Consistency can never be achieved with discipline

Published by Sunil Uttam on

One of my three words in 2020 is consistency. This word has been one of my 3 words in the previous years too.

Here is a recap of the 3-word strategy:

I use my 3 words to guide my choices and actions during the day, throughout the year. Keeping them in focus, before I pick up anything to do, helps me circle back to the IMPORTANT even if I have got sucked into the URGENT.

Despite having “consistency” as one of my guiding words, I continue to struggle with achieving consistency in certain areas of my life. 

In contrast, I have managed to comfortably get consistent with certain other aspects of my life.

Why is consistency so important?

There is a large body of research, and my own experience suggests that:

“Sustained long term outcomes can only come from repeatedly performing the right bite-sized action with an improvement loop built into it.”

Essentially:

Consistency creates a compounding effect.

One time wonders or hard pushes can only create a “flash in the pan.”

Let us look at some examples of how consistency adds up:

  1. Investing 1000$ a month for 10 years at 12% per annum will mean you set aside a total of 120,000$, and you get back 235, 639$. You have doubled your money 

    (that’s why the habit of saving and investing should start early…remember piggy banks)
  2. Exercising moderately and regularly will build a strong foundation of health and longevity over time.

    (We have a temple on a hilltop near our home, and I know of an 85-year-old gentleman who walks up that hill every day, alone, with no support, and quite comfortably. When asked how he does it at this age, his simple answer is that he started when he was 20 and hadn’t missed the walk up the temple ever since.)
  3. On any platform, we follow and recall writers who consistently (almost on a fixed schedule), write, and share ideas, experiences.

    Consistent writing helps authors refine their art, have a long term play of designs, and can engage better with their audiences.

    (I have known many one-time brilliant pieces of writing but nothing after that from the authors.)

The damage that consistency can do

The same is true for negative or no action too. 

Consistently doing harmful activities, or not taking action when required, can lead to long term negative consequences. 

E.g., regularly eating small amounts of junk food appears pretty harmless, but it all adds up, gradually but surely. 

“Most people need consistency more than they need intensity.

Intensity:

  • run a marathon
  • write a book in 30 days
  • silent meditation retreat

Consistency:

  • don’t miss a workout for 2 years
  • write every week
  • daily silence

Intensity makes a good story. Consistency makes progress.”

– James Clear

WHERE I struggle with consistency?

For the last few years, I have been struggling to exercise regularly, which I know is critical to help me age gracefully and stay independent. 

While I understand this intellectually, I haven’t been able to form a consistent, vigorous routine to exercise regularly. 

I have tried mornings, evenings, paying up a gym membership, upping my ADLs (activities of daily living), and doing simple exercises at home. 

But if any other event presents itself, my plans to exercise get waylaid (which is more often than not).

I have basically struggled to get disciplined.

WHY I struggle with consistency?

From a genetic perspective, I am quite disadvantaged. The metabolism of most of my family members is such that even if we smell food, we can gain weight. My dad and all his siblings were diabetic. 

This “fear” was my context for regularly exercising all my life up until the age of 45. 

After seven years of getting off the treadmill, I am still healthy and fit at 52. I believe this is due to the strong foundation of training that I have done throughout my life right until I was 45. 

The residual effect of my robust physical foundation is helping to carry me into my 50’s even though I don’t exercise that intensely anymore. 

However, I realize that the main reason for my inability to get back the discipline of exercise is the lack of a stable enough “context” or “why” in the present.

I tend to ignore exercise when I feel that something else deserves my attention at this point in time. Whether its working longer hours, spending more family time or merely resting.

And that even if I don’t exercise, nothing will fall apart (since I am healthy and fit)

While I have spoken about my struggle with regular exercise as an example of inconsistency, there are other areas of my life, too, where I continue to struggle.

This struggle is for the lack of a “decisive context,” e.g., 

The need for me to write regularly, 

why should I save and invest continually, 

How connecting with my friends and family on a regular basis can build strong relationships.

I am consistent when I have a strong context

One of my pets is a hypo-thyroid case and is overweight at around 10 years of age. 

Until about a year ago, she would struggle to walk stairs or get herself off the floor. 

I have seen a marked improvement in her health since we moved closer to the hill, and we walk for about two km daily. 

Intense, regular exercise has improved blood circulation to her skin, has developed her digestion, and has made her a lot more agile. 

This success with her health and the desire to keep her healthy as she graces is my context to take her for a long walk daily, no matter what.

I discovered a strong sense of calm and clarity with my meditation sessions, and I found these helping me produce more enduring outcomes at work and in my relationships. 

The moment I saw the connection between regular meditation and the serenity in my life, I stuck with it. (And I also saw the dip in my awareness and actions when I got off the silence to know the difference) 

The context here is that I can create my life as I want, once I am clear and conscious. 

Similarly, there are other areas of my life, where consistency is effortless due to a robust context.

I discovered that:

The context is decisive

and Discipline is an “outcome” and NOT “the way.”

“Without context, words and action have no meaning at all” – Gregory Bateson 

The way forward:

For me to achieve consistency, I must connect to a healthy context, which will automatically bring in the regularity discipline. 

Context can be “fear” based or “reward” based.

E.g., for me to exercise regularly, I must connect to the health benefits as being critical for me at this stage of my life.

Or to the fear of a significant illness which can cripple me and prevent me from enjoying the fruits of my labor. 

Another example is for me to establish a retirement fund, I must start investing and saving now (at least).

Or that writing regularly will help me connect at a deeper level with my friends and followers. (Like this is my second blog as per my decided schedule of once a week)

“Once you create a context, that context then generates a process in which the content – the forces and circumstances – reorder and align themselves with the context. For example, if you choose to shift the context of your life from ‘I don’t matter’ to ‘I make a difference,’ the circumstances in your life, while they may not have changed, take on an entirely new meaning. This new meaning, then, begins to reflect that you do make a difference.” – Werner Erhard

Would love to hear your experience of developing consistency? Please do leave a comment below.

Image courtesy: Photo by Oliver Buchmann on Unsplash

This post is in line with my anti advice policy, which is to share insights and learning from my life with my friends, associates and let them decide if and how to leverage this in their lives. I don’t have a fixed schedule to write, but I will attempt to write regularly. Surely it won’t be more often than once a week. I invite you to subscribe to my blog, connect with me and share your insights as well, so we can learn and grow together. 


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