Why Consistency is a Productivity Super Power
Consistency is the foundation of any successful lifelong pursuit.
Do it again and again. Consistency makes the rain drops to create holes in the rock. Whatever is difficult can be done easily with regular attendance, attention and action.
— Israelmore Ayivor, The Great Hand Book of Quotes
When I was in high school, I decided to try out for the track team. I’d always loved to run but I’d never pursued it in a meaningful way. With this goal in mind, I began to jog the shady loop around my neighborhood, the same path our annual Butterfly Run 5k used — 3.1 miles from start to finish.
I had next to no fitness skill as a fifteen-year-old. I’d spent most of the last few years parked in front of a computer screen, reading and writing Harry Potter fanfiction and hiding from my family. But something pushed me, that first day. I didn’t even had a good pair of sneakers — just a busted pair of Nike Air’s that my mom had gotten at a thrift store years earlier — but I laced them up anyway and out I went, through the door.
The first day, I could barely make it the first quarter-mile up to the four-way stop before I had to stop and walk. But I persisted, walking and running the whole 3.1 miles.
I did that every day for two weeks.
I don’t know where the motivation came from. I wasn’t worried about motivation: I was worried about consistency. For the first time in my life, I was determined to be consistent in my physical fitness. I wanted to run fast, just like I’d always dreamed.
And so I ran. I ran every moment I was able and rested — and even some moments when I was not.
Two years later, I became the captain of my high school’s cross country team and set our school’s record for the 5k.
I learned a very important lesson then: consistency is the foundation of any successful, lifelong pursuit.
What is Consistency?
I’ll be honest — I’ve never been the most consistent person.
It’s hard for me to persist in something once it becomes boring. It takes grit and determination and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to develop those two things, but I’m also prone to distraction and making excuses when I’m bored.
But once I get started with something I have a passion for, something that truly excites me and fills my soul, I will never give up. I may not work on my skills every single day of my life, but I’m consistent even through the hard periods.
I don’t give in to the voices in my head telling me that it’s not worth it. If it was up to those lazy voices I’d do nothing but sit on the couch and watch The Office all day taking dabs, which won’t really get me anywhere.
So I try to listen to my true inner voice instead. The one that wants to achieve long-term goals and create a comfortable future.
That, to me, is the fundamental of consistency: Yes, it’s important to work on the skills you mean to amplify and grow on a consistent basis — but even more important than that is not allowing setbacks and failures to send you back to square one.
It’s being consistent even through periods of inconsistency and lack of motivation, being determined to get back on track even if you’ve messed up. It’s pushing through the rough periods.
We live fast-paced, instant gratification culture that is focused on achievement, not on goal/self-oriented behavior and it can be hard to handle the amount of pressure that society puts on us to BE SUCCESSFUL NOW.
We think if we haven’t achieved our goals in a week or maybe a month, they’re not worth it.
We think if we’ve given up once, there’s no point in trying again.
What this culture neglects in our search for the shiniest, newest thing is what is the most important in consistency — being on the Struggle Bus.
It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to have off days — give yourself permission to always show up, no matter your attitude, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t enjoy the struggle. Making an effort is more important than your emotional state. Even if you don’t do your best work, at least keep coming back.
Being consistent is not easy. But it sure as hell is worth the costs.
How Do I Build Consistency?
Like anything worth doing, consistency takes practice.
Let’s look at an example: Say you made a commitment to yourself to go the gym five days a week. Showing up is half the battle and you’re determined to get a routine going for yourself.
You do well for a few days, building momentum and working up a sweat.
Friday rolls around. You had a bad day at work and you’re ready for the relaxation that the weekend holds. Just one gym trip and you’ll be done for the week, ready to bask in the glow of not working for forty-eight full hours.
But then your coworker asks if you want to go out for drinks with the rest of the crew. The idea of blowing off some steam with your fellow wage-slaves holds an allure that the drudgery of working out cannot.
So you must make a choice: gym or drinks?
Let’s look at what both options hold.
Option A: Go to the gym and turn down your coworkers. Perhaps you can reschedule for tomorrow with them. This reinforces in your mind that consistency is your priority, not just social enjoyment. There’s nothing wrong with going out with friends, but not when it interfere with your goals and demotivates you.
Option B: Go out for drinks with your coworkers. Tell yourself you’ll go to the gym tomorrow. If you’re anything like me, you won’t go to the gym the next day, or the next. You’ll break your momentum and it’ll be that much harder to pick it back up. Better to give up entirely than to keep failing, right?
Option A is who we all want to be: the person whose goals matter more to them than any other pursuit.
Option B is who most of us are: active in pursuit of our goals until we get tired or something comes up.
Here’s a little bit of harsh truth: “Something came up” is an excuse. It’s a reason not to get things done. And not a good one, unless that something was an extreme emergency that cannot be avoided. How can you build momentum when you’ve made nothing but excuses?
Think about it logically: the more time you spend doing something, the better you get at it. How can you hope to improve if you don’t put in the time and effort?
The best method to begin building momentum is to start off small.
You have roughly eighteen hours a day of waking time. Let’s say eight of those hours are spent working, one hour commuting, one hour taking care of your bodily needs (food, bathroom) and two hours of leisure time.
That leaves six hours of your day that you have to accomplish things. A rough estimate, yes, and the number will indeed be lower if you have children, but the point is the same.
There is no reason you can say “I don’t have time,” for your goals. All you need to start out is ten minutes a day.
I hate meditation. I know it’s good for my mind and my anxiety, but I hate the act of it. It’s hard for me to consistently meditate, even if I feel better after I do. So I’ve started small. Ten minutes a day. Every single day.
Lately, I’ve been feeling like ten minutes is not “enough” anymore. I want to meditate more, even if I hate doing it. It’s a strange paradox: I hate it, but I want to meditate more.
You’ll find something interesting about starting small: eventually, that small start will turn into something larger, without you intending it. Once ten minutes feels good, try fifteen minutes. Then twenty.
If you lose momentum and miss a day? Start right back at ten minutes the next day.
Even if you only level up by .01% every single day, you’ll see a net increase in your skill level.
A running motto I’ve always loved: no matter how slow you go, you’re still lapping everyone on the couch.
It’s not about motivation — it’s about persistence.
What About Burnout?
I’m going to say this right now: burnout is bullshit. It’s just another excuse.
There’s been a lot of talk on the Internet about how to avoid burnout but it all boils down to this for me — if you’re taking care of yourself, you won’t get burnt out.
I know our culture doesn’t encourage us to go slow or to wade into things. Instant gratification is an immediate process, so we expect growth to fit that perspective.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it usually works.
Growth is a slow process.
It doesn’t follow a linear path — two steps forward, one step back. Consistency is a way to amp up your growth in certain areas, but it should not take so much time and energy that you become burnt out and cannot even get your ten minutes a day in.
Burnout is a symptom of overscheduling. It’s a way of convincing yourself you’re working hard, when in reality all you’re doing is reinforcing the toxic idea that you must be productive every single moment of the day. That is not healthy. What’s healthy is taking care of yourself so that you can achieve your goals. What’s healthy is making yourself a priority, not a secondary concern to your goals.
You must harmonize with yourself. Go at your own pace. Slow and steady wins the race — go too fast and you will get tired before you reach the fruits of your labors.
My advice for burnout? Go slower. Go as slow as you are able. And build from there.
But don’t give up. Remember that .01%? It builds every day.
Writing this article has been difficult for me — it’s been sitting in my drafts for weeks, an outline waiting to become a fully-fledged story. But in my own goal of consistency, I am here, typing out the words.
I see so many of my peers struggling every day with everything from mental illness to financial issues and it’s easy for those mundane life problems to get in the way of the things we want to achieve. I’ve been stuck in this trap for years, waiting for my life circumstances to change so that I can finally go after what I want.
But I’m done with that. I’m done waiting for something to change.
It’s time for us to change ourselves. How do we do that? We start small. We build momentum. We persist, every single day. We make the choice to put our goals first. And when we mess up, we get right back on the horse the next day.
One day, we’ll achieve greatness. Even if it takes us all decades, we’ll get there.
All it takes is strength, willpower, and a long, long ride on the Struggle Bus.