To be consistent, you need iron-willpower.
Am just kidding 🙂
But honestly, quite often, we do assume that people who are consistent have some special personality trait and an iron will. It is not true. And I say that from personal experience.
Consistency comes not from some ‘iron-will’ personality trait, but from a system, which I am going to share with you today. Follow that system and you can stay consistent indefinitely.
To be sure, I don’t have any magic pill or shortcuts – just a scientific step-by-step process that works.
I have been gymming and running for the last 13 years fairly consistently. But when I started, I was not fit enough to even run 500 meters.
I had just returned to India after leaving McKinsey and was in the worst physical shape ever. During the previous decade, I had been working myself to death. My back was damaged. I had gone from being a good endurance runner to being totally unfit.
And finally, I reached a point where I was ready to change my life – I badly wanted to be the super-fit person that I was after my IPS training. Which brings me to my first point for building consistency:
1. When building a habit, make yourself want to do it badly.
Just a lukewarm desire to build a habit is not enough – you have to want it badly.
So ask yourself, do you REALLY care about building the habit? Are you willing to take pain and discomfort for that? Do you want it badly enough to show up even on days you are feeling low?
If yes, then you are on track.
But if you are not sure, take a journal (or notebook) and write down why you want to build the habit. What your life will be like if you build the habit, vs. if you don’t – visualize it. And convince yourself that there are no shortcuts.
This will give you goal clarity.
Once you are clear that building the habit is a life-and-death matter, you are good to go.
2. Change your identity instead of just building a habit.
When I started my workout habit, I saw two kinds of people in the world – those who were fanatic about fitness and those who didn’t care. I wanted to become the former – that was the identity I was seeking.
Hearing people talk about marathons or triathlons, I would feel – that is who I want to be.
My goal was not to cut down my weight or just hit a target BMI (Body Mass Index) but to become a ‘fitness guy’. And that made a big difference because we are highly motivated to be consistent with our identity, even when nobody is watching.
So when you build a habit, aim to build a new identity.
Don’t just try to run 5 km – instead, become a runner.
Don’t just try to add 5 kg muscle mass – instead, become a fitness person.
Don’t just try to read a few books – become the kind of person who reads books regularly.
In short, change your identity. (James Clear also emphasizes this a lot)
3. You have to love the activity for its own sake.
Today, I don’t work out because for its health benefits but because I love doing it.
When you enjoy something, it causes the release of dopamine (the ‘desire chemical’), making you want to do that activity again. That is how habits stick.
But what about activities that are not inherently enjoyable?
Initially, you might have to bundle it with something that gives you either pleasure (e.g., playing your favorite music during workout) or a sense of accomplishment (e.g., updating your habit tracker).
Over time, as the benefits kick in, you will start enjoying the activity for its own sake. E.g., after a few months of workout, when you see how good you look in the mirror, you start loving it. At that point, the workout habit becomes permanent.
4. Be consistent, not perfect.
The way habits break is quite predictable – we do the action for a few days or weeks. Then for whatever reason, the streak breaks – for a few days, we don’t show up.
We then blame ourselves and feel terrible. We tell ourselves: ‘I have failed. I am never consistent.’ It further lowers our morale and we give up.
So change the story in your mind. When the streak breaks, tell yourself, ‘I have not failed. I just went off-track temporarily. So let me get back on track quickly.’
Nobody is perfect – yet, we can all be consistent. Just keep bouncing back, as many times as needed. That way, you can sustain any habit.
5. Aim big, but start small.
Here is one big mistake we often make – we think that if the goal is big, we also need to start big. E.g., to become fit, the workout has to be very intense from day 1.
As a result, many people work out so hard on the first day that for the next few days, they are not able to move their limbs.
If you set your daily goals very high from early on, you will be able to push yourself on the days you are motivated. But on the low-motivation days, you won’t show up. Gradually, the habit will become erratic and you will lose enthusiasm.
Instead, it is better to start small so that you can take the action even on days you aren’t super motivated. That way, you can build a streak, which in turn will motivate you to keep going.
And then gradually, you can start increasing your intensity.
So to get fit, start with a light workout. To build the running habit, start with a light walk and run. To build the reading habit, start by reading books for 15 min every day.
Build consistency first – then over time, start pushing yourself harder.
6. Create a supportive ecosystem
Let me illustrate with the example of running.
When building the habit of a morning run, find a few buddies who will come along with you. That way, when you don’t feel like going for a run, you will remember that your buddies are waiting. It will motivate you just enough to get out of bed and show up.
Having a community solves 90% of the problem. That is why, in HabitStrong bootcamps, we give you handholding and support to keep going.
So that’s all it takes to be consistent. It may be a struggle initially but if you push through the initial resistance, over time, you start enjoying the activity.
Follow these steps and you can stick to any habit indefinitely. Now, it is time for action. Let’s do it.
Thank you for reading.