Ellenor Cox provides regular insights and advice for supercharging your creative career. They all just happen to start with the letter C. In her last ‘Key of C’ column, she talked about the gentle and inquisitive chord of Curiosity. Here she explores the power of consistency for creating the results that you’re after.
The Chord of CONSISTENCY
‘You become what you think about most of the time’ Earl Nightingale
How are you going with your New Year’s Resolutions?
It’s been more than a month since our January 1 resolutions, and statistically, it’s estimated that 64% of us will have abandoned these by now.
Why such a large drop-off rate? The key culprits are the obvious ones of creating too many goals and making them too vague, but the key offender might surprise you!
What we tend to do is to put all our focus into the results of the goals that we want (i.e. an ideal weight or bank balance, a new job or a new relationship) and spend minimal time considering the systems and processes that will lead to this achievement.
This is where mastering the art of consistency comes into play, and as author Diana Scharf Hunt famously said: ‘Goals are Dreams with Deadlines’. While goals are great for setting our direction and providing us with a focus, it’s consistent systems that will create the progress that we’re after.
The Aggregation of Marginal Gains
In 2003, British Cycling had languished in mediocrity for more than 100 years. They’d never won a Tour de France and in all that time had only ever secured one gold Olympic medal. Within a decade they amassed 66 gold medals, 178 world championships and five Tour de France’s! The reason for this rests with coach Dave Brailsford and his commitment to consistency through his system of ‘The Aggregation of Marginal Gains’.
This is a fancy way of describing his system of breaking everything down and looking for ways to create 1% improvements in every area. He insisted on the inside of the team trucks being painted white to spot dirt, on each team member testing mattresses and pillows in order to find the one that gave them the best night’s sleep, the physios washing their hands before each session to reduce the chance of transmitting colds etc etc.
The theory was that all big things come from small beginnings.
If you commit to a 1% improvement on a practice or system that you perform on a daily basis then by the end of the year, not only will you have created an embedded new habit but you’ll be 37% better at this skill!
The system of consistency is what will get you there.
What’s key to remember is that breakthrough moments are the results of the all the efforts of the previous moments. We need to learn to be patient however in order to see change and to remain committed to our system. Bamboo spends five years underground before exploding 30 metres in just 6 weeks.
As James Clear explains in Atomic Habits, habits appear to make no difference until you cross a threshold and unlock a new level of performance – the Plateau of Latent Potential, i.e. that the conditions are finally right and the preparation complete for bamboo to have that phenomenal growth surge!
So how do we link this to flailing goals and NYE resolutions?
Let’s consider you’ve created a goal this year to make a feature film. The goal is the completed film but the systems are writing the script, chasing the financing, securing the right team and bringing it in on budget and on time. In order for the system to work you need to commit to consistent effort and dedicated time on a daily basis to reach this goal. This commitment and consistency are what forms a habit.
If you’re having trouble however changing your habits, then the problem isn’t you but your habit. Bad habits repeat not because you don’t want to change but because you have the wrong system in place for change.
James Clear summarised this as, ‘You do not rise to the level of your goals but fall to the level of your systems.’
A simple way to create consistency that aligns with your goals is to have a daily list of ten ‘non-negotiables’ and to track your performance against them. Create a spreadsheet or use your journal, but commit to the consistent discipline of tracking your daily choices.
That feature film won’t get made if you don’t consistently write each day, so writing would become a non-negotiable habit for you. Other non-negotiables might be to exercise daily if you’re wanting to lose weight, or to reach out every day to a new person in the industry if you’re looking for work. Consistent tracking allows you to reach that Plateau of Latent Potential more quickly as you refine your systems for change to align better with your goals.
In Brian Tracy’s acclaimed book Goals! How to get everything you want faster than you thought possible Tracy likens living without goals to driving in thick fog. No matter how powerful your car and how smooth the road ahead is, you make little progress as you drive carefully and slowly.
Applying the system of consistency to your goals and using the strategy of tracking 10 non-negotiable habits every day, allows the fog to clear and enables you to focus and channel your energy in order to step on the accelerator of your own life.
Looking forward to sharing the Chord of Courage in the Key of C with you next time round!