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How to stay consistent: 8 tips for high performance

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You know that feeling: setting new goals, getting all excited, putting the effort in, seeing the first results.

The rush!

But the more time passes by, the more difficult it becomes to keep this up… and stay consistent.

You first find one excuse, then another, and before you know it—you are no longer working towards your goals.

In this post, we’ll explore what consistency is, why it’s so hard to stay on task, and what to do about it.

Why is consistency important for success?

There’s one thing that separates the greatest, most successful leaders from the rest. It’s the ability to deliver what Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, calls sustained excellence, or consistently high performance.

It’s the mark of a level 5 leader, as he points out in his article in Harvard Business Review.
But sustaining excellence isn’t always easy.

We all have days where everything seems to be in flow.

We are able to work creatively, collaborate efficiently, make decisions quickly, and generally get things done and achieve the results that we desire.

Nothing feels better than those days.

But then there are the others.

Almost invariably those highly productive days (or purple patches) are followed by days where we procrastinate, fail to find the right direction, and get stuck on unproductive tasks (like managing email and checking social media).

Those days tend to leave us feeling demotivated and uninspired—and that’s a feeling that can last for days.

The difference between the most successful entrepreneurs, the most efficient managers, and the most productive employees and everyone else is that they tend to stay consistent.

Why is it hard to stay consistent?

Most of us struggle with consistency and are quick to blame ourselves for being lazy or not motivated enough.

But there are good reasons why consistency is so hard.

By better understanding these reasons, it’ll be easier to overcome obstacles that will certainly arise.

1. We all run out of willpower

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg writes:

“Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.”

For many of us, this doesn’t sound convincing.

Is this just an excuse for the lack of self-control and self-discipline?

However, studies show that willpower is a limited resource. Like any other resource, it can be depleted.

In a now-famous 1998 study by Roy Baumeister, participants were invited into a room with a table. On the table, there was a plate with freshly baked cookies and a bowl of radishes. Some participants were invited to try the cookies, while others were asked to resist temptation and eat the radishes. Then both groups were given a tricky geometric puzzle to solve.

Those who ate radishes threw in the towel after just about eight minutes. But the cookie crowd kept at the tricky task for nearly 19 minutes.

This experiment showed that resisting temptation and exercising self-control can deplete our willpower resources.

In other words, it is possible to run out of willpower!

2. Habits die hard

Habits are like well-worn paths in a dense forest, created by repeatedly walking the same route.

From the neuroscience perspective, these paths are called neural circuits, which are a collection of interconnected neurons that carry out a specific function when activated.

Through consistent repetition, habits become so familiar and deeply ingrained in our behavior that choosing a new path becomes challenging.

This is why it’s so hard to break habits.

According to researchers at Duke University, habits account for about 45% of our everyday behaviors. There’s a biological reason for this: the brain is always looking for ways to do things with less energy.

3. We are overwhelmed

Take a pause and look around.

Have you noticed how much stimuli are around you?

Our environment is filled with an overwhelming number of cues and triggers. From notifications on our phones to keyboard chipping, our attention is constantly switching from one thing to another, even if for a millisecond.

In 2012, a group of researchers decided to cut off access to email for 5 days as part of a temporary “email holiday” for 13 recruited participants.

The researchers found that without the constant influx of emails, the participants in the no-email group spent significantly more time on actual work, multitasked less, and had a longer task focus.

focus to avoid overwhelm - consistency tips
Focusing on urgent or time-sensitive tasks helps avoid overwhelm.

How to stay consistent

While it’s important to understand the reasons behind difficulties with staying consistent, they shouldn’t turn into excuses.

Use this knowledge to anticipate and prevent obstacles.

If you know that willpower is a limited resource, working 24/7 is counterproductive.

If old habits die hard, expecting rapid changes can be unreasonable.

If there are too many distractions, productivity will eventually plummet.

There are several things you can do to achieve more consistency.

1. Determine what consistency means for you

Define what consistency looks like for you.

Working 90 hours per week might not be for everyone.

If your goal is to perform consistently in the gym and at work, your consistency will look very different from someone who wants to perform consistently only at work. If willpower is a limited resource, you need to allocate it wisely.

For some people, it’s important to spend time consistently with their family and friends. For others, consistently pursuing their hobbies or exploring new activities is a non-negotiable for having a fulfilling life.

In other words, before committing to staying consistent, define what this means to you.

2. Never lose track of why

Setting the goal is the first step—it’s better not to put it in a drawer and forget about it.

Yes, goals should be SMART.

But they should also stay VR, meaning Visibile and Realistic.

Stay connected to what you are doing you need to remember why you’re doing this in the first place.

Why do you even need to stay consistent? Remind yourself about the reasons from time to time.

remember the why - consistency tips
Making your goals visible and realistic keeps you on track.

3. Take it step by step

Don’t try to change everything all at once. It’s not possible and will leave you burned out. Divide your goal into smaller tasks that will eventually get you closer to the end goal.

This is where the Stages of Change framework can be helpful. It states that every change is a gradual process that doesn’t happen overnight, even if sometimes it looks very sudden.

Researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente introduced the Stages of Change model in the late 1970s. According to this model, every change or habit, such as staying consistent, involves several stages:

  1. Precontemplation: In this stage, you aren’t even considering change. Being consistent is not on your radar.
  2. Contemplation: You’re aware that change is needed, but you’re ambivalent about taking action. It takes time to weigh all pros and cons.
  3. Preparation: You have a plan of action and are getting ready to implement a new consistent routine or habit.
  4. Action: This is where you actively start modifying your behavior and integrating new habits into your life.
  5. Maintenance: New habits have been sustained for a while, but you still need to put in effort to prevent relapse into your old habits.

Understanding these stages allows you to approach consistency in a step-by-step manner.

For example, if you’re in the Precontemplation stage, trying to force a daily habit will likely fail. Instead, begin by simply contemplating the benefits of an early start.

Once in the Preparation phase, take small steps that can help you gradually transition into a new behavior pattern.

The key is meeting yourself where you’re at. Consistency is a journey, not a destination.

how to stay consistent tips
Divide big tasks into smaller ones and tackle them one by one.

4. Nurture new habits

While old habits die hard, you don’t need to wait till you’ve completely rooted them out. Take time to nurture new habits, even if the old ones are still there.

Waging an all-out war on your current inconsistent patterns won’t bring much satisfaction and can lead to burnout. So leave room for both habits: new and old ones can peacefully co-exist for some time.

For example, if your goal is to post on LinkedIn consistently, you don’t have to give up your habit of watching Netflix each night. But you could start dedicating the first 30 minutes after dinner to writing before Netflix.

The process may feel forced at first. But by nurturing and integrating new habits slowly, allowing them to co-exist with your existing habits, you make the transition to new behaviors more sustainable.

This is also a bit similar to the habit stacking concept.

Recommended reading
Motivate yourself to achieve with habit stacking Motivate yourself to achieve with habit stacking

5. Recognize small wins

Consistency often feels seamless from the start but it is rarely as easy after a while.

More often than not, you find yourself pushing through feelings of discomfort. Doing something new can (and most likely will) feel uncomfortable.

So pause and consciously recognize the small wins and minor milestones along the way. You don’t necessarily need to throw yourself a parade each time (unless that’s your thing, no judgment!). But deliberately acknowledging these baby steps can help you see your progress more clearly.

Hit your daily step goal one day this week? That’s further than you were yesterday—recognize it! Meal prepped twice this month instead of last month’s zero? This is progress too, for sure.

6. Have a plan

Some of the most successful people kickstart their success by writing a short task list (3 to 5 items) and working their way through it methodically. Some of them even write it down the night before so they can hit the ground running in the morning. That takes care of short-term tasks.

For the medium and long term, others recommend setting goals that you can achieve weekly, monthly, and annually.

A structured plan has several benefits.

First of all, it allows you to map out your journey and clearly see the direction you need to take. If you know that you want to run a marathon next year and you haven’t really been that much into running, you need to create a plan for consistent training to achieve this goal.

The real power comes from regularly reviewing your progress toward your plan. If you’re lagging behind your weekly training goals, take a moment to reflect on what blocked you from that consistency.

The last point is that a well-structured plan is… flexible.

Life happens and priorities shift so you need to be able to adjust. Maybe your new business venture requires so much time that the marathon goal morphs into something more realistic, like a half-marathon or even a run 5 days per week.

You might postpone the marathon for one more year but the consistency of running still stays—you just change your definition of consistency taking into account recent life events.

7. Embrace failures

Failures happen all the time.

That overdue task you didn’t get checked off this week? It happens.

That morning you slept through your alarm after weeks of nailing it in the gym? That’s fine. You’re only human.

The important thing is not to allow those little failures to derail you completely.

Consistency doesn’t mean perfection. There will be distractions and setbacks. The key is acknowledging them and keeping on going.

If you stumbled while learning to ride a bike as a kid, you didn’t just give up. You likely pushed through the discomfort and continued learning. Consistency in adult life requires the same mentality.

So maybe you missed a workout or two along the way. Maybe that big work project took longer than anticipated. Don’t beat yourself up, instead resume the consistent behavior at the very next opportunity.

You can’t always predict failures or avoid them. But you can control how you respond to them.

Keep going even if you are making a few mistakes here and there along the way.

Here’s how you can reframe rejections and failures:

8. Prevent exhaustion

Staying consistent doesn’t mean burning out.

Ever tried delivering something big when you’re overtired, dehydrated, or hungry? It just doesn’t work.

You just can’t be productive and efficient if you’re unwell or lethargic.

It might seem counterintuitive to schedule a time to exercise, eat, or rest when you have a huge deadline looming, but it isn’t.

The better your level of rest and fitness, the more productive you will be.

While you’re at it, eat right as often as possible. Aim for a balanced diet, including your five a day, vitamins and minerals, foods that enhance energy and brainpower naturally, and adequate hydration.

Besides physical exhaustion, there are also mental and emotional ones. So don’t forget to take breaks.

Rest is not an obstacle to your productivity but a lever that will help you stay consistent over a long period of time.

Consistency is part of your mindset

Just do it.

Do you know one thing the most successful and productive people have in common?

They found something that wasn’t quite good enough and changed it, like James Dyson and the vacuum cleaner.

If you accept that something is good enough, you will never be great, says Jim Collins in Good to Great. Seth Godin says much the same; he urges marketers to be purple cows and stand out from the herd.

If you want to be more productive and successful, then don’t settle for the status quo. Always question it and see how you can make improvements.

That’s the best way to ensure you deliver excellent performance, consistently.

Note. The original blog post was written and published by Sharon Hurley Hall in August 2016 and updated and expanded for relevance in June 2024.
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