Unlock the ‘super power’ of consistency
Consistency is a concept that for some reason confounds human beings.
Whether it’s a three-month fitness challenge, back-to-back seasons of a particular sport, or studying for continued self-improvement in any field, our application often deviates to our detriment.
Ask many physical conditioners what they consider the hardest part of the exercise programs they set – and it’s showing up day-after-day that proves the trickiest part, not necessarily a specific movement pattern or a strength challenge.
The phenomenon is not solely restricted to sporting endeavours either.
It’s noted that consistency of application is what stops many from ever learning an instrument. Those of us with a guitar sitting idly in the corner of the lounge room can attest to this.
“Consistency in almost every domain is a super power,” says the crew from Notoverthinking.com.
They also contend that consistency is “probably the single most important predictor of success”.
So, how do you master this elusive ‘super power’?
In another thought-provoking piece, Dr Alison Phillips, a social and health psychology expert from Iowa State University identifies two key components to consistency.
You have instigation habits and also execution habits.
An instigation habit can be exemplified by the point when we decide we will go to the gym.
For some, that instigation habit is triggered by a mere time of day. It could be 6am when you wake up or 6pm after work. Whatever the case may be, when you see the clock tick over, you are conditioned to being at the gym.
Instigation habits can also be triggered by less-structured stimuli, such as feeling restless, frumpy, bored or guilty from deviating from a regular exercise pattern.
Then there are those people whose instigation habits rely almost entirely on feeling a divine sense of inspiration. They wait for all the planets to align and the gym to appear in their mind as their destiny.
Execution habits are more about being conditioned to having a structure and purpose with the workout.
Some people have a very good instigation habit and a poor execution habit – they show up to gym regularly, but often find themselves hopping aimlessly from one machine to another without a specific plan of attack.
Others are the opposite – they have all the knowhow and strategy to their fitness plan, but have less reliable cues to get them to the gym regularly.
Through the work of Dr Phillips and colleagues, it was found that the instigation habit was the greatest predicator of how consistently a person would train and improve.
Although, quite obviously, having both a good instigation and execution habit is a bonus.
The most consistent were those who made exercise into a specific type of habit, one that was triggered by a cue, like hearing a morning alarm and going to the gym without thinking about it.
“It’s not something you have to deliberate about,” Dr Phillips said.
“You don’t…consider the pros and cons of going to the gym.”
Intuitively enough, developing a strong instigation habit is self-propelling for participants. Those who follow an instigation cue, instead of contemplating their desire to attend the gym, feel their affection for exercise grow stronger in as little as a month.
And the fact that their instigation may outshine their execution – not having a scientifically regimented routine – is not necessarily such a drawback.
“In the long term it seems beneficial, or at least not harmful, to have variety,” says Dr Phillips.
“Some people might shy away from starting to exercise because they think ‘Oh man, I can’t possibly imagine myself doing this forever’.”
Indeed, regularly mixing up your routine and trying to avoid getting stuck in a rut can be a powerful tendency. You might not achieve the set number of repetitions of a movement you had intended on, but at least you will persevere into the future.
There’s a convincing argument to be made that we need to largely eliminate the concepts of motivation and inspiration from our training habits.
Indeed, some argue that inspiration is something is that should be felt after completing a workout, not beforehand.
“There will always be opportunities that promise more enjoyment than grinding in the weight room or performing hundreds of repetitions of a skill,” says Daniel Payseur, a health and fitness science expert from York Technical College in South Carolina.
“Consistency means showing that long-term goals and success are more important than short-term gratification.”
Not only is consistency a ‘super power’ when it comes to mastering a skill, Canadian researcher Dr Eva Guérin found it was linked to psychological wellbeing, as well as physical improvement.
Dr Guérin, who tellingly now works for Canada’s Department of Defence, studied 63 women and their relationship with their self-identity through exercise.
“Greater perceived consistency was associated with higher levels of life satisfaction and vitality,” Dr Guérin observed.
“Behavioural verification of an endorsed identity can promote broader emotional health.”
How do you rate on the consistency scale? Is your self-perception different to the perception of others around you? How does your application to consistency reflect on your level of satisfaction and improvement?
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