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Why consistency beats intensity every time

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

No matter what your stretch-goal is, (weight loss, better fitness, finding your soulmate, saving up for that bucket-list vacation, quitting cigarettes or alcohol, spending more time with family, etc.), there is one thing that will determine your chances of reaching your goal more than anything else. And that is consistency.

Your ability to maintain the behavior change that you need to reach your goal depends on your ability to do what you said you’d do. Day after day, week after week, year after year if necessary. Even when you’ve had a bad day, or the kids are sick, or the dog chewed up your wallet, or whatever it is that’s distracting you from your path. When your goal becomes your first priority and everything else gets scheduled around that, you can’t help but succeed. Essentially, it becomes a matter of deciding what you’re going to spend your time, money, or energy on every day.

Most of us don’t do this very well. We’re great at sticking to our new plan as long as everything is going well and life is cooperating. But as soon as we get a flat tire, there’s a choice to make. Are we going to get out and change the tire and keep going even though we’ve been delayed? Or are we going to slash the other 3 tires, yell “Screw this!” and go back to the way we used to do things? (Also known as “falling off the wagon”.)

There’s nothing wrong with having competing priorities. If your kid falls off their skateboard and breaks an arm, you might choose to spend the rest of the day sitting in the ER instead of going to the gym. When you examine what’s really important in your life, your kids take priority over your workouts, and that’s exactly as it should be. But if you miss one workout and use it as an excuse to skip the rest of the week or the rest of the month, that’s when it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities and figure out why you’re choosing procrastination and comfort over what you said you wanted when you decided to make a change.

For most of my life, I thought intensity was the way to get faster results. I’d go from stuffing my face on the couch every night, to working out twice a day for an hour and obsessively tracking every calorie I ate. Through sheer stubbornness I could usually keep it up for a few weeks. Once I even managed 4 months. But it just wasn’t sustainable. Eventually I’d have to admit defeat and then I’d invariably swing the pendulum back in the opposite direction and regain more than what I’d lost. Sound familiar? Most people can understand what this crap-tastic merry-go-round feels like.

Why did I do this to myself? Because I was convinced that small sustainable changes just weren’t good enough to get me where I wanted to go. Why exercise for 20 minutes when I could do 90? Why just reduce my food intake by a barely-noticeable 10% when I could starve myself and get that weight off even faster? If you want results, you have to do MORE, right?

Nope. If you want results that last, whatever habits you change to get those results have to last too. Small changes that feel too easy to matter are changes that you won’t resist. Because they don’t feel hard, and they don’t feel like an exhausting burden that you have to drag around all the time. If you dread having to do something, you’ll always be looking for a reason to avoid it and willpower alone is not enough.

Consistency isn’t even about always doing the thing you planned to do every day, no matter what. Life just isn’t like that. But even if you can’t do what you planned that day, what is one small thing that you can still do to move yourself closer to your goal? What’s something you CAN do, that’s at least 1% better than what you used to do?

Your results are determined by the seemingly insignificant small choices and actions that you make all day, every day. Your results are the product of what you consistently do, not what you do for a short time when you’re all fired up about “really making it work this time”. I haven’t been training for a marathon, but I could get out there right now and try to make myself do it… and destroy my body in the process. Then I’d have to spend weeks or months recovering, during which time I’d likely end up worse off than before I started. Or, I could decide to walk a marathon. Still not easy, but much more doable and much more sustainable. It would take a really long time, but I’d eventually get there and I’d still be functional when I arrived.

Your weight-loss journey (or the journey to wherever you’re trying to go) is the same way. If you try to make changes that are too big or too hard all at once, you’ll burn out and quit from the overwhelm. Just stay the course, keep making small but good choices that don’t feel like a burden, and you’ll get where you want to go with plenty of energy left in the tank.

Written by Natalie Fayman, CPC, ACC, ELI-MP, COR.E Dynamics Wellbeing Specialist

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