A while ago, I had a few colleagues take me aside as we exited the locker room, after we’d each been on our own lunchtime run. “You’ve gotten in really good shape, they said, how did you do it?”
I could feel the anticipation fill the air. What secret was I going to impart upon them? What mysterious, still-unknown-to-them product was I going to recommend?
I wasn’t terribly surprised to see their expectant faces drop and their eyes glaze over as I answered: “Nothing special. I’ve been consistently strength training 3-4 times a week for several months, and making sure I’m getting enough protein and enough sleep.”
Total letdown, right?
We are so attached to end results. We want things and we want them now. Not in a few weeks and certainly not in a few months. In a few years? You have got to be kidding me!
In a society where patience is far from being glorified and where we’re more often than not looking for quick-fix solutions—Can you just fix me so whatever issue I’m dealing with will disappear? Kthxbye!—talk of consistency isn’t what’s most… appealing.
Consistency doesn’t sell much. It’s definitely not flashy.
And if you tell me that you disagree, because your social media feeds are full of pictures of extremely fit people using the #consistency hashtag (probably alongside #fitspo and #noexcuses) to promote their restrictive dietary habits and punitive workouts, allow me to let you in on a little secret:
That’s not consistency. That’s obsession. That’s a one-way ticket to a painful crash and burn.
And before I delve into what I believe is a better definition, or at least appraisal of what consistency is, I want to go further into what it isn’t.
The consistency I’m talking about isn’t a life overhaul. At least, not in the beginning.
It’s not magic either. And it certainly is NOT about being miserable, or about relying on your willpower at all times to white-knuckle yourself through whichever activity, behaviour or desired habit you’re hoping to become consistent about.
And here’s more: if you tie your self-worth, your feeling of being good enough, to your consistency in anything, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Strength training on a regular basis—since that’s the example we started with—doesn’t make one a more virtuous individual. Just as not working out doesn’t hold the power to make one a bad person.
Whichever you’re trying to become consistent about, if you keep thinking “This is the worst!” the whole time, there’s very little chance it’ll stick.
Why would we, deep down, want to do—lest implement as a habit!—something that we think is horrible?
When we sabotage ourselves with negative self-talk, it’s unlikely that we can adapt to something new. If every cell of our body is screaming “I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS!”, it will have an influence, whether we accept it or not.
And this is why we have to be wise about it. If we’ve tied up our self-worth to our attempts to be consistent with new habits and these are a constant struggle, the only thing that we end up doing consistently is berating ourselves for not succeeding in going along with our plans. Thus, we’re unwittingly creating an adverse habit: beating ourselves up.
So we’ve established that consistency isn’t about being good or bad. And that if we try to apply it to things that we fundamentally detest, it can backfire on us.
You know what else consistency isn’t about? It’s not about win or lose.
Frankly, it’s not even about focusing on a future goal so much. It’s about now; it’s about doing the work as it is, where you stand, and falling in love with the process.
And I think that’s where things become interesting: consistency is about creating space for ease.
This is why I’m not talking about dramatic life changes. Upending one’s entire lifestyle is unlikely to stick if we go from zero to a hundred without any reliable transistion space. And this is where consistency comes in, in all of its discreet, demure glory.
It’s when consistency is applied to these little day-to-day gestures and practices that it thrives: the breathing breaks, the extra vegetables, the additional sleep, the words of gratitude, the increased movement, the kind gestures.
By doing something deliberately, over and over, we get to groove patterns that lead to habits. It’s up to us to discern if these habits serve us or not.
Consistency is very much linked to the idea of practice—a practice can’t be a practice if you can’t do it consistently. Whatever it is—movement, writing, gratitude, meditation, cooking—consistency can lead us to doing things with a little less struggle.
So practicing consistency doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily effortless. Frequently, there is a measure of discomfort involved. But discomfort is not struggle; discomfort can lead to growth, but too much struggle only leads to suffering.
The ability to apply consistency to an area of our choosing, unlike one that is unconsciously imposed on us, can translate into other areas. We can actually get better at consistency, get the hang of it, if you will, and we can start to open up to the possibilities awaiting us.
Consistency may not be sexy, but it’s what makes us who we are. It’s what we do day in and day out, whether we are aware of it or not. We can use its quiet powers to bring ourselves down—be it consciously or unconsciously—or we can use that consistency to carve out space. Space for less struggle and more ease.
Which one do you choose?
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