8 Genius Ways To Become Incredibly Consistent At Anything

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horse and a girl in a field

Every now and then, I have an epiphany:

"If I consistently do what I’m supposed to do for a long enough time, I’m bound to achieve most of my goals."

But then, I don’t do anything about it. And I end up getting sucked back into the black hole of inconsistency.

And hence, I don’t see results. And then I end up feeling sad. It’s the same thing over and over again. I’m sick of it.

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But not this time. This time when I had the epiphany, I decided to do something about it. As a part of James Altucher’s idea exercise, I began writing 10 ideas a day a while ago, and that day, I decided to write 10 ideas to build better consistency.

And even though I couldn’t come up with ten, I came up with eight ideas. Some of them were common yet powerful. Some were new. In this article, I want to share all of them with you. Whoa, that rhymed. Anyway, my advice is to apply all of these ideas to bulletproof your consistency.

Excited? Let’s dive in.

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Here are 8 genius ways to become incredibly consistent at anything:

1. Let go of your obsession with intensity

Whenever we’re trying to work on something new, we always overestimate how much we can do. This can be attributed to three factors —

  • The initial excitement of the idea of improving our lives can cause us to be a bit over-ambitious.
  • Our ego plays a factor too. "Five minutes of reading a day? That’s ludicrous. I can easily read for two hours a day."
  • Short-term thinking — we want results quickly.

But that initial intensity always fades out. It becomes harder to keep it up. And then we end up giving up the habit altogether. I’ve been stupid enough to fall into this trap thousands of times.

Don’t be stupid like me. Think long-term. Start small. It’s a smart move.

2. Avoid the black hole of zero

One of my friends wanted to start learning English. I suggested he start forming ten sentences a day. He agreed but said that he’d start later because he had his exams in the coming week.

Then I told him, "If you’re busy, go from ten to one; why do you have to go from ten to zero?"

You see, I think zero is a black hole.

Do you know what a black hole is? A black hole is a mass in the universe whose gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape it. Hence we call them black holes.

Zero is a black hole too. You might think that zero is just one less than one, But that’s not true. Zero is much, much less than one. Because zero has destructive powers of its own. A zero-day has the power to convert the next day into a zero-day as well. And on and on.

One, on the other hand, has an amazing power of its own. One leads to two, and then to five and ten. What do I mean by that?

I mean that if you normally do 10 minutes of meditation, but today, you feel like ten is too much, you can opt for one minute. And after that one minute is over, you’ll probably feel like doing more, and you’ll end up doing 5 minutes, or even 10. Funny how that works.

Let me try to give an example of building a writing habit that will really put things into perspective —

Writing 900 words on Thursday and 100 words on Friday >>>>> Writing 1000 words on Thursday and nothing on Friday.

Even though the net is the same — you write 1000 words within two days — the former is much more powerful than the latter. Because that way, you avoid the black hole of zero.

Here’s how you can do it. Whatever habit you want to start — pick a bare minimum for it. For instance — writing 100 words. And then, even on your worst days, don’t do zero. Do your bare minimum. As Garyvee says, "One is greater than zero."

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3. Maintain streaks in a mobile application

Streaks are hands down the best productivity tool. The desire to not break a streak yields amazing consistency. Once you reach a significant number, say 30, it’s improbable you’ll break the streak. And hence, you should try to build streaks for whatever habits you want to start.

I use the Coach application for streaks. It’s the app I found most useful. Here are some of the streaks I’m building.

  • Writing
  • Studying
  • Exercising
  • Eating Healthy
  • 10 Ideas, etc.

4. Write a "sacrifice manifesto"

I think it’s quite obvious that to achieve anything; you have to sacrifice something. But there’s a lack of clarity about what we’re willing to sacrifice and what we’re not willing to sacrifice.

Unless and until you know what you’re supposed to sacrifice, it won't be easy to maintain consistency. Hence, on a piece of paper, write down the sacrifices needed to achieve your consistency. This will help guide your subconscious and prepare you for what you’re aiming for.

5. Add flexibility to your streaks by writing down the exceptions

Here’s the problem with streaks. People make them way too strict to be functional in the real world. Here’s what I mean.

For instance, I’m trying to build a streak of "eating healthier." But I love food, and I don’t want to go 100 days straight without eating any junk food. Does that mean that I cannot use the psychological benefit of a streak in such a case?

I can, by making streaks a little more flexible by adding in a list of exceptions. Here are my exceptions to eating healthy —

  • I can eat a cheat meal on Sundays.
  • If my old school friends call me up to grab a bite, I’m allowed to do that. (It’s okay because we don’t meet that often, and when we do, I don’t want to restrict my fun.)
  • If it’s someone’s birthday, I’m allowed to eat a piece of cake, etc.

You get the idea. But the key point is that even when I’m exercising the above scenarios and eating unhealthy, I will still check in for my streak of eating healthy.

You might think that this defeats the purpose of the streak, but the flexibility actually helps you factor in reality. This way, you can live life, and at the same time, have the psychological benefits of the streak. But you have to stay cautious and not let your exceptions run wild and destroy your discipline.

6. Make mindful decisions in new situations

For my streak of exercise, I must go to the gym five days a week, and on the other two days, I train my core at home. This is the ideal I’m aiming for. But even this streak has exceptions like it’s okay to skip gym during my college exams. That’s an exception I can foresee and hence, add the flexibility for it.

But sometimes, you’ll face new situations, at which time you wouldn’t know what’s the right answer. For instance — I recently came in very close contact with a guy who tested positive for COVID the next day.

Now, obviously, I cannot go to the gym. I got isolated at home. And I cannot even exercise a lot, in case I do get infected. Hence, when I found out, I mindfully decided that until I’m sure I’m not infected, a brisk walk every day would suffice to check in for a streak.

Simply put, when you’re not able to complete your normal threshold, make a mindful decision and do your bare minimum. Even in such situations, you get to check-in. Because the important thing is that you showed up. It doesn’t matter for how long.

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7. Avoid the second mistake

If you end up breaking your streak, remember that the day after you break a streak is a crucial day. That day also has destructive powers. It will want to form a streak of its own called "no show." And hence, it’s vital that you restart your streak immediately.

Avoiding the second mistake is an idea shared by James Clear. It’s simple. The premise is that errors are okay and are part of the process, but they shouldn’t become a part of the pattern.

Don’t let your one error grow, mutate and overwhelm you. Put a stop to it. Kill it off. When you break a streak, restart another immediately. Make it your highest priority.

8. The plus-one rule

Let’s say on your first streak; you reach up to 34 days. And then you miss a day, but you follow the last tip and immediately restart your streak. Then what? The plus-one rule says that you should aim for at least 34+1=35 days.

Why is this important? First, this way, you’ll do more than you did the last time. Second, it will be more fun because you’re challenging yourself.

If you make these two rules — "avoid the second mistake" and "the plus-one rule" — the pillars of your streak-building, think about how easily you’ll move towards your ambitions.

When it comes to achieving your goals, consistency is everything. Hence, it’s important that you know how to build consistency. Here are 8 ideas to help you.

  • Start small.
  • Avoid zero-days.
  • Maintain streaks in any mobile application.
  • Write down the sacrifices needed.
  • Make exceptions for what you’re not willing to sacrifice. You still get to check in in such situations.
  • Make mindful decisions in new situations. Even in such cases, avoid zero at all costs.
  • Avoid the second mistake. If you break your streak, restart immediately.
  • And for your second streak, aim at least as much as you did the last time plus one.

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Akshad Singi, M.D. has been published in Better Humans, Mind Cafe, and more.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.