The Role of Consistency in Making Change Happen.
We often think that, to succeed with change, what we need is self-discipline. That we can make any number of changes stick if, with will-power and gritted teeth, we doggedly perform them day after day. That, ultimately, we can be whoever and whatever we want to be if we have this one quality: consistency.
Yet, my sense is that what we understand by consistency is, at best, a little blurred – and, at worst, actively unhelpful. In some quarters, it is premised on exactly this idea that, one day, we wake up a new person with no residue of our previous life, mindset, habits etc. We complete a lifestyle makeover – and stubbornly persist with it, day in, day out, no matter how difficult, as if this stubbornness were the quality we call consistency.
Now, absolutely, anyone that succeeds with this approach deserves a medal. There is no knocking those who nail this method.
Yet, to me, this is a hard way to make change happen and sounds more like perseverance than consistency – perseverance having that sense of fighting through difficulty or delay. Consistency doesn’t need to be like this. When used effectively, it can be something quite different.
New Week, New Challenge.
A lot of the business and lifestyle literature promotes the idea that every day should bring a radical change. That it is possible to start afresh and turn your life around by being armed with goals and a clear plan of action. Once you have a plan, the only thing left is to execute it, to do it, as if this were the easy bit.
However, radical change doesn’t often work like this. Whilst people have argued for the benefits of fast, hard change in business, this often overlooks the fact that life often gets in the way, that old habits are hard to shift, that there is an underlying, often subconscious resistance to change and change TAKES TIME. Trying to battle with this head on, will not work.
This is not a problem of a lack of willpower. This is not a failure of self-discipline. It’s rather a testament to the realities of change – and their difficulties. And, the implementation of these little transformations can only come with a different conception of consistency.
Intention, Prioritisation, Consolidation.
This image of consistency has to be based on your intention – the underlying motivations, visions, and dreams that will guide your life. As we discussed before, this isn’t just a singular thing: it’s a holistic view that guides every goal to which you aspire. This broad intention will be overarching principle that will inform and influence your individual goals. It gives consistency to your actions.
Next is prioritisation, where many people struggle with change is that they go for quantity rather than quality. Think about your intention and then review the individual goals linked to that intention. Which of these goals will create the most impacting change? Which will create a ripple effect and influence the ease with which you can achieve the other goals. Those with the biggest impact, are the ones to focus on first.
It will lay the foundations for everything else that your change will involve. This is what I mean by consolidation.
So, just focus on the one change. Integrate it into your life, ingrain it into your routine, firmly establish it into your mindset. Dedicate your life to this change. Focus consistently on this one element, this single thing that will receive all your effort, all your willpower.
You’ll find that your consistency in executing this one task – your ability to stick to this change – will improve dramatically. It will be come easier and easier until…you don’t even have to consciously think about it. This is when you have achieved a new habit.
Bringing Back Habit.
Six months ago after returning from a trip to Bali, I decided that I would commit myself to eating a high protein breakfast (part of my routine whilst on holiday) and not having cereal. Throughout the first couple of weeks, it was an effort, I had to persevere as it was new and I had to consciously think as I walked into the kitchen about not reaching for the cereal.
But then suddenly, I found myself waking up in the morning and consistently popping on the grill, consistently remembering to buy the new breakfast foods and not buying cereal during my weekly shop! I didn’t even have to think about; it was like putting on my seatbelt when getting into the car. And again, suddenly, it was weird when I stayed with friends and they didn’t have this morning routine, I felt slightly strange – like I didn’t know what to do with myself. This from someone who ate cereal every day for breakfast for 30 years!
My change had become my new normal. And habit here was the secret.
By now you should know about my interest in habit. But habit is the basis of real consistency too. By establishing a habit, you need no longer think about persevering, about struggling through. You have unconscious consistency on your side – it’s ingrained, it’s the new normal.
The New Normal.
We need to think about consistency in precisely this way: as the slow accumulation of habits. When a single change is consistently performed, it becomes habitual, it becomes unconscious, it becomes normal. The neuronal pathways which permit and channel this behaviour will become reinforced. And from a new psychological normality. Then once this is ingrained, you can apply yourself consistently to the next change.
Yet the benefits of this approach are greater than this. Firstly, rather than struggling with an overwhelming number of changes to implement all at once, the achievement of each little change brings positive feelings the ‘reward’); you’ll feel positive about implementing the next change.
But, more importantly, through these micro-changes, you won’t be just changing your routine, your habits. Rather, by consistently pursuing change, you’ll have another new normal: you’ll have a mindset that embraces change, that is comfortable with change, and that is always ready for the next development.
This is the key to consistency and making change happen.