The radio on my phone springs into life with more news of economic doom. Outside the sun is already in full flow forcing its way through the gaps in the blinds bathing the room in the early morning light. Bed is so comfortable, so warm and it is so easy to hit “snooze” and roll over for another seven minutes of blissful slumber, then another seven. If this sounds familiar then perhaps achieving consistency is not quite as difficult as you imagine it is.
“I was doing so well, but I just don’t seem able to maintain it” A familiar expression of what seems to perfectly illustrate life at the other end of the spectrum, the almost irresistible temptation to avoid consistency and with it any hope of ongoing wellness. Sometimes clients apologise for coming back, presumably because they are under some sort of illusion that their undoubted ability to be consistent is lost to them and needs reinstallation though my technical know how.
Keeping to diets, maintaining exercise regimes, reducing alcohol consumption, avoiding unhealthy relationships, stopping smoking, investing in ourselves, more of this and less of that. We’re constantly attempting to make things different and we conclude that our inability to sustain change means that we are hopelessly inconsistent. In truth it is an illustration of quite the reverse. We’re far too good at being consistent. What we find hard is breaking damaging consistency and replacing it with positive consistency.
As the wettest June on record slipped away almost unnoticed into an altogether sunnier July I’m writing, as I always do, regardless of the weather and, crucially, whether I want to or not. It’s the difference between thinking you are a writer because you write or writing because you are a writer. They both demand consistency but only one of them is the embodiment of a consistency which is durable and sustainable.
We think we find it hard to be consistent because we are actually misaligning what we think we want with what we actually want. If I want a consistently fit body but I also want to consistently eat a family bag of crisps it isn’t consistency we struggle for it is the right consistency.
Consistency is dead easy. We are drawn to it like a moth to a flame but it is far simpler for us to justify what we already do, however destructive, than it is to change it. It is easier to be clear about why the way we do things right now is embedded and absorbed into our very being, a solid and immovable part of us, than it is to admit we need something different.
We are mistaken when we think it is who we are that dictates what we do because it works the other way too. It is as if we sometimes stand apart from ourselves, getting cues and clues about us from the way we behave. We can surmise that it is because we are lazy and greedy that we lie on the couch eating chocolate, but similarly, lying on the couch eating chocolate creates an impression within that this must be who we are. We think we suck at relationships, that we are unlovable so naturally it will lead us to constant heartache, but experiencing a constant faltering in love also makes us see ourselves as unlovable and hopeless at romance. We catch ourselves either way, constantly confirming our worst fears and maintaining the miserable consistency we desperately want to break.
Of course consistency, while an absolute of being human, cannot exist in perpetuity. Humans crave variety and so part of our inbuilt consistency is the certainty that we will also be consistently inconsistent. If we were not life would become predictable and boring. So our consistency can be seen as an ebb and flow between this and that, where the most sustainable position is that we spend the majority of our time in constructive and healthy pursuit, accepting that we will falter and act counter-intuitively at times, that we will fuck up and do damage, that we will disappoint and dismay. So perhaps our most important consistency is needed in the face of this indisputable truth, the willingness and desire to be consistently gentle and forgiving with our terribly flawed selves.
In writing this piece I researched other articles on the subject of consistency and I found most pretty annoying. Everyone tells you to do things like “keep going even if you don’t want to”. What good is this? It is like telling someone who can’t stop drinking to “Just stop drinking”. It is actually the CAUSE of inconsistency because it fails to address some fundamental realities rather than being an aid to sorting it out. First we must stop being consistently damaging and then we can start being constructively consistent. Consistency is not the problem, the impact of our consistency is.
So in the spirit of maintaining a consistency in this blog, existing as it does to try and help facilitate positive change, here are some things which work for me.
Be gentle with yourself when you fail.
I learned that self abandonment and over criticism is the strategy of a fool. Nobody improves in the long term from being told they are a loser. Do you know why? It’s because losers lose.
Understand WHY you want to make the change.
Creating new and consistent habits based on theoretical or learned benefits is a waste of time. If something hurts and you want it to stop hurting be clear about why and what it is which will be better in the future. It’s basic but it is impossible to create new consistency without it.
Make the changes congruent with your life.
Don’t take on challenges which have beaten you before you begin. It’s a classic mistake to push too hard and fall on your face. The expression reach for the sky and you might end up in the stars is bullshit. If you want to benchpress 250lbs and need to work out in the gym every day but have sole care of two small children then something is going to give (and I hope it’s the weights). Make new habits fit what is immovable or already positive in your life and not the other way around. 1% constant improvement is far better than 10% which doesn’t stick.
Reward yourself for success positively.
Recovering addicts have a habit of relapsing at 12 months because they celebrate their success by testing their recovery with the very problem they have successfully been recovering from, and then whole thing unravels. The consistency you strive for leaves behind all the dirt from the past. You are not rewarding yourself if you allow yourself back into destruction.
Find the need behind the need.
I set myself a target to write 1000 words every day in June but that wasn’t really my objective, it was essentially to establish a more rigorous writing routine. Often we need something tactical, specific and measurable to get something deeper and more fundamental changed. The specifics are less than the trend, but they may well be needed to get you started.
You’re not lazy.
I bristle when people tell me “I’m lazy”. Ironically the only thing which is lazy is that statement. It conveys a disinterest in really identifying whats going on. There is a reason we do things and a reason we don’t. Stop labelling yourself in ways which confirm you can’t create the consistency you desire. It’s unhelpful and it’s not true.
Back in the sunny bedroom I resist the snooze and roll reluctantly out of bed. Twenty minutes later, exercise completed there’s time for both a good breakfast and gentle contemplation staring out onto the tomato plants which are beginning to look like triffids, and the Borlotti’s which have reached the top of the canes and have begun to reluctantly clamber back down again bereft of anywhere further to climb. Cataloging the numerous significant changes which have occurred throughout my life consistency has been there all along, it’s just that it took a while to realise that I had a hold of it if I chose to.