If you observe and pay close attention to people who produce better results than their peers, one thing you will notice is their consistency. You’ll notice they have routines, doing the same things over and over, whether or not it appears to be working on any given day.
To the cynic, the consistency of effort is invisible. The pessimist believes the person producing the better results is the beneficiary of good fortune, particular circumstances, some natural gift unavailable to anyone else. When the cynic is more talented than their peer who is outperforming them, they look for ways to dismiss consistency as a factor. In their minds, their considerable talent should be more valuable than merely doing the work with something bordering on religious devotion.
You Can’t Cram Success
A long time ago, I rode a bicycle long distances. I decided to train to ride across Death Valley. My trainer had me riding no less than an hour a day, every day but Sunday. Occasionally, I would miss my training sessions because of work or family obligations. One week, I missed four scheduled workouts, and I told my trainer I would make it up on the weekend when I would have more time available. He responded that I couldn’t make it up, that riding six hours on Saturday would do nothing to improve my fitness for endurance races. He said, “You can’t cram fitness.” This six hours in a single day isn’t the same as an hour every day.
You pay the penalty for inconsistent and sporadic effort when you want a specific result or outcome. That penalty you pay is results that are less than they should, the stress of falling behind due to your lack of effort, and the need to try to catch up, even when it is impossible to “cram” the work you should have done over a longer time.
Two Types of Consistency
If you want better results, you need to focus on two types of consistency. The first is the consistency of effort, and the second is the consistency of quality.
- Effort: The first variable in producing better results is the consistency of your effort. Doing something for an hour each day is different from doing more of that same activity sporadically. In the United States, we believe it is our birthright to have what we want now without paying the price to have it (see Drive-thru fast food, get rich quick schemes, seven-minute abs, etc.) If you want results, paying the price means consistently doing the work. A lack of consistent effort never produces what its opposite delivers.
- Quality: While effort is critical, so is the quality of your effort. Unrelenting consistency of effort of inferior quality isn’t going to produce the same result as the same consistency with exceptional quality. It is possible to exert your effort in such a haphazard way and without the focus and attention necessary to produce the results you want. This is like the salesperson who believes they are prospecting when they send their dream client an email requesting a meeting. A quality effort isn’t the same as the half-hearted effort or going through the motions (even though going through the motions on days when you aren’t one-hundred percent is still better than not doing anything).
If you want better success in some area, you need to work on both types of consistency. The good news is that focusing on consistency of effort will help you accelerate the consistency of your quality. If you give it your full focus and attention.
Willpower and Discipline
Not too long ago, I wrote about inspiration, motivation, and discipline. Consistency is discipline.
In the past few years, there have been several books that suggest that your willpower is limited. You have only so much to expend during the day before you give up. Others believe that willpower is like a muscle. It gets stronger when you exercise it, something I have found to be accurate, even if the scientific literature doesn’t support my experience.
Let’s accept the idea that your willpower is limited. You can’t be perfectly disciplined in every area of your life all the time. If that is true, then you should spend your willpower to consistently do the work necessary to produce the results that are most important to you. You should also prioritize that work by doing it before you do anything else. The reason so many people work out in the morning is that later in the day, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Do what you need to do while the spirit is willing, and the flesh is strong.
Over time, the work that once took willpower and discipline is just something you do. Call it a habit, call it a discipline, or call it consistency, but the result is always better outcomes.
The Difference Between Success and Struggle
If you look at two people pursuing the same outcome, one of whom is consistently doing quality work. At the same time, their counterpart is doing inconsistent work of uneven quality. You will notice that few variables account for the difference. Natural talent is no match for consistency. Neither are the circumstances of one’s birth, their education, or their good or bad fortune.
The difference between producing the result you want and struggling is your ability to exercise your willpower, using your self-discipline to be consistent in areas where consistency is necessary.
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