Practice. Smile. Repeat
Being consistent is one of the most important factors that lead to success, but most of us find it hard to maintain the drive. Punya Srivastava explores the magic of this habit and discusses ways to cultivate it in our daily lives
Johnny Jones was a charming young boy, doted upon by everyone around him. People looked out for him and mollycoddled him so much that, gradually, he became a weakling; he couldn’t endure any hardship, nor did he have any strength of will. Soon, the same people who doted on him started talking about his fragility in hushed tones. Once, he heard a mother say to her son, “Come on, my boy, stop crying. You are behaving like Johnny Jones!” That made Johnny feel quite ashamed of himself. He realised that it was time to toughen up. For several days, he tried to see how much he could put up with hardships, but he couldn’t endure anything.
Worried, he went to his father to seek advice. His father, then, told him about a trick that his teacher had taught him to turn him into a tough boy.
“And what is the trick?” enquired Johnny. “Eat a candy less, study a minute more, and count to five before crying.”
Johnny could not believe it. “Just that?”
“Yes, just that,” said his father, “It is quite simple, but I warn you that it won’t be easy. You have to follow it every single time.”
Johnny went off happy as a lark, ready to follow that advice. So, when his mother offered him candies sometime later, he took only one, remembering the ‘one candy less’ advice. It wasn’t easy though, and he realised his father had been right. To leave one candy in his mother’s hand really took it out of him! That same afternoon, he decided to once again put the trick into practice by studying for one minute more. Consequently, he missed the first minute of his favourite television show. But achieving this feat gave him a great feeling of satisfaction. The same happened when he bumped into the corner of the kitchen table. He only managed to count to four before crying, but his mother was pretty impressed with that.
Over the following days, Johnny kept applying the motto to his life diligently. Eat one candy less, study one minute more, and count to five before crying. And the more he put this into practice, the easier it got. Before long, he realised that not only could he eat fewer candies, study more minutes, and cry fewer times, but he could also do things that before would have seemed impossible, like running for a good while or brushing aside small nicks and cuts.
But what brought about this drastic change in Johnny Jones? His regular application of the mantra every single time; in short, his consistency!
Significance of consistency
‘Karat karat abhyaas ke jadmati hot sujaan, rasri aavat-jaavat te sil par parat nisaan.’
Meaning: “Regular practice makes even a dumb person intelligent, just like the constant grazing of a rope across a stone leaves marks on it.”
The above Hindi doha (couplet) aptly describes the significance of consistent efforts. Much like a rope that leaves a dent on the parapet of a well by consistently grazing the same spot every time, one can acquire any skill by practising it regularly.
In the age of instant gratification, this mantra seems oddly out of place, or more like out of ethos. And yet, this is what eventually leads to one’s evolution. To illustrate this, let us talk about mankind’s perennial quest to achieve prosperity, which is considered the hallmark of being successful. We, as a society, have been charmed off our socks by ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes, cave-full-of-treasure-trove stories, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and promises of instant prosperity and gratification. The path to prosperity is considered littered with serendipitous events, inheritance, or some stroke of magical luck. Alas, nothing could be further from the truth.
Consistency is a fundamental aspect of effective action. Prosperity or abundance may begin with a mindset, but they are not achieved in that moment. Although it is important to dream and visualise abundance to send clear signals to your mind, mere visualisation does not discount the hard work you have to put in, that too regularly, to manifest that abundance and make it your reality. Success is not that momentous action you take today or some other day, nor is it a stroke of luck, or a magical quantum leap that you will take to make a difference. Nothing great was ever achieved by those who apply themselves ‘once in a while.’ Abundance is found by consistently putting one step after the other. Whatever you do consistently every day decides your direction in life. It is that simple and that which creates the monumental difference between where you are now and where you will be in a handful of days.
Time and consistency
The Cambridge dictionary defines consistency as always behaving or happening in a similar, especially positive way. To be consistent means to fully dedicate yourself completely to a task, activity, or goal. It means to stay engaged without distraction, day after day. Time plays a significant role in this whole concept of consistency. One can be extremely motivated and enthusiastic about achieving one’s goal, but what happens when they do not get the desired results? That is the time when a person’s strength of character gets tested.
Most of us must have heard about former president of India, late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam’s inspirational journey from his humble roots to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the most prestigious building in the nation. When Dr Kalam’s first major project as a scientist, SLV3, failed the first time in 1979, he was shattered. This project was the culmination of 10 years of hard work of numerous researchers and scientists. Around the same time, Dr Kalam’s childhood friend, Jalaluddin—to whom he was deeply attached—passed away. And yet, he did not think of quitting the project. “I knew that for [achieving] success, we have to work hard and persevere,” he was found saying. 11 months later, the team successfully launched SLV3 in their second attempt under the leadership of the brilliant Dr Kalam.
One of his earliest team members from the SLV3 project, Dr P K Menon, who then went on to become the Chief Scientist and CEO at Optimal Synthesis Inc., USA, had shared an anecdote about Dr Kalam’s habit of being consistent. “I was in Thiruvananthapuram for five years, and he was invariably the first to arrive in office and the last one to leave at the end of the day. Young guys like me tried to keep up with his schedule, but found out pretty soon that we lacked the stamina to do so.”
“There is no greater power in heaven or on earth than commitment to a dream,” said the incredible Dr Kalam.
Consistency vs creativity
Being consistent is like being a mason who builds a building brick by brick, not like a maverick painter who creates a masterpiece when visited by a flash of brilliance. But even creative mavericks have a way with their methods.
“The very nature of creativity is to understand patterns and then to break away from those patterns. Only when we understand the deviation from the norm, can we create something extraordinary. Thus, for every creative person, while discipline is the only thing that can take the craft further, it is also the one thing you find ways to run away from,” believes Ritika Bajaj, editor of online publishing platform, Pink Pinjra.
It seems that consistency and creativity are always at loggerheads when it comes to taking credit for success. Creativity dies a slow death at the hands of monotony and it might seem that monotony is the unwanted progeny of consistency. However, for one to keep on doing the same thing again and again and yet not die of boredom is a challenge which needs to be properly understood.
I have many half-written stories to my credit as a young adult. An idea would strike me, and I would sit down with great enthusiasm to pen down a fiction story. But, every time, I would encounter a writer’s block. I would throw away my pen and notebook in frustration and forget all about it till the next idea would strike me. This went on for around five-six years, and after that, I never really got the time and space to sit down to write fiction again. Now, when I read about writers, as young as 13-14 years old publishing their books, I realise that I gave in to my impatience and tendency to get bored too easily.
“Consistency is a quest for every creative person. And, like all quests, it is an elusive one. Because while every creative person seeks consistency, they also seeks liberation from consistency or sameness.” Ritika further adds, “Discipline is not just important to hone your craft, it is a prerequisite for it. Because creativity does not emerge on its own. Creativity has to be cultivated. It has to be worked on day after day, week after week, month after month. The creative muscle, like any other, only gets stronger if it is exercised regularly. For that, one needs to be disciplined and committed to your chosen craft, enterprise, or medium of expression.”
While working with Life Positive, the whole editorial team got an opportunity to participate in former editor-in-chief Suma Varughese’s writing workshop. This was followed by a WhatsApp course that required all of us to create grammatically correct, beautiful sentences on the word of the day, every day. This one simple exercise was enough to prove the significance of consistency in developing one’s creative muscle. The biggest growth that I witnessed was of my former colleague and good friend Purnima, former deputy editor of Life Positive, Hindi. She is one of the few people who I have seen being consistent in whatever tasks she undertakes. I saw her persevering and diligently devoting time to that exercise, day after day. Coming from a Hindi background, it is amazing to see her liaise with international clients in perfect English in her last role in a corporate setup as key client manager-languages.
This might not seem like a big deal to many, but for an individual who has persevered with a single-minded determination to better herself, it is one of her most significant conquests. As Dr Kalam said, “To succeed in your mission, you must have single-minded devotion to your goal.”
Consistency enforces commitment
“To be consistent requires commitment on your part. It requires that you commit yourself to sustained effort over the long term. What this essentially means is that you keep your word to yourself and others that you will follow through with what you set out to do consistently over a period of time, up until the moment your objectives are achieved. As such, consistency is all about your ability to be dependable, reliable, and responsible for all your choices, decisions, and actions,” says renowned Mind Mapper Adam Sicinski, founder of IQ Matrix.
As a team of two freelancers striving to create their own platform, Purnima and I couldn’t have been more polar in our approach towards work. Purnima has always been the more disciplined and persevering one. I realised the significance of these traits quite early while we were preparing the groundwork for our platform. She would diligently sit before her computer at nine in the morning and would clock eight hours every weekday (and even weekends on many occasions) without any hang-ups. I, on the other hand, would follow her steps only to see my determination peter down in just two-three days. I would grow bored of an unstructured routine as a fresh freelancer, unable to inculcate enough discipline and commitment, while she would sail through the day as perfectly as a swan.
There was a phase of lean days when work wasn’t much in volume. I spent my time catching up on blogs, podcasts, videos, movies, and other reading material that I didn’t have time for while working a full-time job. My days were unstructured, and I was happily going with the flow, convincing myself that I deserved such unrestricted me time after a decade of working at a nine-to-five job. But Purnima still followed her routine of starting work at 9.00 a.m. even at that time. On being asked how and why she didn’t get bored of the monotonous routine, she replied, “I don’t allow boredom to dictate me. I have committed myself to this routine and it is my responsibility towards my higher Self to honour this commitment.”
Why is it difficult to be consistent?
What usually happens is that we combust all our energy and enthusiasm in the initial days of walking the path that leads to our goal. We overdose on practice and overwhelm ourselves with motivational paraphernalia. Much like the overenthusiastic athlete who spends all his energy in gaining the lead in the first lap of the relay race but eventually burns out and loses, we also lose sight of the long path lying ahead of us in order to maintain the lead. Or, in some cases, we are unable to put a lid on our enthusiasm and channel it in a fruitful manner.
Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, a Vajrayana Buddhist teacher, writer, and acclaimed film-maker, illustrates this point in his book Not for Happiness: A Guide to the So-Called Preliminary Practices through the example of a meditation practitioner. “Having gorged themselves on practice, practitioners stop for a few months, and when they eventually return to it, they are right back at square one. At this rate, progress is slow. A far better approach is that of the tortoise. Each step may seem to take forever, but no matter how uninspired you feel, continue to follow your practice schedule precisely and consistently. This is how we can use our greatest enemy, habit, against itself.”
The habit of consistency isn’t about obtaining quick results. It is rather about making incremental progress and improvements over an extended period of time. However, if it looks like a big deal to inculcate the habit of being consistent, recall all those poor habits that you have adopted mindlessly. That ever-increasing paunch is a result of consistently snacking ‘a little bit’ on unhealthy foods ‘just today’ that you have been doing day after day since the past many months. So, if it is so easy to inculcate bad habits, it is equally easy to be consistent with evolutionary habits.
How to be consistent
Repeating something over and over again forms the foundation of any skill we want to learn. However, being consistent makes different demands on different individuals.
“Consistency-in-action is about evolution. This is not about mindlessly repeating an action over and over again. It’s about learning, growing, and adapting your actions that can help lead to incremental improvements over an extended period of time. Consistency-in-action is about gaining ever greater insights and understandings about what it is you are doing and subsequently making the necessary adjustments to these actions to help improve your results and performance over the long haul,” says Adam Sicinski.
Consistency is about improving your efficiency at each step of your journey. Hence, consistency demands that you stay focused on making incremental improvements and not just sticking with the status quo. To be consistent means understanding that the greatest power lies in the present moment. Therefore, consistency demands that you stay vigilant, mindful, and present for the task at hand, without losing focus. It demands that you are able to discipline yourself for this moment—and only to this moment—without exception.
Following are a few practical steps that help you become consistent:
Develop focus: Keeping the big picture in view is absolutely important, but the focus needs to be on the small steps on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis that will eventually lead to your goal. When you consistently focus on the smaller pieces and execute them one by one, it will certainly lead you to the bigger picture.
Develop winning habits: Success is often a result of certain habits practised on a regular basis. For instance, if you want to drop four inches from your waist in the next two months, you need to develop specific habits—a strict diet, exercise routine, positive affirmations—which need consistent practice. However, when it comes to their execution, most people fail because they do not register these as significant habits that will lead them to success. When you embrace these habits as winning habits, the sense of joy and achievement you feel each day acts as a silent motivator for you to help you go further till you achieve your goal.
Do what you love and love what you do: It is far easier to be consistent when you are doing something that you love to do. But it can also be easy to learn to love what you are doing even if you don’t like it at that time. Take responsibility for the process itself, not the results. As Lord Krishna had suggested, keeping your focus on the karma or the action helps you stay grounded in the moment. When you move your focus away from the fact that you don’t like what you are doing and do it simply because it is your responsibility, you will not feel the angst of being stuck with something you don’t like.
Tackle boredom: Feeling bored does kill consistency. To do away with the monotony of a routine, bring some variety to it. Focus on how best you can enjoy the routine itself. Apply it to various areas in your life too. When you make your routine interesting, you have a greater chance of developing consistency till you start following it on autopilot mode. For instance, I include small ‘outside of work’ activities in my routine to keep boredom away, like doing some art and craft, preparing a new dish, watering plants, or reading a different blog. I vary their schedule every day to do away with the monotony.
Use your environment: Your environment is full of triggers that cause emotional responses on the conscious and unconscious level. Use it to your advantage and make your environment a constant reminder of things you need to do, have to do, and will do. Write your goals on Post-its, index cards, wall-mounted calendars, or anything that you can see with little to no effort.
Journey is worth more than the destination: It is often your own reaction to obstacles, your emotional self-destruction, that leads you astray. When you are disappointed that you aren’t achieving the kind of result you had intended on, you may allow the disappointment to affect your self-esteem and tarnish your self-image. However, it is imperative to make a commitment to yourself that you will enjoy the journey with an understanding that the destination is beyond our circle of control. If you are led elsewhere, don’t let that distract you. Choose to recalibrate and enjoy the journey.
The journey of life is all about betterment and self-growth, and it yields its results only to those who are willing to put in all that it takes to achieve their goals.
Consistent and indefatigable efforts are one of those key elements.
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