Consistency with your lifestyle decisions is your commitment to your healthier self, your future self. Consistency doesn’t mean being perfect though! It’s totally unrealistic to expect you’ll be perfectly healthy all day every day, and if that’s what you’re aiming for, you’re already setting yourself up for disappointment.
No, what consistency means for me and Running with Bacon is making choices to be just a little bit healthier each day – with activity it’s 2% (aka 30 minutes) at a time; with nutrition it’s eating 3 Olive Garden breadsticks instead of 4. It means when you fall off the wagon (because you will!) that you have a plan to get right back on.
As my habit mentor, James Clear (although he doesn’t know he’s my habit mentor), plainly puts it: planning to fail isn’t expecting to fail, but it means having a plan for what you’ll do and how you’ll get back on track when things don’t work out. His motto is “never miss twice” when it comes to consistency. You can miss your 30 minutes, but the goal should then be not to miss it two days in a row.
There’s a certain comfort in knowing one off day or a cheat day won’t ruin your long term progress, there’s even research to back this. What matters more is your consistency toward your goals – your average progress each day rather than the maximum progress made in one day.
To give you a concrete example, imagine you were going to train for a marathon (don’t worry, it’s pretend) and you gave yourself 6 months to get ready. Now let’s say you could pick one day each month to run 20 miles, OR you could run a few miles each day. I think you already know you’d be better trained for the marathon if you ran a few miles each day, if you were consistent.
Another James Clear-ism (he really is the habit guru – check him out if you haven’t) is “intensity makes a good story. Consistency makes progress.”
Willpower Won’t Win
Motivation and willpower only get you so far. That’s why most new year resolutions fail by February. The buzz and romance of the new year have worn off and there’s no passion or excitement around your resolution anymore.
Unless you’ve built structure into your life to make your resolution automatic, chances are you’ve already given up on it. It’s likely boring and there’s no pizazz – and as humans we’re wired to want new! We typically shy away from boring, repetitive, and mundane things – ie 30min on an elliptical every single day. We avoid them in favor of new things – whether it’s a new show, a new book we picked up, or the bajillions of new posts on social media.
But the habits that we make automatic? Turns out we don’t really think about them anymore, so we don’t think to avoid them either. Consider all the things you do daily, every tiny thing from brushing your teeth or putting your seatbelt or how you put on your left sock, then right. I bet if you listed every single thing you do every single day, it’d be double digits, if not low triple digits. I mean EVERY SINGLE THING.
And of those tens or hundreds of things you do daily, I also bet you wouldn’t say you enjoy them all. I mean, who enjoys putting on a seatbelt? You just do it because it’s the law and because you’ve done it enough times for it to become a thoughtless habit. It’s been established that you’re the type of person who wears their seatbelt.
Habits are the key to automating our consistent healthy lifestyle choices. If you have to choose every time to eat a vegetable with dinner; or choose to put your shoes on every time before you’re getting ready for your 30 minutes of activity, you’ll wind up choosing to do other things.
So make them automatic – meal plan and grocery shop so you have a veggie with each dinner; put your shoes right next to your workout clothes so you aren’t hunting them down each time. On Sundays plan out your schedule and write your daily 30 minutes in.. physically write it in! That way when the day comes around, you already know what’s on your calendar, you won’t have to figure out where it fits in.
Set yourself up for success by removing as many hurdles as possible to keeping on track with your good choices. And even better, you can tie a new habit you want to form with an old habit. For example, only let yourself mindlessly scroll social media when you’re outside walking or on the treadmill. Then, watch those miles add up, baby! Or when you’re catching up on Real Housewives make it a rule that you have to stretch during commercials.
The whole point of automating it is so we’ll do it; and the whole point of doing it is to add up all the incremental changes until they amount to the big change we’re aiming for. We don’t gain 25lbs overnight, so we sure aren’t going to lose 25lbs overnight; we didn’t start out watching five hours of TV each day, so it’d be tough to go back to zero instantly.
Consistently choosing each day to be just a little healthier adds up to eventually becoming the healthier person you envision for yourself. Just like you identify as a person who wears your seatbelt, consistency can turn you into a person who identifies as healthy. It doesn’t mean you’ll only eat salads and granola, you’ll find your own version of healthy… but it means you’ll become the future self you’re hoping you’ll become.