If I’ve seen it once…
Allow me to paint a picture for you. I’m sitting in my office/equipment room (I have a desk, two chairs, and lots of great handouts and forms surrounded by barbells, punching bags, and bumper plates. I never said I lived a glamorous life). Accompanying me is a client who I’ve been working with for several months. She came to me as a gym-beginner. Initially, she had great success, losing 2-3 pounds each week towards her 80lbs overall target. And then the scale came to a screeching halt.
If the scale doesn’t budge for a week or two, I don’t call out the dogs right away. I’m like William Wallace in Braveheart, “Hold. Holllllld! HOOOLLLLLD!!!” It’s not until the plateau reaches 3-4 weeks that we ring the alarm. That’s the way the body works. Some weeks you may lose 3 pounds, some you may not lose at all. But when you consistently stay stuck for extended amounts of time it’s crucial we solve the poundage paradox asap, lest you get frustrated and give up.
So I call an emergency nutrition session to review. I like to get my clients comfortable with the notion of what healthy eating means for them, specifically, at the beginning. Once they’ve shown they’re comfortable, confident, and competent in following the plan, they’re not required to track. But occasionally we may fall back into old habits. I was curious if that was what had happened with our subject.
“I don’t get it, I’m still eating healthy…I mean, pretty healthy at least. Sure, I slip once in awhile, but you told me to enjoy my life. Didn’t you say it was important to have a good relationship with food? Well, I’ve just been getting reacquainted with some of my good, old buddies.” She laughs nervously. I smile. And as we begin going through her food journal I ask, “How is your consistency?”
“Well, I’m eating what I want to consistently.” Again, more nervous laughter. Again I smile. “You’re getting a good amount of vegetables in each day. A good variety of them, as well. But what do you think you could be doing better? What were you doing at the beginning of our journey that you’re maybe not doing so well now? Could it be your consistency?”
How dare I?
Who likes to talk about consistency? The mere mention of it brings up mental images of runny milk. Or perhaps thoughts of being disciplined by the likes of military personnel or a hardass trainer barking in your face as you sob your way through another grueling round of burpees.
Being consistent means doing the same activity over and over…and over, ad infinitum. Winter comes after fall, consistently. The neighbor’s dog barks, consistently. Most of us start the work week every Monday, consistently. So it’s no wonder people have a certain amount of hesitation when you mention consistency. And that’s a shame. Why? Let’s go back and answer my previous question.
Who likes to talk about consistency? People that know the power that it holds. Those who enjoy the measurable benefits made possible by leveraging its use. This includes successful business professionals of all industries, knowledgeable health professionals in many fields, caring fitness and nutrition professionals who deliver results, and the clientele of each one who achieve their goals.
Notice the word “professional.” There are plenty of people in the above fields who lack consistency. This may well be a key indicator on why they lack success. They hold the negative associations of consistency in their minds so they refuse to call it to their aide, thinking it a drab, dull quality. I mean, wouldn’t you rather be spontaneous? Don’t you want to live a little? Who wants to be regimented 24-7-365? Booorrrrrring.
Say it ain’t so
Simply put, it ain’t.
I think too many of us look at consistency as anti-excitement. We view it as the enemy of spontaneity. How could we possibly be excited about the day to come if we’re doing the same thing every.single.day.every.single.week? I would argue that consistency is not a requiem for a snooze-fest, but a requirement for success. If you can hold yourself accountable to staying on topic in your pursuits you will be much more likely to reach those goals. You’ll also do them in less time, most likely with less energy.
The mere act of consistency is not what makes for a boring life. That would be due to a possible lack of imagination, experience, and most of all your perspective. Can you think outside the box? Can you think creatively and use your imagination? Have you had enough life experiences to teach you a better way? Is your perspective one of a threatening world, full of danger and despair or is it one of excitement, joy, and child-like wonder at what the new day brings?
Let me ask you this: if you wake up and make the small effort to get happy every day before rising, what would that do? Could the 5 minutes you take to smile and plan your day, every day, make a huge improvement in your day? How about your week? Month? Year? You can see where I’m going with this.
It’s not being consistent that’s boring, it’s failing to reach your goals and enact your plans. It’s failing to hold yourself accountable to what it is that you’ve been wanting to do for so long. It’s thinking the same boring, possibly harmful thoughts, day in and day out that drains the excitement from our rosy cheeks. Are you ready to be more consistent?
Tell me what to do
Most importantly, you must first understand that holding yourself accountable is a good thing. Being consistent is a key habit to develop in reaching any summit, no matter the elevation. If you don’t develop the beneficial association, if you don’t truly believe it will help, you simply won’t remain consistent in your consistency – so meta – and you won’t do it long enough to reap the rewards of achievement.
Once you’ve put yourself in the right headspace, taking action is simple. You can use a pretty form like this one if you’d like. Or if you’re not a form-filler-outer, a simple pen and pad of paper will do. First, define the habit or goal you want to successfully acquire. Next, define the amount of time you want to track. Then keep track of your results as you progress. Finally, tally up your efforts in small chunks and give yourself honest feedback. What percentage did you succeed? What could you do to improve that rating?
Let’s look at this in a real world example. Say you want to lose 50 pounds. There are a number of things you could track here: healthy meals per day per week, days per week you hit the gym, pounds lost each week, new vegetables added to the menu per week, etc. The possibilities are almost endless. Don’t get stuck deciding what to track. Simply think about what would be the 1 or 2 biggest, most influential things you could work on improving that would speed your progress?
We’ll go with days you go to the gym. You begin by setting a goal. We’ll pick 4 gym days each week. Define what a gym day is. Does driving through the gym parking lot, realizing there are no empty spots, and promptly leaving count? Or does it entail getting a full hour of sweat-inducing exercise? Yeah, you already know.
So now you have a clearly defined goal: 4 days of gym time at an hour a piece, complete with toasted calories. Now all you have to do is go about tracking each week. Put happy faces on a calendar. Draw out a diagram on your paper and put Xs in the gym days. Whatever your method be sure to stay with it.
One last word to the wise
I’d strongly discourage against rewarding yourself for hitting your goals. The reason being that you can quickly turn your focus to the rewards and away from the act. A much safer, more productive way of thinking is to find satisfaction in marking down each new “X”. By knowing that every good habit “X” you tick off is moving you closer to your long-term goal, you’ll be able to develop your newfound habits and routines into a pleasurable experience. You’ll even begin to look forward to those gym days, those healthy meals, those days of consistency.
“GASP! Consistency can be something to look forward to?” the crowds will say, stunned at your odd behavior. And you’ll simply smile as you reply, “Every.single.day.”