Have you noticed what’s common among people who achieve what they set out to? They are consistent with their efforts. They show up and work on improving their skills as frequently as they need to, irrespective of how small the task is. They just do it.
It’s no secret that if you want to be good at something, you should do it regularly. The first step is to make it a part of your routine. Once you’re set, you raise the stakes. When you embark on a new activity, it’s a good idea to focus on the quantity and add in as many repetitions as possible. You shouldn’t aim for perfection right from the start. Eventually, the repetitions will improve the quality of your work. You can read more about it here.
When I graduated to cooking complicated recipes, I used to get disappointed if they didn’t taste as good as my Mom’s preparation. One day, Mom asked me how I could expect to excel at something she has been perfecting over 3 decades. It was a moment of epiphany! She did not become an expert by cooking them once or twice. It was years of cooking and refining that made her food stand out. From then onward, whenever I work on a new habit I remember not to judge myself for the quality of work during the first few attempts. Instead, I focus on showing up and getting the work done – no matter what the results are. Once it becomes an essential part of my routine, I then focus on quality.
When we set unrealistic standards and expect perfection from the start, we set ourselves up for failure. It’s hard to find the inspiration to do something when something tells us that we aren’t getting it right. If a task becomes challenging even before we get used to it, we may give it up. So, it’s important to find the right level of difficulty in the initial stages. It should be simple enough for us to be consistent, yet challenging enough to nudge us towards improvement.
- If you want to become a better writer – spend at least 15 minutes writing a journal every day.
- If you want to be fit – start indulging in your preferred form of physical activity 3-4 times/week
- If you want to improve your knowledge, spend 30 minutes every day for consuming content.
Isn’t it amazing how you can take one concept – consistency – apply it to different aspects of your life? Isn’t it also amazing how it always yields results? Small actions, performed consistently has enormous benefits.
So, how to be consistent?
Plan your schedule
Always have a plan. It’s easier to stick to a plan than to make decisions now and then. Decision fatigue is real! There will always be ad-hoc work, so don’t plan your day around last-minute work. Plan your ad-hoc work around your schedule. Remember to strike a balance between what’s important and what’s urgent. There are higher chances of completing tasks if you know when to do what to do.
Have a backup
This is one of my favorite strategies, courtesy James Clear. Let’s say that you scheduled a time for a workout in the evening, but you are way too exhausted. Instead of choosing between a 100% – full workout or 0% – skip a workout, you could plan to give it a 50%. Let’s say you find a sweet balance and workout for 20 minutes or do the easiest form of exercise – say, walk for 30 minutes. If you had allotted 30 minutes to learn but you aren’t able to concentrate – you can spend 10 minutes learning. Or, you could revisit the contents of your previous day/week. This way, you’re not off the wagon and it doesn’t make it difficult for you to get back on track. The idea is to have a backup for all your habits so that you spend less time deciding what to do and more time doing the task.
Track and measure your progress
People assume that the most important aspect of forming habits is planning. The real learning and insights become clear only when you track and measure your progress regularly. When you’re starting a new activity, instead of focussing on individual days, focus on average. Try to read at least 3 days a week. If you can do more days, good for you. If you are not able to, try sticking to the bare minimum – 3. As much as we would like life to go exactly as we plan, it doesn’t happen that way. So, it’s essential to cut yourself some slack if you missed one day, and focus on the bigger picture. And that’s exactly why it’s completely fine to miss a few days in your schedule if you can get back to the routine. Remember, one salad doesn’t make you lose weight, one pizza doesn’t make you gain weight. It’s the averages that matter.
James Clear said, “Your life is the sum of your habits”. You are what you repeatedly do. For some consistency is 7 days a week, for some, it’s 3 days a week. It doesn’t matter what your definition of consistency is, as long as you stick to it long enough to see a significant improvement. It’s not what you can do one day, but what you can do consistently over a few weeks, months and years that matters. Never underestimate the power of small improvements made frequently over a period of time. Because, the sum of the parts is always, always greater than the whole!
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