Mastering Discipline, Consistency and Focus - Part 2

John Braat

Jonathan Braat / September 19, 2022 7 min read

This is part 2 of a 3 part series on self-discipline, consistency and focus. How did I work on my consistency? Here is what you can take from it.

Consistency

Success isn't always about greatness. It's about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.

  • Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson

What is consistency

In one sentence:

Consistency is the execution of a single task regularly and/or holding a belief and acting accordingly over a prolonged period of time.

Okay. That is quite a mouth full. Let's take it apart.

Being consistent in your actions conveys dependability, longevity of decisions and is a path to trust in your personal and professional relationships. Given you make the "right" decisions, consistent work towards your goals inevitably leads to success.

Being consistent means dedicating yourself to your goals and staying focused on the things and activities to achieve them.

Consistency is the key for success.

Actually achieving success requires a long-term commitment from you and involves sustained effort in doing actions repeatedly until you achieve your goals. This directly builds on top of discipline to stay on course for longer.

Here is an analogy I find quite good:

Imagine a drying lake. One raindrop alone won't increase the lake's water level significantly or even restore it to its full glory. ONLY consistent rainfall of many raindrops will. Sporadic bursts of rain might work as well, but this is much less likely because the lake could dry up between the bursts of rainfall.

What does this mean? Each raindrop is every bit of work you put into something you want to achieve. The raised water level is your success and consistency will get you there.

Ok. So if consistency is just doing stuff, how is it different from discipline?

A key difference between consistency and discipline is our will or desire to do something. Think about it. Doing something we enjoy consistently is not difficult.

For example, it takes little effort scrolling through Twitter or reading Reddit every night if you enjoy that. It's easy. It doesn't require much self-control.

Discipline is the shaping and training of our wills and impulses by doing things that aren't already second nature to us. Consistency on the other hand is doing these things repeatedly over a prolonged period.

How to become more consistent

Just do the things, man! Again and again and again.

That pretty much sums it up but it's a lazy answer and doesn't really help. What you should ask is this:

"How can I make it easy to be consistent in my actions even if they are hard?"

To me, consistency in this context comes mostly down to one thing: Habits.

Humans are creatures of habit. Think back to school, university, or your current daily live. People tend to hang out in the same spots, choose the same seats in lectures and cafeterias, go to the same cafés daily and drive the same way to work every day even if the path might not be optimal.

This can be bad when you consider your unwanted habits, such as grabbing your phone first thing in the morning and scrolling through <insert your favorite social network here>. But the cool thing is, you can utilize this inert behaviour trait do hard things almost on autopilot.

By developing habits doing hard things, you will find relieve from the constant need to convince yourself to do it. This way, you will have more mental energy to focus the need to be disciplined on other areas.

Making it a habit to do hard things, such as working out 4 times a week, exponentially increases the chances of you following through even if you don't feel like it. This is because your body and mind subconsciously think "It's what always do, so I must do it again".

Shaking bad habits, such as drinking sodas every day, is equally important on your way to success.

I recommend reading the previous article on discipline and specifically how to build systems to be disciplined, which already covers this.

James Clear's 5-step plan to build good habits helped me by far the most. It's very methodical which resonates with the Software Engineer in me:

  1. Start with an incredibly small habit
  2. Increase your habit in very small ways
  3. As you build up, break habits into chunks
  4. When you slip, get back on track quickly
  5. Be patient. Stick to a pace you can sustain

Here is an example that many people should be able to relate to. Let's say you want to develop a habit of working out regularly to become a healthier person:

  1. Instead of going on 1.5-hour gym sessions right away, do a 5-minute workout at home. Do this every day, or maybe "just" 4 times a week
  2. Improve by 1% every time you do it. Don't go from 5 minutes to 10. Keep increments small. Maybe add an exercise, or make an exercise harder.
  3. A 1% increase every day becomes a lot quite quickly. Don't underestimate exponential growth! Break up 50 push-ups in 5 sets of 10, rather than doing all of them in one set
  4. You don't want to miss a day, but if you do, don't let it kill your whole plan. Never miss twice!
  5. You want to look at that beach body right away. You want to see progress quickly, but that's just not how it works. Be patient, keep going and improving at a sustainable pace. You will get there.

If you want to read Atomic Habits, I can highly recommend it. (not affiliated)

Knowing when to pivot

Once you have developed your good habits and are actively working towards your goals, you are one step away from achieving your them. Or are you?

If you are very consistently doing whatever tasks you adopted in your habits, but WHAT you are doing doesn't actually impact the goals you are dreaming to achieve, it's time to pivot.

Pivoting just means changing direction. This doesn't mean "your chosen habits are bad" it just means even a good habit can be the wrong thing to pursue.

Let's say you want to become a professional biker and compete in the Tour de France. Working out and going for regular runs is good for your body in general, but won't make you a good biker. This cardio exercise will improve your health, but is probably not the most impactful exercise you can do to become a better/faster biker.

The same is true for business development. Just because you are good at coding and have developed the habit of doing it every day for your side project, doesn't mean you are building a successful business. You still need marketing, sales, customer feedback, etc.

Knowing when to pivot is highly dependent on your goals. Read more about this in Part 3 (Focus) of this series.

I suggest doing regular reviews and reflect on your goals, where you currently are and whether what you are doing will lead you to achieve whatever you want to achieve.

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