An Unconventional Advice on How to Become a Consistent Person
Another day another chance to google “How to become a successful writer” and pull up the “5 Juicy Tips Millionaire Authors Never Told You” blog post. The first tip? Be consistent.
Duh, the internet. I get it. Tell me how.
Few writers have made it to the top, but those who do have one thing in common. They work on their crafts for years and years and enjoy an outsized reward because the world values consistency.
Most of us are aware that consistency is the only superpower you need to take your business from zero to a hundred; it’s even more essential than talent or luck. However, judging from the fact that 80% of new year resolutions fail and most people don’t even bother committing, people who can stick to their goals long-haul are as rare as unicorns.
I’m one of those majority who’s struggling with consistency. I’m trying to become a consistent writer now, publishing something every single day, but this is not my first rodeo. My first blog post was published 17 years ago, and I’ve started and abandoned many all through the years. I’ve never managed to write more than 20 posts for each of these blogging projects.
It’s a little demoralizing. In my defense, I quit writing to start several other successful businesses, and I was able to get by without mastering online writing, so giving up is not always a bad thing. Anyway, here I am, after 17 years, starting it all over again, facing the goals I have attempted several times, but never defeated.
Deep down I know; the only way I can fail is to self-sabotage.
So how can I stick to it this time around? How can I stay in the game long enough to build the library of work I can be proud of?
People say “you teach best what you need to learn most”, and I need to learn this badly. If you are like me — the veteran of falling 7 times and getting up 8 — let us dive into the art of sticking to the goals you care about.
Why We Quit?
I might not be qualified to teach how to be consistent, but I’m that expert who can explain quitting.
Consistency seems easy from afar. You set some goals, and then you wake up every day to do that. Keeping it up for a long time.
The problem is time. Time is truly a bitch.
Humans are naturally inclined to decay. That’s how your entire brain works. Every single brain cell is kicked into work by a spike of electricity that jolts into activity and then rapidly dissipates over time.
Our emotions, desires, and memories are all transient.
The reason why you started, the excitement towards lucrative opportunities, the novelty of shiny goals will fade. When that’s the case, what’s left is chore and boredom. We were evolved to adapt to the environment. We were programmed to change our minds a lot to survive.
And then there is entropy — the beautiful truth that all things trend toward disorder. Life tends to grow more complicated; priorities are mounting up, and chaos is bound to escalate over time.
It’s always easier to get distracted than to stay on track.
When amassed disturbance meets degenerating motivation, quitting is the result. It’s the default mode.
By entropy, we are talking about both external and internal factors that reinforce quitting and discourage re-starting.
Co-workers have increasing demands on your time and pull you away from your side hustle. Self-doubt and tension creep into your brain from accumulated rejections and negative feedback. Impostor syndrome and the thoughts that perhaps you just don’t have what it takes overwhelmed you.
When you let those things stop you so many times, you start to believe it’s your identity — “you are not a consistent person.” I have been there.
Why We Commit?
I don’t know any human being more capable of keeping commitments than Scott H Young. I followed him since 2012 when he declared he would complete MIT’s 4-year computer science curriculum in 12 months. Then two years later he learned 4 languages (immersive style) in under one year. He kept his blog up and running for over a decade. Excellently, he taught us how to commit.
Scott explained that humans are societally programmed to stay committed to what we promised. We can stay with the same partner through ups and downs for years if not decades. We work hard days in days out to take care of our children. We spend a mind-boggling amount of time, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, in one location that is called our full-time job. We are fully capable of keeping even the most disheartening promises.
We’re just not conditioned to place the importance of our own goals ahead of others’ expectations.
At this point, other experts will tell you to go out and tell everybody about your goals, and public declaration alone will keep you committed.
But really? Why? How long will we keep motivating ourselves by fear of rejection and humiliation, instead of giving a damn about what we truly want?
In another post, Scott suggested that you must first comprehend your goal at a deeper level, to realize its intrinsic value. When he started a blog, he knew that “building a complete system that would fund [his] livelihood” is the only thing he’s interested in doing and he would not want traditional 9–5 jobs like other people.
This long-term value, despite being rather abstract and vague, is the most rigid and most resistant to change. It doesn’t matter whether he sells blogs, ads, books, or courses. He’s willing to commit to whatever projects contribute toward the life-long goal, which will persist even though he may flunk a few attempts.
The key to consistency is to have a grand purpose that’s so important, it’s unthinkable to quit.
How to Be Brutally Consistent
Habit is key, but it’s not enough
Every article I read about consistency talks about a usual tip: “build habits” and insert links somewhere to James Clear’s Atomic Habits. It is truly timeless advice.
We can turn a lot of business actions into habits, making them obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.
I adopted atomic habits principles to show up at my desk every morning and perform work rituals to get tasks done. Since I’m addicted to coffee, I made a point to review my goals and jot down high-priority action items at the coffee table. I celebrate that small win and move over to my desk to start working. I never break that streak for years, as someone who used to scroll social media in bed for hours, that’s a big change.
All of the atomic habits success stories focus on relatively simple, linear goals like keeping up with exercising or quitting cigarettes. Building a successful business is extremely nonlinear. Creators’ jobs are highly cognitive, time-consuming, with twists and turns and inevitable doubts. It’s also a full-time job requiring multiple little skills, decisions, and strategies.
Habits provide an initial repeated loop of attempts, so you can try your hands at achieving the goals, again and again. It’s the minimum requirement, but good habits alone won’t skyrocket you to success.
Just like all other human emotions, passion is fleeting. Worse, some people have a passion for flaccid things such as earnings and likes that they can’t control, making it more likely that their enthusiasm will come and go.
A more effective strategy is to concentrate your zeal on more permanent features, such as the joy of perfecting your craft or your deep devotion to the clients you serve. This purpose should be inspirational and abstract, with a long-term focus.
This is something I have not done before in my previous business. I asked, “if there’s a business I will enjoy running 30 years from now, what business would that be?” Even if the business takes decades, if I enjoy the process, it wouldn’t matter. This is the first time I rank my business ideas based on their permanent traits: satisfaction, sustainability, scalable model.
Learning from Scott, I now know that I am capable of long-term commitment. It’s just that, up until this point, I haven’t prioritized my long-term values above all else. If I make unmistakably clear what those values are and how my online writing is aligned with them, I would not have such a hard time staying on track.
Most cars are propelled forward by a combustion engine that relies on repeated cycles of compression, ignition, and power. Without being overly scientific, let me just handwave and say that it’s a repeated loop of pistons moving up and down to rotate the wheels. When a piston moves down it compresses a chamber causing the mixture of fuel and air to explode. The combustion energy pushes the piston up with additional rotational momentum that powers the car as well as thrusts the piston back down for the next combustion. With the power of feedback engineering, a small amount of energy can keep this cycle going for extended periods and allow the car to run long distances at little gas cost.
To get anywhere with our goals, it’s the same thing, we need to inject energy to dash forward and leverage that momentum to power the next iteration.
My unshakable purpose would be the source of energy I can draw from constantly to power my engine. And I could also incorporate the “fuel-injection” activity into the habit stack by repeatedly revisiting my goals and remembering my why’s.
I wrote down my long-term goal explicitly on an index card. On the other side of the cards, I listed the reasons why this goal is of utmost importance to my life. Every day I look at this card and, more importantly, I try to feel it in my body. I visualize how enthralled I would feel to have lived this purpose and embarked on this rewarding journey.
I’m hoping that the thrill would help me power through my short-term writing project, learning all of the necessary skills and gaining momentum, until I reach my new identity when writing no longer requires motivation because it has become natural.
Only time will tell, but this is my plan for keeping to it in the long run, this time around.
Our brains are designed to decay, but when something is too important to lose, the equation is reversed; we will find it easy to hold on for dear life.
But just like marriage, that long-term relationship with your values and your goals needs to be cultivated. You need to fall in love with your purpose, again and again, and continuously re-invest in that relationship for it to flourish.
If you have been struggling with consistency for a long time, like me, I hope this article makes you see that perhaps you are already the master of commitments, you just have to find a way to transfer that mastery over to your goals.