If there’s one piece of advice that I could offer any aspiring creative, it’s this. Develop a habit of consistently doing something. It doesn’t matter what it is, how small or how big it is.
- It can be as simple as going for a walk or meditating for 2 minutes.
- It can be as hardcore as writing 1000 words a day or going for a 5-mile run.
The power of consistency is profound and underrated. It can help you overcome a lack of natural talent, and allow you to focus on the process instead of the prize.
If you can learn to do something consistently, you’ll tap into a much greater superpower than the habit itself: the belief that you’re completely capable of changing your behavior.
Once you’re capable of changing your behavior, you’ll be capable of making massive changes because little things done repeatedly lead to big changes in our lives.
1. Inconsistency Squanders Your Creative Potential
There are few things that will kill your confidence and your ability to succeed in a creative career or any creative endeavor for that matter, like inconsistency. I’ve seen incredibly talented people amount to a fraction of what they’re capable of solely because they are so inconsistent with what they do. They start something new frequently, but never actually finish anything.
A few years ago a friend of mine who is a highly paid corporate employee told me about his plans to start a business. He already had clients lined up waiting to actually pay him. In the years since, he mentioned this business to me. He’s spent a year attempting to design a website, setup an email address and design a business card. Given his salary, he could have easily hired someone to do this. The only thing he hasn’t done is start the business.
On the flip side, I have a friend who was in high school band with me. His first two entrepreneurial ventures failed miserably. So he got a job at a startup. The startup hired a full-time life coach to motivate and inspire employees. He told the coach that he wanted to help small businesses with data and analytics. He had no clients waiting to pay him. He contacted me and asked if he could show us what he had in mind using our podcast download data. 24 hours after we gave him access, he delivered an in-depth detailed dashboard. I was blown away by it. When I called him, he simply said: “I don’t fj@# around.”
So what’s the difference between these two friends of mine? The second one is in the habit of consistently trying even if it means failing a few times. It’s almost impossible for people to take you seriously if you’re inconsistent.
On the flip side, the pattern I’ve noticed over and over in people who have successful creative careers is consistency.
If you create media, the sustained attention of an audience requires consistency. Think about your favorite TV shows. If they aired on different times and days every month, you’d never form the habit of watching the show. If you want to benefit from exercise or learn a new skill it requires consistency.
- By the time Ryan Holiday submits a manuscript for one book, he’s usually submitted a proposal and sold the next one. Consistency has enabled him to write 3 books in 3 years.
- Seth Godin has published a blog post every day for more than 10 years. The results of his consistency speak for themselves.
- We release new episodes of the Unmistakable Creative every Monday and Wednesday and we have for more than 5 years. Barring a natural disaster, World War 3, or my death, there’s always an episode.
Doing a little consistently is always going to be more effective than doing a lot inconsistently. And this holds true across any positive behavior or goal we’re attempting to achieve.
Now let’s talk about why consistency is so powerful.
1. Consistency Creates Momentum
If you ask me how to write a book, it’s simple but not easy. Write a little bit every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s bad or good. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the mood, feeling inspired or having a bad day. What matters ultimately is that you’re in the habit of showing up and trying.
Momentum is based on the idea that an object in motion stays in motion.
- This is why it’s more effective to write 200 words every day than it is to write 1000 words once a week
- This is why we’re better off practicing an instrument for 15 minutes every day than we are an hour once a week.
When we’re consistent with anything that we do, we stay in motion. When we stay in motion we gather momentum, which is the lifeblood of any startup or creative endeavor.
2. Consistency Increases Your Willpower
I eat the same breakfast every single day: bulletproof coffee, eggs, and bacon. I do this because the first three hours of my day are the most valuable to me. I don’t want to waste my willpower figuring out what I want to eat for breakfast. Whether it’s eating the same breakfast, a daily ritual or keystone habit, having something that you do every single day actually reduces decision fatigue and increases your willpower.
3. Consistency Helps Turn Habits into a Part of Your Identity
I never have to put “write 1000 words” down on my to-do list or calendar, even though I do make it a point to block out writing time each morning. Because I’ve done it so much, it’s a part of my identity. This is what James Clear refers to as identity-based habit formation. Whatever you’re doing goes from being an item on your to-do list to a part of who you are.
4. Consistency Amplifies Skill Level
When I surf or snowboard for multiple days in a row, my skill level appears to increase almost exponentially. By the last day I’m taking risks that I wouldn’t have taken before, making waves I would have missed, and flying down parts of the mountain that I would have hesitated on just a few days prior. When we do something consistently, the process of myelination occurs.
“When we go through some struggle to learn a new instrument, learn a new language, learn a new behavior, we then forge a new neural pathway. The more we work on that new behavior and move through discomfort, the myelination process occurs. Think about an electrical wire that has a coating on it. Myelin takes that new behavior and neural pathway and takes it from dial-up to broadband”- Christine Comaford
The result is a significant increase in your skill level. With consistency, we move from a place of conscious incompetence to unconscious competence.
5. The Myth of Superhuman Discipline
One of the misperceptions we have about people who write about productivity and habits is that they have super human discipline. But this is far from true. As my friend Ben Austin says, we tend to write about these things precisely because we struggle with them. The truth is that almost nobody has superhuman discipline. Despite how much I value deep work and getting shit done, there are days when I screw up and waste my day checking email, facebook, and twitter. The discipline to do something on a consistent basis is a learned skill. It’s a lifelong work in progress that that requires constant iteration and experimentation.
Many of the bloggers that started their blogs when I did are no longer around. Some of them had a great deal of natural writing talent. The reason they’re not around or relevant anymore is simple: They were inconsistent with their efforts and never finished what they started. If there’s anything I attribute to my most significant creative accomplishments, it’s a pattern of consistency.
Look back on hundreds of interviews I’ve conducted, and countless conversations, if there’s one thing that sets apart peak performers from everyone else, it’s consistency.
If you want to change your life, start by changing your behavior, and make the new behavior something you follow through on consistently.
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