There is nothing wrong with irregularity
You know the mantra: take a small step every day and before you know you’ll reach a faraway destination.
There is some truth to it but who wants to walk all the way to Japan, it’ll take forever. Plus, it’s difficult to walk on water.
When I look back on my life, most of the things I have accomplished didn’t come from consistency, they came as a result of momentum.
The problem with consistency is motivation
Consistency means advancing slowly but surely — writing for 10 mins, eating broccoli or doing some push-ups every day. The emphasis is on regularity and steadiness. A river can carve its way through rock over the years, but we are not rivers, and we don’t have so much time. We are intense creatures that lack the motivation, the time and the patience to keep chipping away for years with no visible results.
8 problems with consistency
You can achieve your goal but it will take 10 years. Would you try? Most people would answer yes, but what they mean is no.
It’s very difficult to stay the course when the target is so far away.
Consistency will take you there if you keep chipping away. But you are not a river so you probably won’t.
When you want to achieve a goal, you feel motivated, you want to go full-on. The problem is the motivation fades. A few months down the line you won’t feel as bullish as in the beginning, it’s human nature. There are ways to revamp that initial impetus but this is not sustainable in the long run. Relying only on motivation is a sure way to failure.
Why most kids quit karate or music? Because they lose interest when the work is hard and the progress is slow.
3. Lack of results
If you lose half a kilo a month for 20 months, you’ll be 10 kgs lighter. But 20 months is an eternity without chocolate, pasta or beer. After the first month with so little to show for it, you’ll probably quit.
4. Lack of momentum
When you start something like a sport, a diet or a side hustle, you want to go full blast, you want to give it all. But all the sensible people around you, will tell you that that’s not the way to do it. Steady, slow, don’t rush as the mantra goes.
Certainly, that works for some activities but fails with complex ones like learning a language or losing weight.
The reason we fail is we ignore the most powerful force in the universe: momentum
Momentum can propel you forward much faster than consistency. When you are motivated, you should use every drop of it, don’t hold back, go as far as you can and as fast as you can. By the time you run out of motivation, you’ll be at the other side of the hill, at the point of no return.
5. Lack of landmarks
When you focus only on consistency you ignore the power of landmarks — the different goalposts you hit along the way that give you a sense of accomplishment. Think of them as steps i.e. the belt system in martial arts.
Steady progress is a nice idea but acknowledging intermediate goals along the way increases the chances of success.
In Japan, there is no belt system, no white, yellow or brown belts. Children practice karate for 10 years and then they become black belts. Most of then quit before that. In the west, they motivate the kids with intermediate levels. The success rate is higher and in the Olympics many countries beat Japan at their own game -karate and judo
6. Human nature
We are antifragile animals. We benefit from random events. Consistency is an artificial concept.
Evolution has provided us with the ability to withstand extremes. We are made to fast and feast, exert and rest, feel cold and hot, focus and relax.
Modern life is taking all that away by forcing us into a repetitive routine where everything is too regular, too average and too bland. We sleep 8 hours, have 3 balanced meals, exercise moderately for 30 mins, and work for 8 hours every day.
We perform best in short bursts rather than in slow steady increments.
7. Lack of randomness.
Your body and mind are more suited for intense work for short periods and then rest for as long as necessary.
When you do something you should give it all, don’t hold back. Irregularity creates acute stress and the body and mind react and grow as a response to it. Intense stress is good for you, chronic stress is killing you.
A Lyon in the wild hunt for 1 hour then rests for a week. We are more similar to them than we realize.
When you go to the gym, train to failure, instead of lifting 10 kilos, lift 100 until you fail. Your body will activate a response mechanism and build more muscle.
When you do the same gentle exercises over and over again, you get repetitive stress injury.
Add randomness to your life, in your diet, in your work, in your exercise and you’ll become stronger and healthier.
8. Repetitive stress injury
When you do the same movement daily for a long time your body suffers. Most jobs and sports are very repetitive. People suffer chronic diseases like back pain, carpal syndrome, stress, lack of vision, etc.
It’s very artificial to be regular. Life is irregular and intense, not steady and consistent. We are not machines, we need randomness.
Momentum is what you need
Lack of consistency increases your chances of success.
Learning a language is a good example. I’ve tried to learn several languages in my life, only once I succeeded. The reason is I used an intense, immersion approach. It’s extremely hard but by the time you finish you can communicate with some fluency and that’s enough to take you to the next level. Compare that with the standard method of years of study with a 0.01% success rate. How much do you remember of the French or Spanish you studied at school? Nada
Think about your life achievements. How did you get there? Was it slow steady or short and intense? Chances are you used momentum rather than consistency.
The place for consistency
Some activities benefit from regularity rather than batching:
- Brushing your teeth
- Playing a musical instrument
While others benefit from intensity:
- Learning a language
- Training for most sports ( avoiding injury)
- Junk food
Things that benefit from a mixed approach
- Sports that need conditioning
- Repetitive tasks like martial arts or typing
- Goals that can be divided into stages
Intensive immersion learning has become very popular recently, especially for certain disciplines like coding, language learning, or design.
The reason is, by using momentum, in a few months you can go from 0 to hero and then start using your skills professionally.
When you try to learn the same skill over a much longer period you are more likely to quit.
5 years ago I took up mountain biking. I joined a club and started riding with the team. I was obviously the weakest link, they had to wait for me at every corner. Against their recommendation, I decided to train intensively everyday for 3 hours. A few weeks later I was in the top 10%. Now I had to wait for them.
Was it risky what I did? Maybe, but I knew it was the only way I could keep it up. 5 years later I’m still biking.
Comfort and consistency
There is a link between comfort and consistency. Comfort is the opposite of growth. When you get used to an activity, you feel comfortable, get complacent and then get worse. You stop growing.
Break that habit, approach everything with new eyes. It’s harder but you’ll feel the difference.
Growing is painful, is dramatic, is irregular.
Tell me one company that has had steady growth over a long period. None.
Google, Apple, Windows, Amazon, they all went through explosive growth at the beginning. They wouldn’t be here otherways.
Use consistency to your advantage
Every time you want to learn a new skill, to get fit or to start a business don’t follow the slow lane into oblivion, don’t diversify. Focus 100% of your time and energy on the project until you reach escape velocity. Then you’ll be unstoppable.
Slow and steady is for turtles, you are a tiger. Accumulate energy and then run for life. The only way to go.