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The consistency conundrum

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

My friend Vicky is, quite simply, amazing. First of all, she's one of the most abundantly joyful people you'll ever meet. But that's not why I'm writing about her (today). She's amazing because she is developing a most uncanny ability to stay committed to a cause. To her cause. Last night we were together with a group of friends and as we wrapped up she casually mentioned she's had 53 days in a row of intentional exercise. 53 days! As someone who struggles to stay committed to one thing for even 53 minutes, I am suitably impressed. She decided, 53 days ago, that she would get intentional exercise every day.

And then she did.

A couple of years ago, this same Vicky decided that she would be debt-free within 24 months. Can you guess what happened 24 months later? No debt. Shocking, right? It sounds so simple:

Decide, do, decide, do, repeat...

But you and I both know it is not quite that simple. Consistency is like a secret weapon that enables us to achieve, to conquer, to overcome. While big dreams of an epic accomplishment might get us started, it's consistency that keeps us going (and maybe I'd add a large dose of courage to that too, but that's for another day). This secret weapon works in art, academics, food, exercise, relationships, work...literally every single area of life where we've seen change (or want to see change) has been fueled by consistency. Most of the good things we experience in life come because of our choice to be consistent. Including managing people.

When I work with CEOs and Managers, the overwhelming "one thing" that needs to change, is their commitment to consistency.

Consistency enabled Anne Sullivan to teach Helen Keller to communicate.

Consistency enabled Charles Blondin to cross the Niagara Gorge 300 times and die of natural causes.

Consistency enabled Zelmyra and Herbert Fisher to break The Guinness World Record for the longest marriage, at 87 years, dying as best friends still in love.

In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest that every extraordinary thing you've accomplished - those things you are most proud of in your life - came your way because of your choice to remain consistent. Consistency enables normal, everyday choices, to make an extraordinary impact...over time. Anne Sullivan's spelling words on Helen Keller's hand for one day...or one week, made no difference at all. Her choice to do it over and over and over again, everyday, for months, turned something ordinary, into something entirely extraordinary.

And yet, knowing this to be truth doesn't make it any easier! The conundrum with consistency is that it's boring! A lot of the time, doing the thing we know is right (productive, important, necessary) is not nearly as exciting as doing the thing that is new. And, knowing something is important doesn't automatically enable us to act upon it. The Managers and CEOs I work with know they need to be more consistent in their roles...and still aren't. My friend Vicky knew that she needed to create new habits if she was to become debt free, but that knowledge didn't help her by itself.

If knowing isn't enough, then what is? Three things I can offer, in response to that question.

1. Be clear on your true north.

Wherever it is that you're wanting to grow, be clear on what your aiming for. I decided years ago that I wanted my children to experience me as an attentive parent. My phone started going in my purse as soon as I pulled into the garage at night and I'd pull it out once they were in bed. In the mornings, no phone until after they're on the bus. Whenever I get the urge to check my phone outside of these windows, I think about my true north: attentiveness. That is enough to remain consistent.

2. Don't let your feelings decide.

I don't mean you should ignore or deny your feelings. By all means, acknowledge them. Acknowledge the fact that you really don't feel like packing a lunch today, or you really don't feel like having that important conversation with your direct report. As a Manager, I almost never felt like having monthly 1:1 meetings with my direct reports (sorry to all my previous employees...). I just didn't like doing them - I'm an introvert and my default setting is to choose alone over together at almost every turn. I did them anyway. Acknowledge those feelings, just don't let them decide what you will do next. Our feelings are grounded in comfort. Our growth is found in discomfort.

3. Have friends like Vicky.

For real :) Surround yourself with people who remind you of who you are trying to become. I have one particularly insightful group of people who consistently remind me of who I am at my best, and who I say I am trying to become. They don't remind me by telling me, or shaking their fingers at me, or by challenging or correcting me. They remind me just by being in my doing life with me closeup, rather than from a distance. When I am with them, they reflect back to me the person I've said I want to be in life. They encourage me on my progress (however small) and help me stay calibrated to my true north. This keeps me going, and keeps me accountable.

It's no surprise to me that my friend Vicky is succeeding at achieving her goal of "intentional exercise everyday." She already built her consistency muscles. She definitely used more strategies than I've listed (she also tracked, structured and celebrated, for example...). Now that she has the muscles, she can apply them to one area of her life after another, after grow, evolve and continue to spread her abundant joy (FYI...she's really consistent at that too). It's her secret weapon.

What about you? Is there an area of your life where you know you've benefited from consistency?

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