No matter what area of life you look at — health, finances, relationships — consistency is key. If you put the reps in, you are bound to succeed.
However, most of us struggle with consistency. Doing the same thing over and over again gets boring quickly.
How can you circumvent that?
Learn why consistency is a muscle you can train, how you can stack the odds in your favor, and what an accountability partner can do for you.
What Is Consistency?
Being consistent means doing the same thing over and over again to reach a certain goal.
Anything worthwhile in life requires consistency. If you want to look fit and attractive, you need to work out every day. If you want to have a successful business, you need to put the hours in.
The only thing that stands between you and what you want to achieve is consistent effort. If you do a certain thing for long enough, you will inevitably get good at it.
Consistency is key to everything you aspire to in life.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.Will Durant
What does “Consistency is key” look like in action? Here are some examples:
- Doing a stretching routine every day
- Eating non-processed, healthy foods for every meal
- Working out every day
- Studying for an exam every day
- Learning how to write code every day
- Practicing the guitar every day
- Creating content for your social media channels every day
- Cold-calling 10 new clients every day
- Talking to three strangers every day
Why We Hate Consistency
Doing the same thing over and over again is boring.
When I was still teaching mixed martial arts, I got to observe this in many of my students. They would sign up, all excited about learning how to fight. In their head, they already pictured themselves competing in the UFC.
What they didn’t know is that learning MMA is one of the most repetitive activities in the world. You practice the same one-two-hook combo, the same double leg takedown, and the same armbar thousands of times.
Not surprisingly, most students would eventually fall by the wayside. Out of 100 new students, only about 20 would still be training three years later. Maybe one or two would ever step inside a cage.
This atrophy is not specific to MMA — you can observe it across the board. It always plays out in five stages:
- “I have this dream. I will do anything to make it happen!”
- “I finally started! I will now do this every day. This is so exciting.”
- “Oh, this is actually more work than I thought.”
- “This is starting to get boring. I am already six months in and still suck at this.”
- “Screw this. This is not for me. I’ll try something new, exciting.”
And so the cycle starts again.
We love the dream, but we hate the everyday grind.
Building the Muscle
If you want to get better at something, you have to do the same thing, over and over again.
And that bores us to death.
We crave variety. We want to feel constantly inspired. Every day is supposed to be a new adventure.
But if you give into that craving, you will see little success with anything.
Consistency is key. The people we admire — athletes, famous artists, successful business owners — all got there because they were willing to put up with the monotony. They swam their laps, they practiced their scales, and they built the systems.
The good news is that consistency works like a muscle. Even if you’re currently bad at it, you can improve upon it. You can build that muscle to go longer and harder.
The mistake that everyone makes is that they go from 0 to 100. They get overexcited.
There is no point in committing to something if you cannot uphold the initial effort. It is much better to pace yourself and start small.
Choose an effort in accordance with your current “pain tolerance.” If you can only meditate for two minutes at a time without straining yourself, stick with two minutes.
Do this for long enough, and these two minutes stop feeling like any effort at all. Now you go up to three minutes. And with that tiny increase in stimulus, your consistency muscle grows bigger. Soon, you will be able to go for four minutes.
You are not condemned to a life of mediocrity if you currently lack consistency. It is a skill that can be learned — if you go about it incrementally.
What To Expect
There are two ways how consistency can play out for you:
- The hockey stick curve
- The flattening curve
Option 1: The Hockey Stick Curve
Here, consistency plays out as a hockey stick graph.
For a long time, you put in the work but see little growth. But at some point, suddenly results go through the roof.
I see this with my SEO work a lot.
When we start working with a new client, we typically write 3000 to 10,000 words for their blog every week. That is a lot of content.
Yet, for the first 6 to 18 months, almost nothing happens. You publish one article after another but Google keeps ignoring you.
That is hard for clients to take. They are shelling out thousands of dollars each month but getting no return on investment.
But the payout day always comes. We have one client who, when they started, had about 400 monthly visitors to their website. About two and a half years in, they now have over 80,000 monthly visitors.
Hockey stick graphs usually apply to organizations and systems. They are everywhere in business.
Hockey graphs are hard to stick with in the beginning, but get easier the longer the game goes on.
It all depends on your ability to forgo instant gratification. If your patience is greater than your greed, you will be rewarded with exponential growth.
Option 2: The Flattening Curve
With the flattening curve, you see the greatest gains in the early stages of learning. Every day you show up at practice, you get better.
But eventually, you hit a ceiling. Now the going gets much tougher. You need to make a much greater effort to go from “good” to “very good.”
For example, I am a decent, but not a great BJJ black belt. My friend, however, is an ADCC and a European champion. At some point, I said, “Good is good enough,” while he spent another ten years to master those last 20 percent.
To outsiders, this choice seems extreme. Why obsess over mastery when you are already 80 percent there?
There is a reason. Because even though the last 20 percent require an extraordinary amount of effort, they are also extraordinarily rewarded.
For example, people are actively seeking out my friend to teach seminars and camps. He’ll make a comfortable living from his passion for the rest of his life.
We feel drawn to the best. We want to learn from them. So, a flattening curve game is still worth it.
The flattening curve usually applies to physical and intellectual skills.
In comparison with the hockey stick graph, a flattening curve is easier to stick with in the beginning, as you constantly see progress. But it gets harder later on, as the price for progress goes up exponentially.
In either case, consistency is key. But it helps to know which game you are playing, so you can adjust your expectations. It will help you to stick it out when you want to throw in the towel.
How To Succeed With Consistency
Stick with the following game plan, and you can make consistency work in your favor.
1. Set Your Goals
Consistency is meant to help you accomplish a certain goal. So, the first step is to figure out what that goal is.
Let’s say you want to become a guitar hero.
Write your goal down. Be as specific as possible. “I want to be a shredder,” is not a very specific goal. “12 months from now, I want to be able to play all the songs from the Black Album by Metallica,” is.
Second, reverse engineer your goal.
Think about what needs to happen between now and then. Define 3-, 6-, and 9-month milestones. Then break it further down to a weekly and a daily level.
In the end, you should have several well-defined habits to follow each day. Here is an example:
- Practice the guitar for two and a half hours each day.
- Work on a new song from the Black Album.
- Do one hour of rhythm guitar practice.
- Do one hour of lead guitar practice.
- Use the last 30 minutes to review an old song.
2. Focus On One Thing
You only have so much focus available. It’s a limited daily reservoir. Once it’s used up, it’s gone.
Therefore, it’s important to focus.
Don’t try to get fit, start an online business, and find love, all at the same time. You will spread yourself thin and in the end, accomplish nothing.
This goes against our every instinct. We are greedy, we want it all.
But we must learn to accept trade-offs. To become very good at one thing, you must give it your whole attention. That means neglecting all other things.
3. Consider Monk Mode
Modern life is a never-ending stream of distractions.
Colleagues stopping by at your desk. Pointless meetings. The 500 unanswered emails in your inbox. Family obligations. Social media. Watching the news. Dating around.
You are constantly being pulled in 10 different directions.
To combat this, go monk mode:
- Delete all social media apps from your phone
- Turn off all notifications
- Install a website blocker on your laptop, so you cannot check the news or watch Netflix
- Tell your friends and family that you will be unavailable for the next three or six months
- Work remotely to reduce pointless office chit-chat
- Stop dating around
Most importantly, get to work on your one thing, your self-chosen goal. Give that everything you have.
I know this sounds radical — and it is. But you can go keep doing what you’ve always done. Or you can do what no one does, and see progress.
4. Stack Habits
In the beginning, it is important to focus on one new habit at a time. However, it’s possible to automate that habit, and then add another habit.
For example, when I started writing this blog, publishing a new 4000-word post every week took real effort.
But after 50+ articles, the new behavior had become second nature. It was like brushing my teeth at night. Where before it took all my willpower to get it done, now it hardly registered anymore.
This is true for whatever new behavior you are trying to establish. Over time, the cost of energy for that particular activity goes down. Initially, it might have cost you 60 percent of your willpower, now it will cost you 10 percent.
It’s at this point that you can think about adding a new habit.
Don’t rush this. Give the original habit enough time to solidify. The 21/90 rule is a good frame of reference.
5. Start Small
When you introduce a new habit, make sure to start small. The effort required to execute the new behavior should be so tiny, it becomes almost impossible to fail.
For example, if you want to lose weight, start with one healthy meal per week. Anyone can eat grilled salmon with steamed broccoli once in seven days.
Keep this up for a month, then increase to two healthy meals per week. Then three. And so forth and so on.
This is a surefire way to make new habits stick. By starting small and giving the habit time to take hold, you establish it for life.
Of course, almost no one does it like this. Instead, we get overexcited. “From now on, I will only eat clean. These pounds will melt off my hips. Sixpack, here I come!”
But the initial excitement wears off. Plus, life happens. Things get hectic at work or your relationship takes a dive. Suddenly, you find yourself munching away on Oreos again.
Be smart and pace yourself. Going slowly is the shortcut.
6. Keep an Inventory
You should write down which habits you have committed to and review that list regularly. I like to use Google Sheets for that. Open a new sheet and note down all your current habits.
Be as specific as possible. Don’t write, “Work out every day.” Instead, note down, “Do 2 sets of diamond push-ups, 2 sets of pull-ups, and 2 sets of box pistols each day, each set to muscle failure.”
Review that inventory regularly. You can also print it out and put it up in a place where you can see it. This way, there will be no wriggle room. It is now crystal clear what you need to do each day.
7. Time Block
Block your most important activities in your calendar. For example, if you are dreaming of competing in a Tough Mudder, reserve the first two hours of your day for the gym.
Likewise, if you want to build a successful YouTube channel, the first three hours of your day are now reserved for producing videos.
I recommend starting with a small time block, like 30 minutes or less, then expanding it over time. Build up that consistency muscle gradually.
Also, it is best to time block the first few hours of your day. This is when you are still fresh and have the most energy to invest.
8. Showing Up Is Half the Battle
I said earlier that most students who enrolled in my MMA gym would eventually quit. They lacked consistency.
But there were also some outliers.
There was this one kid that started training when he was only 15 years old. He is now in his late twenties and still training every day. I think the only time he has ever missed class was when he broke his arm in an MMA fight.
That is consistency.
Predictably, he excelled. He’s now a BJJ black belt, has fought MMA multiple times, won numerous championships, and owns his own gym.
And all he did was show up every day. It is that straightforward.
9. Monitor Yourself
It is important to meticulously track what you are doing.
For example, I time-track every little thing I do for this blog. Likewise, if you are into bodybuilding, you should track your reps, your time between sets, your weight, your body fat, and so on.
This is to make sure you are being honest with yourself. Looking at these numbers, you will know if you are putting the work in or not.
At the same time, do not fall victim to your impatience. Especially when faced with a hockey stick dynamic, your initial results won’t be that impressive. It is tempting to blame your lack of talent and move on to something different.
This is a fine line to walk. You must track your progress so you know what is happening. But you must also trust the process.
10. Get an Accountability Coach
One of the best things to improve your consistency is to find somebody to hold you accountable. This could be a family member, a friend, or a colleague at work.
I find it best to hire somebody, though. If you have a personal connection to your accountability partner, they are less likely to be strict with you. But that is exactly what you need — somebody who tells you how it is.
For example, I pay someone to hold me accountable with this blog. If I don’t publish a new article by Monday morning at 8 o’clock, my coach will let me know in no uncertain terms how I have failed.
This works like magic. We hate not living up to someone else’s expectations — it makes us look like a flake. Hence, we buckle down and get it done.
Disclaimer: I offer accountability coaching myself. But you don’t need to hire me — just hire anybody. Simply having someone look over your shoulder will do wonders for your consistency.
11. Be Strategic About Inspiration
There will be days when you are not feeling it, no matter how committed you are to the process.
On those days, it can be a good idea to inject some inspiration into your routine.
For example, I always feel more excited about doing my daily bodyweight workout after watching a few clips by some calisthenics pros.
In the same vein, I like to look at the stats of more successful bloggers than me — their monthly traffic, their backlinks, and their revenue.
In both instances, I get to observe why consistency is key. These people succeeded because they kept going when everybody else quit.
That is inspiring. If they can do it, I can do it too.
Don’t become an inspiration junkie, though. Most of the time, you should rely on habit over stimulation. But if you are feeling down, it is a good tool to fall back onto.
12. Go Easy on the Perfectionism
In the beginning, the goal is to establish the habit. You are pushing for automation, not quality. That comes later.
Perfectionists struggle with this.
I am a recovering perfectionist myself. On a bad day, I would rather have skipped a habit than produce a subpar result.
But these days are there for a reason. You keep reinforcing the new behavior, so you are ready for the good days.
This blog is a good example. Out of the dozens of articles I have written for it, maybe five I am happy with. But these five only happened because I kept publishing.
Don’t get me wrong — you should push for quality. In a mediocre world, that is what will set you apart.
But that’s not the same as letting your perfectionism incapacitate you.
13. Try Again
The idea with consistency is to not break the chain. You want to keep showing up every day, no matter what.
If something is important, do it every day. If it’s not important, don’t do it at all.Dan John
Having said that, it takes a while to get there. Rarely will it work out perfectly the first time.
The important thing is to not get discouraged when that happens. Instead, reframe the experience.
Tell yourself, “It takes several attempts to establish a lifelong habit. Now I got one relapse out of the way. Good.”
How I Apply Consistency in My Own Life
Here is how I make consistency work in my own life.
When I wake up, I never check my phone. I don’t want to get sidetracked by messages, the news, or social media first thing in the morning.
Instead, I get started on my most meaningful work, often while I am still in bed. For example, I might write a new article for this blog. I usually spend two to three hours on deep work like this.
Before lunch, I do a short mobility routine. This helps with getting out of my head and into my body.
I will also do 20 minutes of body weight exercises. I do one pushing exercise (e.g., diamond push-ups), one pulling exercise (e.g., pull-ups), and one squat variation (e.g., pistol squats). I usually do two sets of each.
During my workout, I listen to a different podcast about online marketing. This way, I make sure I stay up-to-date on my industry.
I eat a paleo diet. Think meat, fish, vegetables, and fruits. I also eat some high-fat dairy, which is technically not paleo, but still healthy. No other processed foods whatsoever.
This habit alone changed my life. I used to get several severe sinus infections per year; basically, I was sick half of the time. Now I hardly ever get sick.
While I’m eating, I don’t watch TV or read. I completely focus on the food. This helps with portion control. You actually notice when you are full.
I also get my various inboxes to zero every day and review my GTD system. This helps me stay on top of things as well as with peace of mind.
Another thing I do every day is to meditate, especially when I am experiencing some kind of emotional turmoil. It reliably gets me back to zero.
I brush my teeth twice a day and floss my teeth once a day. As a result, I haven’t had a new filling in years.
I also do Kegel exercises. They have been proven to prevent prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction. Also, they give you stronger orgasms. The upsides are amazing, yet few men bother.
At the end of the day, I send a message to my accountability coach, detailing what work I did today and how long it took me.
Currently, I go to bed at 10 o’clock each night. This goes against all my instincts, as I have always been a night owl. But what I found when I go to bed early is that I need less sleep to feel rested.
None of these behaviors are big things by themselves. But by doing them consistently every day, they have revolutionized my life for the better. They will do for you too.