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I am fascinated by the concept of consistency. It is simple and straightforward and yet so difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible to do.
Consistency is defined as steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form, etc. It comes from the late Latin consistentia which means standing firm.
How come it is so difficult to remain consistent? It all starts with our brain. There are three characters living in it: the sage, the monkey, and the robot.
The robot is the part of our brain that takes care of the automatic functions like breathing, blinking, and typing once we become proficient. This is one of the ways for the brain to use energy more efficiently.
The sage is the executive commander, the one that generates our thoughts and ideas, the logical and analytical part of our brain.
The monkey is the part of our brain that handles emotions, and it is a cross between a six-year-old and a teenager. Our monkey is the one who wants to go outside to play and not do the homework. The monkey wants the reward now, it wants to see results. It gets bored easily. And it is enemy #1 of our desire to remain consistent.
Our target is to keep the monkey brain in check. We want to create productive habits to replace unproductive ones. The objective is to automate these routines, which the robot brain will now handle, so we do not have to decide every time we want to execute them.
We are on a constant race to move new habits into the automated portion of the brain, so it becomes more difficult for the monkey to take over.
When we start a new eating habit like replacing refined sugar for low glycemic ones, we have to make a conscious effort to stay on track for a period of time. The monkey wants the chocolate, the soda, the cake. The sage keeps reasoning on all the benefits this change (eating less sugar) will bring, it reminds us why we do it. If we stay consistent in establishing the new habit, there will be a point in time where the function will move to the automated side of the brain, and we will not think about it so frequently.
This is not a one and done. Certain habits or tasks are easier than others to automate. And the level of difficulty is different for each person. It may be easy for me to quit sugar and very hard to do sit ups. For my friend Lea, the opposite may be true.
“It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently.” – Anthony Robbins
So, what can we do to stay on the course longer?
1) Accept that you will fall off the wagon
Anyone who has overcome an addiction knows that it is not if you will fall off the wagon but when. And most importantly, how quickly you will get back on.
When we go on vacation many of the tasks and habits we usually have go out the window. This is perfectly normal. How long does it take us to get back on track once we are back to reality?
Not exercising is my addiction. My sage knows the benefits of exercise, but my monkey wants to sit and read or watch the latest show on Netflix or Amazon Prime. So, I work out first thing in the morning; this way, anything that happens throughout the day would not prevent me from exercising.
When I go on vacation, I either bring my gym clothes with me (if the trip is for 1 week or longer), or I make it a point to walk as much as I can (at least 1 hour each day). This is the midpoint compromise I found to continue a modified routine and to get back on track faster once I return home.
“We all fall off the wagon. It’s only one day; it’s not the rest of your life. Pick yourself up and go again.” Unknown
2) It is a life mission
The monkey brain is always there, and it never grows up. Fine, it may grow up from a 6-year-old to an 8-year-old. It does not mature. We still want the burger, binge watch, lay down on the beach, and have everything we want and dream of with the least amount of effort.
We are always vigilant when it comes to our monkey brain.
Everyone who has tried to lose weight knows that the moment we lower our guard we are back to square one (and sometimes worse than when we started) and it takes an additional amount of effort to restart.
When I embarked on taking care of my health a few years ago, I knew that I had to create habits that would be with me for the rest of my life. I could no longer count on the 30-day diet. I needed a permanent change to lifestyle and choices.
“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” Unknown
3) Replace and automate habits
Remember when we were kids and we had to consciously wash our teeth – i.e., being constantly reminded (or yelled at) to wash our teeth? Or for those with young kids, when was the last time you did not have to repeat the same command (‘brush your teeth, please!’) what it seems like a thousand times each day?
How many times do you consciously think about brushing your teeth in the morning or at night now? Exactly, almost never. It is an automatic habit. If you forget for whatever reason, you feel it; there is something missing in the morning or night routines.
My morning routine is that I wake up, brush my teeth, change into my gym clothes, and exercise. The days I do not follow these steps, I have to make a conscious effort to do different ones. Sometimes I have my gym clothes on before I realize I was supposed to dress differently because I had an early flight.
That is the power of automating our habits to ensure consistency and achieve our goals.
“Effort means nothing without consistency.” – Janna Cachola, Lead by choice, not by checks
Being consistent wins the race – that is exactly how the turtle beat the hare: it never stopped walking until the finish line. We want to automate the habits that support our goals as much as possible. This way we do not have to think about them or decide what we will do. We are protecting ourselves from ourselves.
Being consistent is not a one and done. We want to establish the routines that we can sustain in time. It is more effective to start small and build over time consistently, than attempting to make a gigantic effort not sustainable in time. When we fall off the wagon, we get back on as soon as we can and continue.
Any goal, especially bold, audacious, exciting, and risky goals require consistent effort along a timeline. Do not be fooled by what is perceived as overnight success. That does not exist. I assure you that anything portrayed as ‘overnight success’ has had many hours of work, and trial and error behind it.
What are your thoughts about consistency? What action will you take this week? Please, let us know in the comments. You can write in English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French.
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My mission is to help women transition from mid to senior level leadership positions by creating awareness, increasing emotional intelligence, and unveiling the tools and choices available to them, so they can confidently realize and fulfill their potential.