My 2019 theme is Consistent.
Now that we are halfway through the year, I’ve learned a lot about being consistent, mostly through observation and outright failures.
As humans, it takes consistency and repetition for something to stick. We have to keep showing up, repeating the same habits, practicing the presentation, saying no when the distraction trigger arises.
Why is being consistent so hard?
How well do you remember things? How often do important things slip through the cracks?
This is where most of us fail at being consistent. We expect that if we think of something and we want it very badly, like a new habit or skill, that we will show up for it automatically.
We’re setting ourselves up to fail by asking ourselves to be consistent by memory alone.
Being consistent depends on the clarity of your vision – and your plan to accomplish it. You cannot just *want* it.
We tend to think that willpower alone can get us where we want to go. But if we aren’t doing something consistently yet, then it’s going to take a little (or a lot) of work to make it a part of our everyday lives. That’s just logical. New things require you to make space for them.
This process takes work and focus, so we need to set up support and goalposts along the way.
- Clear definition of the goal. If you want to start reading more consistently, what does that mean to you? A book a month? 10 minutes of reading per day? You can only know when you’ve succeeded if you know exactly what you want to achieve.
- Accountability. How will you remember to do this new habit? What if you keep not having time or energy for it? Who or what will push you to reset or refocus?
- Realistic commitment. How much time do you really have in your life for this new habit? What will have to give in order to make room?
- Room for error. Creating a new habit is hard, and you will mess up. Don’t set a goal so huge that you have no wiggle room in the early stages.
- Repetition and reminders. Set up systems that will help you get in the new routine. For example, if reading every day isn’t currently part of your life, you might need to set a reminder on your phone to read every night before bed.
- Milestones for review. Be prepared to check in on your progress. Plan ahead for some times when you’ll assess how things are going — maybe 1 month in, then 3 months, then 6 months. This is how you’ll see where you’re slipping up so that you can make corrections in the system — as well as where you’re succeeding.
Yes, there is a lot of setup involved if you want to succeed. You can’t simply wish your new habit into existence.
To be consistent, you must set up your life to accommodate your goals
Having a beautifully outlined goal and plan will not create consistency for you.
You’re far more likely to show up and complete the task when you have a plan, rather than if you were just winging it and hoping for the best.
For most of us, the point of being consistent is to gain momentum in some area of our lives. In continuing to show up for that task, it gets a little bit easier every time, which is what begins to propel us forward in the direction we want to go in.
Small investments of time and effort every day add up like compound interest.
We all know how this feels. When you’re brand new at something, every little part of it can feel so hard. But if we stick with it, suddenly it’s a little easier to keep going. And one day, it’s not just easy, but it’s almost second nature and we’re looking around for a new challenge to level up our skills even more.
How can you make getting to that sweet spot even easier?
Gaining and maintaining momentum requires a lack of decision-making when it’s time to act
The easiest way to speed up the gaining of momentum through consistent activity is to remove decision-making in the moment.
You may have read our previous post about setting yourself up for success, where we discuss how making decisions like what to wear, what to eat, what time to wake up, and what to do in advance is a great way to save your decision-making power for the really important tasks that demand your energy throughout the day.
On your journey to becoming more consistent, experiment with removing decision-making from the act of your consistent activities.
For example, if you want to start eating healthier on a consistent basis, don’t try to figure out what you’re going to have for dinner every night once you’ve gotten home from work. Instead, start planning your meals for the week in advance.
Pick a day to plan and a day to shop, and think in advance about contingencies.
If you know you’re usually tired at dinnertime, prep meals that just need to go in the microwave and don’t require any additional steps. If you always crave something sweet after a meal, shop for fresh fruit and other healthy sweet options so that you aren’t grabbing a chocolate bar.
Or let’s say you want to read more, so you download a book onto your Kindle. That’s great — except, what if there’s a day where you forget your Kindle at home? Or it runs out of power?
To prepare for this in advance, download the Kindle app onto your phone so you have a backup version of any Kindle books you’ve purchased. Or get a hard copy from the library to keep at home, and then use your phone or Kindle for reading on the go.
Think about all the ways the plan could go wrong, and remove the places where you could possibly be forced to make a decision in the moment.
You want it to be easy to do the right thing. The key is to set yourself up for success.
For other ventures in consistency, like establishing a morning routine or being more consistent about sending follow-ups to people you meet with, attach a trigger that sparks your process, making it easy for you to remember what you want to do.
Try one of these activity triggers:
- Set a recurring alarm in your phone with the title prompting you to complete an activity.
- Establish set parameters. For example: “after every networking event, I will sit in my car and quickly compile people’s contact info into a list that I can have ready to send out a batch of followup emails during my lunch break the next day”.
- Determine a set environment. Whenever you’re in that specific location, you complete your new habit or task.
- Designate an outfit for your activity so when you put it on, you associate the mindset of consistency with the activity you’re about to complete.
- Choose a playlist or sound or other sensory trigger that signifies its time to implement your new habitual activity.
Keep track of your progress for the first 90 days in your planner or in your phone. This might feel like overkill, but it is by giving serious attention to your commitments that they actually get done.
Make this part of the process easy too! Pick a specific notebook or app where you’ll record your notes. Pick a time of day that you’ll make your notes every day. Decide what you want to record — is it your feelings, some metrics, etc? Make it so that all you’re doing is just filling in the blanks at the set time every day, not trying to be creative or re-invent the wheel.
And wherever you decide to record your process or your progress, write down your “why” for the consistent activity so you can revisit it each day. This reminder might matter more than you think.
It’s tempting to simply think, “I want to be more consistent at ____” and think that will get you going in the right direction. But, the only way to build consistency is to move forward with a clear plan and a purpose for action.
Being consistent could be one of the most valuable traits we can cultivate in ourselves. It will make you more valuable at work, and it will help you accomplish more of the things you want to get out of life.
By cultivating a nature of consistency through practice and accomplishment, you’re strengthening the muscle of doing. Each time you try something new in the future, showing up will be easier and the setup process more streamlined.
Reminder: Try not to expect more of yourself than you can manage: it’s just as important to learn and define your limits as it is to explore your limitless potential. As you move forward and pursue being more consistent, take on only one project at a time and give it your full attention. Your schedule and your sanity will thank you for it.