Meet the Parents of Success: Consistency and Habit
Aaaaand the turtle wins the race 🐢
I have yet to draft a post more than two days in advance. I still haven't sent a single newsletter. But, I've written consistently for three months.
That's 12 weeks of forcing myself to write when I don't feel like it and publishing imperfect content.
With the start of August, I've been questioning whether I'm doing enough. With the end of my internship and start of school in three weeks, everything suddenly seems time-sensitive.
Reflecting on the feelings of inadequacy, I thought of previous successes and how I arrived at the personal or professional "result." In every case, consistency granted the win. Not a monumental 1-time effort or last-minute cramming.
30 minutes often appears as an insignificant amount of time. In half an hour I can snooze my alarm, hang around the kitchen after lunch, or sit on the toilet browsing my phone (don’t lie, you’ve done this before). No harm done. But 30 minutes a day of consistent action* builds up during the week. Peek further into the future at one month and XYZing 30 min a day becomes 15 hours; impossible to match through a single day's efforts.
Nothing new there— I trust you can do basic multiplication. But the simple concept of accrued time and effort leads to the bigger point: consistency wins.
*Note: I semi-avoid the word habit because consistent action highlights the effort input. Habit to me implies automatic/compulsive repetition.
Effort over time builds excellence
Every Saturday at 9am, I'd prefer to cook an elaborate breakfast or go on a walk over writing new content. Yet I stand at my desk and write for an hour. I produce a few paragraphs at best. But by the end of the year, I'll probably have written the equivalent of a novelette. Again with some simple math, divide the total content by more days, and the amount of effort required drops from "full-time author" to "a few paragraphs on Saturday mornings."
Most people rely on motivation or willpower to push through 1-2 weeks of consistently XYZing and then give up—eg. January gym-goers who abandon the pursuit in February. But one workout barely offers value. The benefit grows out of the sum of a year's+ worth of daily movement.
So what is the point of the stereotypical exercise example? (to be fair, after 5 years of gymming, I think I have a right to the reference). When you feel overwhelmed by lofty goals, remember: you can surpass 75% (a random high number) of people by simply being consistent. Ie. without doing anything remarkable. Because in a world of short term gratification and shrinking attention spans, consistency is remarkable.
Want strong relationships? Invest regular time and care across years. Aiming to build muscle? Apply consistent progressive overload training over time. You get the idea.
Good news: the resulting progress isn't linear
The longer you’ve been doing something, the easier it’ll be to get even better. The idea of compounding in the context of personal development is a powerful (albeit unoriginal) concept. As time passes, you'll improve at increasing rates of change. My first year of developing physical fitness, overcoming social anxiety, and letting go of perfectionism resulted in minor progress. But the acquired knowledge, skills, and confidence led to my successes and growth in the following years.
How: overcoming the activation energy of building a consistent action pattern
Attach not-yet-solidified actions to existing strong habits. To listen to more podcasts, I incorporated the audio into my 45 minute morning routine. Choose something you already do every day and add elements before/during/after the anchor point.
Recognize your “why.” The purpose theme weaves through my content from how to wake up early to informational interviews; identifying your long term driver attaches meaning to small daily actions. I want to meditate more consistently. Why? Because it’s a healthy way to reduce stress and increase self-awareness. So each meditation session, no matter how unsuccessful, moves me towards the-ultimate-calm-and-self-aware Sofia.
Detach purpose from results. Some people enjoy metrics as motivation. Your why, though, extends beyond a 1-time result (a number of followers, a grade, a competition win, etc.) A result can be an intermediate goal, but if you define your purpose as a result, what happens at the finish line? From what I’ve seen and experienced, you feel successful for a bit, lose interest, drop the habit, and slide back to square 1. Last year, I wanted to run 10k just to prove I could. I trained for three months. The day I ran my first 10k, my reason to continue disappeared, and I stopped running. On the other hand, no amount of walking or lifting will deplete the why they serve: taking care of my health and feeling strong.
Lead with interest. Find moments of joy in the consistency. Any form of exercise could maintain/improve my health and strength. I enjoy circuit training, walking, and weight training—there’s a higher chance of the daily sessions being fun and thus easier to repeat. I doubt I’d be able to maintain a long-term running or swimming routine.
Procrastinate to win. When I don’t feel like learning SQL, I’ll brainstorm for my next blog post. When I don’t want to write, I’ll exercise. “Fun” and “not fun” are relative. Find something you want to do less than whatever you’re trying to get consistent at. Use the opportunity to productively procrastinate #beatthedefinition
Build routine. Back to my gym example: for my first two years of college, 10pm equaled gym time. I knew it was coming. I knew I needed to change, pack my gym bag, and fill my water bottle by 9:45 to arrive on time. I never wondered if or when I'd go. Set your own non-negotiable “gym time” for whatever you want to do consistently. Put it in your calendar. Set a reminder. Follow the schedule.
Each individual repetition varies in difficulty depending on the day. Intermediate deadlines come and go, sprinkling in motivation or stress to spice things up. But thinking through the foundations I've built via a slow-and-steady approach granted me peace. A summer → fall transition approaches...no drastic pivots necessary.