consistent gains is that they are somewhat an illusion. We as humans work in a way that we take an action, see a result, and then repeat based off the difficulty of the action and the benefit of the result. Because of this, small changes often don’t show a noticeable effect and therefore we don’t think there is a result that is beneficial based off the require action.
This is illusion because the action often does have an effect, and it often compounds. Because we as humans don’t notice subtle changes, we tend to think there isn’t as much change as there really is. To overcome this, we have to rely on consistency, and trust that repetition does make improvements, and often far greater ones than we imagine.
“People overestimate what they can do in 1 day and underestimate what they can do in 1 year.”
What is consistency?
Consistency is repetition over an extended period of time, and is directly tied to habits. Habits influence pretty much everything we do on a daily basis, and compound. Good habits can lead to even better habits, and bad habits can lead to worse habits. Making something consistent in our lives often requires us to form at least 1 new habit, when then in turn leads to forming other new habits.
From an evolutionary perspective, the idea of habits is to free our conscious mind from doing repetitive tasks. Once we have been consistent long enough, the task becomes a habit and we no longer consciously think about doing it. This allows our consciousness to focus on other, perhaps more important tasks, or to form other habits.
What makes it important?
Repetition leads to mastery. When we do something over and over, we become better at it, or more used to doing it. If it is something we’re consciously aware of, we can often repeat the task in a way that it is beneficial, as opposed to doing something repeatedly, but incorrectly. Here are a few examples of consistent tasks:
- Want to become a better writer? Write everyday.
- Want to lose weight? Eat a more healthy diet daily.
- Want to build muscle? Exercise your muscles on a regular basis.
- Want to learn more? Read consistently.
- Want to learn a new language? Make progress each day.
The gains made each day don’t have to be large, but over time even the smallest of gains sums to a large amount, beyond what we often would expect. A 1% increase daily adds up to a 3700%+ increase in 1 year (1.01^365). In other words, improving 1% a day makes you 37 times better than you were 1 year prior. They key here is making that 1% consistent improvement daily.
How to be consistent?
Being consistent and building habits aren’t necessarily easy. It is a combination of the barrier to the habit, and motivation which determine whether the task actually gets done. If you’re not being consistent, make the task easier. Make the task so easy that you can’t NOT do it.
- Want to be a consistent writer? Start with 1 sentence a day.
- Want to lose weight? Start with reducing the size of just breakfast.
- Want to learn more? Start with reading 1 article a day.
Half of the barrier to creating a habit and being consistent is showing up. The act of doing the first step is often the hardest part, and by getting started, you’ll often notice you can continue after starting. Pomodoro Timer, which is a timer of a 25-minute interval, followed by a 5 minute break, is a great tool for getting work done. Once the timer starts you have to focus on just the task at hand. You’ll find once you start you don’t stop – it has shown to be incredibly effective.
Create routines and schedule when things should happen. You’ll certainly have days where you don’t feel like doing the task at hand, and other days where you really want to do it, but being consistent here is key. By having a schedule and a routine, it greatly increases your chances of consistently completing the task at hand.
Everyone is talking about health today, and for the right reasons. Obesity rates are soaring, and the implications of the modern western diet are not positive. Half of the issue is the diet we’re consuming, and half is the lifestyle shift we’ve made. Society has gone from farming and eating the farmed food to industrial processed food that sells. Our lives have gone from heavy physical work with farming and hunting to office chairs. To compensate, people now go to the gym for an hour each day to makeup for all the lost exercise from sitting at a desk all day.
Eating healthy on a consistent basis is important, as changes to health typically happen over an extended period of time. Eating a box full of donuts won’t make you fat, but eating a box full of donuts several days a week for a few weeks will. On the same token, going to the gym 1 day and lifting hard won’t make you strong, but going to the gym everyday and lifting for a few weeks will definitely make you stronger.
Especially when it comes to health, because the results are often very subtle and change isn’t noticeable, it is important to rely on the idea of consistency to make improvements in health, whether that be diet, exercise, or something else.
I enjoy reading, not necessarily because I enjoy the act of sitting down and staring at a page trying to acquire information, I enjoy reading because of the understanding I gain from it and the new perspectives it gives me in the world. I’ve learned that reading about things you’re interested in has profound effects on life and how you choose you live it.
Because of this, I’ve made reading a habit. Starting a 400 page book can be daunting, but doing 30 pages a day or 30 minutes a day consistently means you’ll read that book in less than 2 weeks. Do that consistently for a year and you’ll have read 26 of those books, or 10,400 pages. The amount of information that is, if understood, will certainly alter your perspective. Now imagine doing this consistently for a lifetime – the difference between those 30 minutes a day or none at all will be almost inconceivably enormous. Consistency is powerful.
When it comes to communication, over the last few years I’ve been interested in language learning. Progress is somewhat similar to health in the sense that gains made are often not noticeable. You have to trust and rely on consistency to overcome plateaus and continue acquiring new parts of the language. Using hindsight, it will be clear of the gains, but foresight is often hard to see. If I look back, I’ve gone through periods of extended studying, and then periods of almost none at all. I would have been far better off being consistent, and it is something I’m working on.
Documenting consistent improvements and routines leads to greater improvements (?). If you’re not tracking it, how do you know you’re making progress? In the age of the internet, we’re trying to quantify everything. Once we can quantify things, we can track it, analyze it, improve on it, make changes, and test the effect of changes. Without documenting things, it isn’t easy to look back and see your progress, and make changes.
When trying to be consistent, it helps to document each action.
- How many words did you write last month?
- How many trips to the gym did you take last month? How much time did you spend on average?
- How many times did you consume dessert last month?
We can guess these things all we want, but we don’t really know unless we write it down and document it. Don’t rely on your mind to remember, it doesn’t work, even if you think it does. In order to track progress, it is important to quantify and document your routines and habits. This also allows you to see on paper that your consistency is adding up.
The inspiration to write this post came from studying habits, routines, and consistency over the last few years, and continually realizing how important they are in our lives, especially today. I hope that the basic insights I expressed in this post were useful to you.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
I’d love to hear any additional thoughts anyone has on this topic. Thanks for reading.