Why being constant matters in life

Image credits: Aaron Benson / Unsplash

The other day I got reminded of how much constancy matters while reading this scene from the movie Gattaca:

All throughout their lives, Vincent and Anton have had this competition. Every time, Vincent was the one to turn around first and swim back to shore. However, at the end of the movie, Vincent is changed. One last time, the brothers step into the water and begin swimming.
Eventually, Anton cries out, “Vincent! Vincent! Where’s the shore? We’re too far out.”
“You want to quit?” Vincent asks.
“We’re too far out!” Anton yells.
“You want to quit?” Vincent repeats.
Pausing and considering his safety, Anton pridefully yells, “No!”
So they keep swimming, further and further out.
Eventually, Anton pauses and calls out, “Vincent! How are you doing this? 
Vincent, how have you done any of this? We have to go back.”
“No, it’s too late for that. We are closer to the other side,” Vincent responds.
“What other side? Do you want to drown us both?” Anton says in frustration.
“You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back,” Vincent said resolutely.
Terrified, Anton turns around and desperately begins swimming back to the shore. Eventually, Anton begins to drown, and Vincent saves him and pulls him back to shore, swimming on his back and looking up into the sky.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with my younger brother some years ago. Me and my little brother are very close. We have a great relationship, but we’re also very different. One day we were talking about his future, and he became pensive, looked at me and said:

Alex, you see, you have something I will never have. You have an incredible capacity to be constant. You might not be as intelligent as I am, but your constancy is the one thing that surpasses any intelligence I have.
I might be able to grasp something faster than you do, but on the long run, you’re capable of not only understanding it but expanding on it way beyond what I can sustain.

Being constant has always come naturally to me. I always understood my limitations. I was never the best at numbers, or at anything for that matter. The one thing I knew I was good at, was at being stubborn and constant about pushing through.

Not long ago, I was watching my twins play, and it hit me how much one of them reminded me of myself. Both were playing at jumping from a small ledge, but their way of approaching it was very different.

One would stare at his brother, observing. He’ll spend a while like that until something clicked and he’ll go and do it himself. He got it right on the first try.

The other one was nothing like that. He would climb the ledge, and jump, crash into the floor. Pause, make sure he was ok. Stood up again, run to the ledge, climb and jump again. Rinse and repeat.

At first, what surprised me was how stupid it was. If he only looked at his brother and watched how he did it, he wouldn’t crash so often. But after a while, I started to see a pattern emerge.

It impressed me how constant he was. How driven he was and how failure didn’t even register. He wanted to jump, and that was the only thing that matter. It was scary how intense he was.

It made me think of what my brother had told me so many years ago and how much it impressed him. Now, from the outside, I could understand why.

Inconsistency creates doubt, fear, and silence.

This constancy leaks into all aspects of life. It’s not just related to yourself, but also to how you interact with others. There needs to be a certain constancy to our relationships. We need to be able to count on the other person. To know they’re there. Inconsistency creates doubt, fear, and silence.

This quote from Ursula K. Le Guin illustrates it perfectly:

Any two things that oscillate at about the same interval, if they’re physically near each other, will gradually tend to lock in and pulse at exactly the same interval. Things are lazy. It takes less energy to pulse cooperatively than to pulse in opposition. Physicists call this beautiful, economical laziness mutual phase locking, or entrainment.

Constancy creates oscillations. Constancy ensures similar intervals. Which in turn allow us to sync in phase with other human beings around us.

Oscillating out of sync, to “pulse in opposition” takes more energy and it goes against the most basic rule in nature, the path of least resistance.

In a way, investing energy on keeping in sync with someone that’s out of phase is expensive. It eventually consumes so much that it prevents both from being happy.

Some things take time, and constancy and patience are two chief virtues that take you there. It’s hard. I won’t lie, some people like myself or one of my kids, have it easier than others. We’re built for that; it comes naturally to us.

Being constant alone isn’t enough to achieve your goals, it’s more of an enabler.

But I’ve also worked it. It’s like a muscle; you need to exercise it to make it stronger. Practicing certain activities help you achieve better constancy in your life. Training in martial arts, Zen, Yoga, and similar long-term disciplines make a significant impact. They force you to enable constant effort, and this ends up rubbing on your day to day activities.

Being able to use constancy to your benefit, though, requires some understanding. Being constant alone isn’t enough to achieve your goals, it’s more of an enabler. For it to work to your advantage, you need to break down the goal into smaller pieces.

It helps you acquire a deeper understanding of things, even if it takes longer than the average.

It’s not about going for a big goal and pursuing it like mad. It’s about understanding that to achieve that goal; you need small wins in the process. Constancy allows you to keep on track as long as we try to achieve smaller goals. It’s what makes you push forward and challenge yourself.

In the end, being constant helps you grow as a person. It helps you acquire a deeper understanding of things, even if it takes longer than the average. On the long term, it translates into wisdom.

Failure isn’t something we suffer through, but something we embrace since childhood.

Those that are constant might look stupid. We might look like we’re always trying and failing. For us, though, trying and failing isn’t something inherently bad. It’s part of our learning process. We are one with the process; it feels good and natural. Failure isn’t something we suffer through, but something we embrace since childhood.

Let yourself try, experiment and fail. Try again. Get up. Pick yourself and try again, and again, and again. The one thing that we can’t avoid is death, everything else, it’s a matter of trying and finding the way it works for you.