Brushing your teeth. A lesson in consistency from a homeless man.
Every week, I make the same drive along a familiar route, whether it is on my way to work or to run errands, this route passes by a homeless encampment. For the past few weeks on my morning drive I have seen the same gentleman with no shirt, red shorts, brushing his teeth along the grass patches that run parallel with the street. As a passerby, I couldn’t help but notice that no matter the day, the weather, and his current circumstance, he commits to the consistent action of brushing his teeth.
Consistent (kən-sĭs′tənt) : marked by harmony, regularity, or steady continuity.
You hear it all the time, “consistency is key”, “success doesn’t come from what you do occasionally, it comes from what you do consistently”, etc.
Why is consistency important? It helps you move from subjective observations to objective truths, it allows you to narrow down what you’re doing in order to reveal the inconsistencies and irregularities. Consistency is the key to forming lasting habits. Consistency could also be beneficial for your mental health, having a consistent train of thoughts will keep you focused and as someone with OCD, relieve the duress of intrusive thoughts.
So, how can you integrate consistency into your life? Small bites. Research on the development of sustainable long term habits and behaviors has shown that the key is taking small steps and incorporating the mindset of a marathon, not a sprint.
“A single point in time has little value for understanding someone’s ability, let alone their potential to succeed in the future.”
Yes, you’ll have hiccups or even fall off entirely (for a temporary period of time), but that’s part of development. The small steps help us lessen the amount of will power it requires to take each step. And keep in mind, the step taken is more promising than the action withheld entirely.
I’ve experimented with many different methods aimed at developing a consistent habit as well as picked some up along the way through non-fiction reading, YouTube, conversations with friends, etc. The ones that come to mind which have been regarded as successful are:
- Accountability — join a running group, have someone you check-in with every other day.
- Rewards — carrot at the end of the stick.
- Punishment — swear jar.
- Journaling — writing in a journal will make conscious of your actions, helping you to observe or notice.
- Tracking — I’ve wanted to wake up at 5:30AM every day for a while now and found this to be extremely helpful. I keep a post-it note on my nightstand that has 1 line drawn down the middle, left side says ‘No Snooze’ and the right side says ‘Snooze’, every morning I have this visual representation of my progress.
- Pairing/in-tandem — I have a friend who wanted to achieve the goal of waking up at 5:30AM every day with me but neither of the above methods worked, so she started pairing her 5:30AM wake up time with her work assignments. The night before, she would have a designated cut-off time and then leave the work to be done the next morning, the same time she wanted to get in the habit of being up. Not only did she start to develop her habit but also became more productive! Want to start walking regularly every day? Get in the habit of walking after every meal, now you’ve paired a desired habit with an existing habit, eating.
If you’re interested in learning how to develop habits from credible authors and professionals, consider searching BJ Fogg, Dan Stevens, Wendy Wood, James Clear, and Nir Eyal.
Consistency is ingrained in all of us throughout life: working, eating, and sleeping are just the basic and foundational consistent actions we take every day. What do you want to develop into a consistent habit? How can you break your goal down into increments that you can knowingly handle for a consistent period of time? What will be your reward for success? What will be your punishment for failure? How will you be held accountable?