Most people need consistency more than they need intensity. — James Clear, author of Atomic Habits
Too often we’re bombarded with glamorised one-hit wonders and ‘overnight’ successes — the uber-intelligent college dropout who founded a unicorn startup, the before and after photos of an influencer’s toned physique, or the prince charming who sweeps the unexpecting lead off her feet.
What we forget is that these happily ever after snapshots are static — and not the ultimate endpoint. According to bestselling author Simon Sinek’s ‘The Infinite Game’, everything in life can be categorised as either finite or infinite. Finite goals have an endpoint with a win or loss result. Finite goals include things such as running a marathon or writing a book. There are clearly defined starts and endpoints.
Infinite goals or games, on the other hand, don’t have defined rules, specific timeframes, and can’t be ‘won’. Infinite games include things like maintaining one’s fitness, relationships, and personal growth. It’s a never-ending pursuit, requiring consistency overtime to ensure we can attain and maintain them.
So what are some of these infinite areas in life, and why does consistency always triumph intensity when it comes to our success? (including killer abs too of course).
Consistency in Health: Extending your time in tension
Commencing a 12-week challenge, marathon, or Tough Mudder is a great way to kickstart your health. While these activities have high intensity and may benefit your health for a specific period of time, their effects are temporary unless maintained.
Having a healthy, active lifestyle is an infinite pursuit that requires consistency. If we look at two common health goals, weight loss and gaining lean muscle, both require consistency to be achieved. Without getting too scientific, the first tends to require a calorie deficit and physical activity over time ie. the energy that we consume is less than the energy we expend, and the latter requires a combination of increased repetitions (how often) and a gradual increase of weight (how much) to increase time under tension (or muscle fatigue). Note the key here for both of these is over time.
Even once we achieve these goals, we need to maintain our workouts, not necessarily to lose more weight or gain more muscle, but to keep what we’ve already got.
Despite rain dancing to the fitness gods for a silver-bullet perfect pill, most of us know that you can’t work out once for 4 hours, or squat 100kg (220lbs) once to make gains. Fitness is a long game that spans over our lifetime.
Aside from exercise, the same principle applies to food. While you may shed some kgs by fasting for a few days, the positives or eating well on a consistent basis are much better for your cardiovascular health and cancer risk beyond starving yourself.
During this year’s ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I noticed a surge in the fitness movement, particularly on platforms like YouTube. While I appreciated the additional time to focus on my health and consistency in my workouts, I did come across some startling things. Kpop diets such as singers IU’s “One apple, a sweet potato and a protein shake a day” diet or BTS’ Jimin’s “Fast for 9 days and have a meal on the 10th” diets floated around on the interweb. These diets can show results in the short term (finite and intense), but have detrimental effects on your health in the long run and aren’t recommended.
How I find consistency in health:
- Set reasonable expectations for your routine. When just starting out again after a break, I started slow and increased my active days as I got stronger (and in some cases, my motivation loop increased as I worked out more). I determine other ways to stay active should I ‘miss’ a workout.
Key takeaway: Start slow, and gradually build up. The key is to keep trying. Know that inevitably stuff happens, so don’t be too hard on yourself. (I’ve found workout buddies help with this a lot).
- Make a plan. This sounds simple but really helps with the first point. Planning your workouts, how often, what type, and how you’re going to gradually increase your reps and/or weight really helps keep you on track. The same goes for your food. The more you plan in advance, the less decision making power you have to exert, and therefore are less likely to make poor choices.
Tip: Start with a simple work out schedule or food prep plan, so you know exactly what you’re going to do in any week.
- Find the sweet spot of nutritious food that you actually like. If boiled chicken and steamed broccoli are not your jam, then there’s no point forcing yourself. If I want spicy Korean tteokbokki I let myself have it on occasion, but find a way to make it more nutritious such as loading it up with a lot of veggies.
- See food as fuel, and active rest as an important part of your fitness. The food we eat doesn’t only impact our physical health, but also our mental health and moods too. When you look at food and rest as vital to how you feel not just how you look — you see your holistic health in a new light.
Avoid: Seeing food as calories or good vs bad. See food as fuel, and try to maintain a healthy relationship with it. Bread isn’t inherently bad. But if you have too much of anything it can be!
Also, by combining relatively good food and consistent movement, the metabolic gains during active rest and muscle memory far exceed the benefits of any loss you might make in the short term.
Consistency in Business: Seeking ongoing trust and flexibility
In Sinek’s book, he discusses how the Navy SEALs, unlike many businesses today prioritise trust in their employers and teams, over performance. Where performance is a measure of technical competence, the latter is a measure of character and personal accountability, with both traits requiring consistency.
Sinek noted that the SEALS found high performers generally low trust and toxic, demonstrating narcissistic qualities putting themselves first. These qualities are intense, and while may look great in the short term, soon fizzle out and impact the team overall. The Navy SEALs prioritise trust over performance because they know that in battle — like in business — having a trustworthy team member is much more valuable than someone you distrust.
Someone who is trustworthy is consistent and reliable. They will put the hard yards in, show up for their team, and have the best interests of the company in mind. Vulnerability author Brene Brown also adds “trust is the stacking and layering of small moments and reciprocal vulnerability over time.”
Furthermore, when we nurture a culture consists of trust and honesty, we leave space for collaboration and innovation. No one is afraid that ‘someone will step on them’ or ‘steal their idea’, as the team believes and works towards a common goal.
As Stephen Covey put it in, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, in order to keep this mentality of trust and putting people first, you need to begin with the end in mind.
Business success is driven by periods of vision, hard work, focus, but more than anything, a load of consistency. It’s not just the intensity of work, but an individual and team’s grit to show up consistently day-in-and-day out. Intensity makes a good story, consistency makes progress.
Tips for consistency in business
- What is your objective? What are you trying to achieve?: Before commencing any project or work, clearly understand what it is you’re looking for. Often a little probing reveals something different. Whether it’s a digital or physical project or task board map out what you want.
- Set reasonable, realistic expectations: You’ve heard the saying, those that fail to plan, plan to fail. What can you achieve in the stipulated time frame? What is in and out of scope?
- Deliver what you say you’re going to: Do the work, that’s it.
- Have transparency: Highlight roadblocks, seek collaboration, communicate ideas, objections.
Consistency in Personal Development: Cultivating your craft
For many musicians, it can be easy to see a 7-year-old violinist playing Paganini’s Caprice 24 with beautiful musicality as a rare prodigy. However, behind the child’s cuteness and perceived talent is consistent practice.
Talent is not born, it’s cultivated. One of the reasons children are known to learn faster than adults is because their prefrontal cortexes are less developed. Adults have functional fixedness due to our fully developed prefrontal cortexes which makes us see everything exactly for what it is. In Carol Dwek’s terms, this can be seen as a “fixed mindset”.
The beauty within kids is that they have a broader imagination and are less vulnerable to fear. Children are happy to be bad at the violin, and even find it initially humorous as they continue learning. Unlike adults, they tend to have a growth mindset.
How often do we give up because something is too hard, or because we don’t acquire mastery fast enough?
The key to becoming good at something and transition towards a growth mindset is consistency and willingness to try. According to Mark Manson in “Everything is F*cked”, The more you execute, the more you fail, the more you fail, the less you care. The less you care, the more you execute.
As long time veteran actor Denzel Washington notes, “…to be good, you must first suck. Embarrassment is the prize of success.”
Furthermore, to cultivate our craft, we need to have the golden triangle — opportunity, motivation, and rationalisation. These don’t always just ‘happen’ serendipitously. You need to prioritise your time, gain motivation through reinforced action and positive validation, and understand your true why.
As memory and learning guru Jim Kwik states, “Persistence is what will make you achieve the goal, consistency is what will make you maintain it.”
For me, starting to write and speak publicly a few years back was initially for myself. I wanted to challenge my comfort zone (and inevitably face public speaking, something we fear more than death). While I gradually improved, I realised it was much bigger than myself. I don’t write or speak simply because I want to become perfect or validate myself. I don’t write one e-Book or blog and then be done, as these skills are a work in progress. I speak and write because I want to share knowledge with others through storytelling. I want to help people gain confidence and have the tools to become the best versions of themselves.
If you start with your reason, you can work backwards and create consistent steps towards the ongoing pursuit of improving and refining your craft, whatever it may be.
Consistency in Relationships: Nurturing lifelong values
When it comes to relationships, it’s easy for us to adorn rose coloured lenses and see people within their highlight reel. Particularly in romantic relationships, I’ve been guilty in overinvesting and overcompensating for people’s effort that was like a blimp in the radar.
What I’ve learned over time is that grandiose gestures don’t matter. Single dates, weeks, or even months don’t matter. What matters is how they show up each and every day. The same goes with platonic relationships between family and friends.
As the late NBA legend Kobe Bryant put it, “Love is not happiness, I’d like to describe it as a beautiful journey.” To nurture this lifelong journey we need to have integrity in our thoughts, words, and actions both within ourselves and with the other person. I personally value trust, communication, and keeping your word (amongst other things). I’ve found that exhibiting these qualities myself acts as a blueprint for my partner to follow.
Should he fall off the bandwagon from time to time, it’s about communicating those needs, asking his perspective, and informing him how I feel that gets us back on track. Should he betray those values consistently over time, then I would have to reassess our relationship.
Though there is no hard and fast rule about three strikes and you’re out, you need to reassess someone’s effort and intentions, based on the importance of your value. Someone leaving their dirty socks out ongoing has a much different magnitude of importance than someone who frequently cheats on you.
Relationships too, have no end game (even after marriage it doesn’t end, while some would argue this is when it really starts). While many relationships do end, our objective is keeping them healthy and for as long as possible, requiring consistency. No one wants relationships that start off like fireworks and then flatline out. It’s an exhausting way to live.
If we look at our life through a lens of what we’re looking to achieve and what will bring us fulfilment, many of these things are infinite, not finite. Health, positive relationships, meaningful work, these things are all infinite requiring consistency. While there may be moments of intensity, these ebbs and flows over time even out, and what really enables the success in these areas is our ability to show up and act, day in and day out.