On Being Consistent

By | April 28, 2024

I recently came across an interesting quote on Twitter:

“The best performers are not consistently great, but they’re great at being consistent.” (Brad Stulberg)

It got me thinking and I have realised that any meaningful, life-defining endeavour comprises of the following traits:

  • Occurs over the long term
  • Involves obstacles and hardship, and
  • Is achieved through small, imperceptible steps performed consistently over a sustained period of time

These small actions, taken in isolation, do not amount to much. But over time, what they result in is staggering.

Writing 500 words probably won’t amount to much. But do it over four months on any topic you know about, and you will have authored a book. Reading 20 pages a day is not significant, but do it for years, and you will have accumulated immense knowledge.

Consistency compounds.

We can summarise the prescription for greatness in any field: “consistency over the long term.”

So,  why isn’t everyone great already?  Because being consistent is not easy.

We struggle to be  consistent for either of the two reasons. One, because we look at it as an unachievable ideal or, two, because we underestimate the impact of small steps. To do something, day after day, irrespective of what comes your way may seem either incredibly challenging or not gratifying since we do not see immediate results. 

That said, I have mad respect for people like David Goggins or Eliud Kipchoge who epitomise discipline. Such people are incredibly driven. No matter what happens around them, they wake up at 4AM every morning and train.

But how many people can be like them? Most of us are not as driven, or disciplined, or patient. Even if we are, we might burn out quickly and not sustain it for a long time. 

Because of one’s responsibilities and circumstances, and internal drive, a normal person will not be able to stick to that level of intensity or consistency, day after day, everyday.

But when we set goals, we set idealistic targets: Reading a book per week, going for a run at 5AM every morning and so on.

When  we try to stick to those targets, life happens. Sometimes, you are afflicted with illness and can’t keep up with a strict schedule. Or you travel for a week and haven’t found the time to work towards your goals. Or you become a parent and your sleep schedule is disrupted.

It’s inevitable that unexpected events will change the status quo and we are bound to steer off our schedule we promised to stick to.

How do we overcome this problem? How can a normal person, with all of life’s surprises and inconsistencies, stay consistent?

By zooming out.

We mistakenly believe that staying consistent means sticking to our goals 100%, 100% of the time. When we measure our progress against such an ideal metric, we are bound to get disappointed.

Maybe such mad consistency is necessary to be a true elite in your field — like Neeraj Chopra or Elon Musk. But not all of us are aiming to win an Olympic medal or launch rockets into space.

What most of us want is a fulfilling, purposeful life where we achieve the goals we set out in our lives.

So, a realistic metric for being consistent is to give 80% effort on 80% of the days. The rest 20% is the buffer to account for life’s improbabilities. So you may miss your goal for a day or for a week, but make sure that over the long term you are ticking it off on 80% of the days.

This advice is not a prescription for laziness or procrastination. It is only a reasonable understanding of what staying consistent really means.

So instead of “consistency over the long term”, tell yourself: “80% effort on 80% of the days.” And that’s the beauty. We mistakenly believe that 100% results come from being 100% consistent. Just being 80% consistent often gets the job done. That itself puts you miles ahead of everyone.

WHAT WE IMAGINE  
(It’s either 100% or 0%)



WHAT IT REALLY IS
(80% effort gets you most of the results)

That’s why the streaks feature, with the idea that you build an unbreakable chain of successful days, is mostly counterproductive. 

For instance, on Apple Watch you are nudged to close your activity rings everyday and build a streak. You try to close your rings consistently for a week, and then a month, and then for 100 days and so on. The dopamine rush in looking at a long streak is undeniable.

But the day eventually comes when you cannot close your ring and you feel dejected. It feels as if all the good work is undone and that you have to start afresh. I have seen people give up because the idea of building another 100 day streak feels so daunting.

But the truth is that you ran for 100 days straight and it has improved your VO2 max so much. Just missing out on a day or a week does not deteriorate your fitness.

 The idea I have been incorporating in my life is to evaluate consistency over months and years, not days. There should not be more zero days than are necessary or unavoidable. As soon as there is semblance of normalcy, get back to your schedule.

There might be weeks where you kill it, going all out. Some days might be total crap. Take them all in your stride. Zoom out, look at the long term and ask yourself if you are on the right path. If yes, then ignore the minor impediments and keep going.

Think of your life like a car. The direction in which your car is moving is much more important than the car’s velocity, or the distance you are covering each day. As long as you are moving in the right direction at a reasonable speed, you are bound to reach your destination.

46 thoughts on “On Being Consistent

  1. muskanb27

    I think consistency is also related to comfort. Most of us get comfortable with where we are or what we are doing and anything besides that create such discomfort that there is a friction in our brain due to which we end up not being consistent. Consistency is about pushing ourselves continuously to get out of our comfort zone.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    Respected Sir very well understood the crux of consistency 80% efforts for 80% of total time frame will eventually lead to the goal achievement. Thank You Sir for enriching our knowledge by your most valuable writings.

    Reply
  3. garimapriya

    Yeah, and sometimes in the most depressing, unfortunate moments, knowing and believing that very soon I can get going, maybe not like the last time but who knows, being back to consistently working harder, better than that.

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    Hello sir, please express your thoughts on spirituality,existence,depression & FOMO(fear of missing out)

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Thanku sir , for always being support system for us .

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      Sir your words clearly reflects that Progress is better than Perfect. Sometimes I get frustrated for not being consistent. I know it is not that much easy to being consistent. But after reading this I gained extra confidence on my consistent level. And your words boosted me up towards my progress. You are always my inspiration. Thank you for this wonderful words which makes me to encourage being 80% of consistent.

      Reply
  6. Gokul

    Just when i thought i was out (of league), you pulled me back in, sir!! Thanks for this article!! Will try to improve myself, to achieve my goal!

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    Good evening sir..
    Sir I need a small suggestion can we alternate between books like Indian polity and Indian economy etc.,. Will that be a better option?

    Reply
  8. Akshit Dabas

    Sir you means a lot to me you are the greatest being i ever seen in my life
    Thank you sir for being my mentor

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    Really, It’s key of the success of this massive journey . I believe on it and following the path of this

    Reply
  10. Anonymous

    Thanks for this valuable advise I hope one day I will be also an ias officer like you………

    Reply
  11. Anonymous

    Thanks a ton for this… it was much much needed at this point of time.

    Reply

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