Something that has come up with several clients this past week is the idea of consistency. Specifically, how consistency beats intensity every single time. It can be so easy to adopt an all-or-nothing mindset that says, "if I'm not going to do something perfectly, I'm not going to do it at all."
Take the way we approach diets and weight loss for example. Often we get sucked in to the idea that success will come if we commit super intensely for a brief period of time (8-Weeks to Shredded Abs!). And I totally get it. Setting a short timeline during which we believe we will go "all-out" calls to our desire for instant gratification. (Guilty!)
If only we were perfect. (Wait ... shoot.) And even then, promised outcomes aren't guaranteed.
Just last week, a Run Empowered client set a great example of how NOT to get caught in that all-or-nothing trap. She mentioned in her training log that she had had a long day full of errands, was tired, and didn't feel like she could bring her usual intensity to that day's strength training session. She could have skipped the workout altogether. Instead, she focused on consistency and got the work done. Another client had to get creative with a workout and wasn't able to use the weights he typically does, and yet he still showed up and put in the work.
Expand this line of thought over the course of weeks, months, or years. How many times could she have talked herself out of a workout? How easy would it have been for him to say, "screw it." Imagine a year from now, how much better off they will be for all the workouts they HAVE completed by focusing on committing to the process and showing up anyway vs expecting perfection?
Imperfect action beats inaction.
Tips for Improving Consistency
If you find yourself struggling to stay consistent, look for signs and listen for self-talk that may indicate that you're operating from an all-or-nothing/intensity mindset. For example, if you miss one workout or enjoy one unscheduled "cheat meal" (or one damn cookie for that matter), do you let the rest of the week slide by telling yourself you'll start again on Monday (when future you can once again attempt perfection)? Or does the thought of having to commit to perfection cause you to delay even attempting to start? For example, do you justify waiting to begin make lifestyle changes because of certain future events like an upcoming vacation, holiday, birthday, happy hour, etc.?
If so, you are likely putting too much stock into the idea that you have to be perfect to make progress.
You don't. You just have to show up consistently.
If you struggle with consistency because of the all-or-nothing trap (like we ALL do at times) here are a few tips that might help:
1. Decide from the outset what successful consistency looks like for you, and be honest about what is genuinely feasible. Don't set yourself up for failure by expecting perfection from the outset and then beating yourself up for poor compliance. For example, maybe it's doing your best to complete at least 2 of 3 programmed workouts for the week. If you can do that, you can be satisfied with a successful week. If not, look objectively at what is getting in the way. YOU are not a failure. But your systems are failing you.
2. Look for the bright spots. Look for areas where you are successful (no matter how small) and build on that. For example, maybe you have consistently been able to get in at least 1 workout per week. Work on upping that to 2 workouts per week and using the tip above, consider yourself successful if you are able to do that in 50% of the weeks in that month. Once you get consistent there, continue to build gradually - maybe next month aiming for 75% success rate on 2 workouts per week, etc.
3. Try the 2-day habit rule. The idea here is to assume human fallibility - you will slip up and miss a day, scheduling conflicts and unforeseen roadblocks will pop up. But you don't have to wait until Monday (or New Years) to get back on track. Just make sure you don't miss more than 2 days in a row. (Or 2 workouts in a row, as the case may be).
4. Remember that it's ok to scale back intensity in favor of consistency. For example, in the case of workouts (though this can still be applied broadly), it's ok to not lift as heavy as you have been recently or to focus primarily on mobility or stability that day instead. Forcing intensity leads to burnout, which leads to stopping your new behavior or habit altogether. So yes, if it means saving yourself from burnout, but all means please scale back and take an easy day.
Regardless of what kind of behavioral changes you are trying to make, remember that the absolute best long-term results don't come from short-term bursts of intensity. They come from a sustainable commitment to a process.