Happy New Year to you all! In what’s got to be pretty much the worst start to a new year any of us could have imagined, it’s time to look ahead with positivity and resilience. In periods of anxiety and uncertainty, the best we can do for ourselves is take ownership of our own lives and futures. We may not be able to control the course of a pandemic, or political events, but we can take control of our own responses and actions.
With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about practices you can adopt or improve this year that will not only help you get through the coming months, but will enable you to thrive and reach your true potential in 2021.
When things are up in the air, your routine disrupted, one of the most important things you can do to bring stability, structure and a forward momentum to your life, is to establish some consistency in your actions and behaviours.
“It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, it’s what we do consistently” – Tony Robbins, motivational speaker and author.
Consistency is something I try to achieve, and usually manage quite well. By establishing a non-negotiable, consistent routine, I try to save myself the time and mental energy of making decisions about what things to do and when to do them. For example – from the launch of my podcast in January 2019, I have aimed, largely successfully, to publish an episode weekly. When I was deep in the throes of writing my new book at the end of last year (Be the First – available to preorder in February – keep your eyes peeled!), I gave myself permission to have a few weeks off from producing the podcast in order to concentrate on my writing and meet my deadline. Other than that, I have established my podcast routine as a consistent activity. I don’t need to negotiate with myself about doing it, or find extra time to fit it in – it’s there, consistently in my head and in my diary, giving me purpose, focus and motivation. It has become a pattern and a habit now – the neural pathways have been forged and reinforced by repetition. (Have a look at my blog on the power of habit here). This makes the task much easier for me to complete.
This interesting article in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine backs up my own personal feelings about the importance of consistency. Although the article is focused on health behaviours, the same principles apply. As it states, “Observational research indicates that individuals in good health engage in highly routine health behaviours. For example, those successful at maintaining weight loss often eat the same foods, engage in consistent exercise, and do not skip meals.” In other words, consistency of activity and behaviour is key to their success.
But why is consistency so effective?
1. It makes life easier
A review of 50 years of research on naturally occurring family routines and rituals in the Journal of Family Psychology 2002, revealed that routines do not require conscious effort or thought. When people are presented with choices of behaviours or activities, they will usually pick the action that is easiest, quickest and the one that they perceive to be the most enjoyable. This will not necessarily be the best course of action as you can imagine! Presented with a decision to make between going out for a run or sitting on the sofa to watch a new Netflix series, many of us would gravitate towards the latter. However, If you establish a consistent routine of going out for a run every Monday and Thursday evening at 7pm, you will not have to engage the mental energy to make the decision of whether to do it or not on an ad hoc basis. It just becomes something you always do, at that time, on those days, no debates or conscious effort required. It becomes the easiest path to take by being a repeated, non-optional event!
2. You get better at doing things.
We all know the adage, practice makes perfect – and it is certainly true. The more consistently you perform an activity, the more proficient at that activity you will become. If you repeat activities regularly, you can learn from your mistakes, gain feedback from your actions and adjust and improve accordingly.
3. It makes things measurable.
Doing things consistently enables you to establish a control and benchmarks. How can you measure the effectiveness of an activity unless you are performing that activity consistently? Imagine you are embarking on a new exercise regimen – how do you know what is working for you if you don’t do it regularly and consistently and review your progress?
4. It brings accountability.
If you establish consistent behaviours and actions, you become accountable to your inner self and others who are aware of or involved in your routines. Once you have made that non-negotiable pledge to yourself to do something consistently, and have put the behaviour into regular practice, it is much harder to justify skipping the activity to yourself. It is something that might cause you some guilt, friustration and disappointment. Similarly, if you are consistently exercising with a friend, you become accountable to them. Having an obligation to someone else helps you act consistently.
5. It gives you stability and structure when there is external chaos and disruption.
Most importantly of all in these stressful and uncertain times of change and upheaval, establishing consistent behaviours gives you the stability and structure that you might have lost from your normal environment and routines. There may be pandemic chaos and disruption going on out there, but if you can manage to put in place some new regular activities to keep you functioning through the days and weeks, you will be more more resilient to turbulent external forces. A UK study determined that it took an average of 66 days for a person to develop a consistent health behaviour habit and this applies generally with consistent behaviours. They can take a while to establish, so start small, and learn to revel in the ease that the consistent behaviour brings to your life. Brushing your teeth, walking the dog, eating porridge every morning for breakfast – all these little consistent actions are tiny forces for good, keeping you on the straight and narrow and conserving your mental and physical energy for when you really need it!
So – have a think. Where in your life could you do with some more consistency in 2021? Exercising, spending regular time with the kids, switching off from work, self-care activities or going to bed on time? Repetition can sound dull and boring, but in such tumultuous times, having some grounding routines and automatically knowing exactly what you’re doing and when you’re doing it, might be just what you need!
Tune into my podcast for more inspiration in 2021 – and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to preorder my new book, ‘Be the First: People of Colour, Imposter Syndrome and the Struggle to Succeed in a White World’, or if you’d like more information about my Having it all coaching programme.