“Keep Doing What You’re Doing” Is Very Underrated Advice Right Now
Much of the life advice and self-help advice I see across the Internet requires very drastic changes to your life. Waking up at 5 a.m. every day is one example. Other advice includes drastically changing your diet or developing a morning routine where you meditate, go to the gym, do yoga, and make a healthy breakfast (who has that much time in the morning anyway?)
However, I receive feedback all the time from my administrators as a special education teacher that goes against the tide of self-help advice. They give me feedback on how I can improve as an instructor, but they tell me one thing above all else: keep doing what you’re doing.
It’s advice I follow not only as a teacher, but as a Boston Marathon qualified distance runner who wants to get in the best shape of his life. Here’s why.
It’s a difficult time right now
To say we live in stressful times is a bit of an understatement. While more people are getting vaccinated, we are still living in the middle of a pandemic. Yesterday, 1,306 people died from COVID-19 in the U.S., and that’s a good day relative to the days we had 4,000 deaths in January.
If you’re anything like me, during the pandemic, you’ve chased all sorts of things to keep yourself busy, distracted, and feeling productive. We feel like we should be taking advantage of the extra time this disruption to our normal every day lives gives. It feels guilty not to be improving on every aspect of our lives, like learning to cook better, reading several books a week, and optimizing our daily routine.
The fact is trying to change your life is exhausting, and much of the dramatic advice isn’t even sustainable. How will you wake up at 5 a.m. every day if you’re just crawling out of bed 10 minutes before work starts? And if you shock your body to do so one day, how will you do it the next, and then the next?
Sometimes, just doing what you did yesterday and doing the same thing every day helps you naturally improve. Sometimes, just being able to survive and make it through the day is the best we can do. Especially in a traumatic time like now, it’s important to acknowledge at the end of the day that we gave every day everything we could, and that tomorrow is a new day.
Lessons from my classroom
“Keep doing what you’re doing” may sound like a recipe for complacency, but I would argue it’s not. In a classroom, it’s a recipe for disaster to try to change your classroom routine drastically while trying to improve it. You need time and consistency for routines like incentives to become part of the classroom culture.
In the virtual setting, students need time to get used to a certain platform, so most of the time, it’s better to stay with what students are familiar with. It isn’t that you shouldn’t try to improve as a teacher, but improving by one percent every day is much more sustainable than trying to be a completely different person overnight.
For my first teaching evaluation this year, I had to make a philosophical choice: do I make a show of what I thought my bosses wanted to see, or do I teach like I do every day? Last year, my choice was the former. I felt like I had to because my classroom was a mess, I couldn’t manage my classroom, and I felt like an absolute failure. Of course, I had to put on a show, right? And I did. In education, we call it the “dog and pony show” as if the teacher is on a stage, putting on a performance to look good and impress someone. My evaluation scores averaged at the developing level, a 2/4 on the evaluation scale.
This school year, however, I didn’t put on a dog and pony show. I did what I did every single day, and pulled no surprises on my kids. Of course, my boss was going to find areas where I could improve — that’s his job! But I did what I did every day and what felt natural, and scored a highly effective, or top score on my teaching evaluation for the first time in my career.
The lesson from my teaching evaluation to “do what I do every day” led me to not make a New Year’s Resolution in 2021, for the first time in my life. It’s not like I’m not trying to improve as a person and in many respects of my life, but any kind of improvement requires building on the practices you already have in place, instead of trying to tear your whole system down and start anew.
Lessons as a runner
Improvement in running does not require sudden change. Instead, improvement requires gradual effort and consistency, with no sudden or drastic changes in training.
Recently, I’ve seen most things in life as an allegory for running. As a long-distance runner who ran cross country and track in college, the worst thing you can do is drastically change up your routine and training, especially if what you’re doing is working well. On the day of a race, trying to change up your diet or the amount of water you drink every day can lead to disaster. Yes, that means if you have pizza and burgers every day, it’s better to keep your diet consistent before race day.
Jonathan Beverly, the author of Run Strong, Stay Hungry, studied 50 lifetime runners, from American elite runners to local competitors. He found the most important part of being a runner is consistency, and research shows the most reliable predictor of performance was the amount of training done consistently over the past five years.
The other day, I ran a casual half marathon on a tempo run in 77 minutes and 14 seconds, which is the best I’ve run since college. I did it by myself, running a hilly loop in a park I live next to. I was ecstatic — it’s the best I’ve run since college, and I’m finally in shape again.
But getting back in shape to where I could run 13.1 miles at 5:54 mile pace did not come overnight. I got a GPS watch in December of 2020 and started logging all my runs on Strava, and my training since then is shown here:
Consistency as a runner requires making time for running, but also more intangible things like staying healthy and avoiding setbacks. Every runner can tell you how terrible a run feels after a long hiatus. Personally, my knees ache. My stomach starts cramping. I know I’m not running fast, but it feels like I’m a novice runner all over again.
The 10% rule in running dictates you should never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% your previous week. For me, I have a very busy schedule juggling a plethora of responsibilities. I try to just run 10k a day instead of running longer, 20 mile runs right now as part of a fitness challenge, but it’s what I’ve been doing for a while. As you can see, the chart shows almost three consecutive months of running anywhere between 45 to 56 miles a week (we’ve been hit by a lot of snow recently).
Going forward, I’m going to get more serious about marathon training. I’ll start following the 10% rule to build up to 70 miles a week soon and hopefully get into marathon shape. But that’s contingent on me still doing what I’m doing, and only building slightly on that mileage every week.
A quick Google search of “keep doing what you’re doing” yields negative results. It’s a sign of complacency. It’s a sign of bosses who don’t give you genuine feedback.
“If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting,” Stephen Covey once said.
Yes, there are certain times where you have to tear everything down and start fresh.
But I want to make it clear that my bosses do give me constructive feedback on how I can improve my virtual classroom, like engaging more students instead of relying on two or three superstars and setting roles for Zoom breakout rooms.
However, sustainable improvement, most of the time, requires slight changes, not drastic, “change your life” kind of advice. And honestly, if we’re alive, healthy, with food on our plates and a roof above our heads, and we can live that way every day, that’s an accomplishment in itself, and we should do whatever we can to help those without those basic privileges.
So I want to offer advice that may be unconventional or counterintuitive, but just might be what you need to hear right now: keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re anything like me, your greatest enemy might be yourself. You overthink. You get in your own way. When things go wrong, you think about what’s so wrong with you that a situation did go wrong. Those tendencies might be exacerbated especially in a time like now, just past the peak of the pandemic.
But wherever you are in life, no matter who you are, there’s probably a lot you’re doing right as well. There’s probably a lot you’ve accomplished. Build and get better slightly every day, but keep doing what you’re doing because you probably won’t get to the ideal place you want to be overnight.