You can easily imagine advancing the distance of one thousand steps by taking one step at a time. That’s consistency. It’s implausible for you to reach the same length by doing one single 1000-step leap. That’s intensity. Of course, it’s pretty apparent why consistency over intensity makes sense in such an over-the-top example, but the rule doesn’t only apply to crazy situations. The same concept is valid in almost anything in life. Should you always ditch intensity and keep consistency as your only friend? That’s not ideal either. Let’s look at what science says and understand the actual battle between consistency over intensity.
Relationship Between Pain and Pleasure
Way back in history, when pleasure didn’t even exist because everything in the world sucked big time, humans have learned to equate satisfaction with a lack of pain.
Pain is relative anyway. Every time you feel pain, short-term relief of that pain brings a deep sigh of relief and an aha!
Much later, when the room for pleasure opened up, humans learned to achieve satisfaction. From eating foods cooked a certain way or acquired a certain way, eating became a source of joy and not only a condition to survival.
And that was only the beginning.
As society evolved, the wider became the spectrum with pain at one end and pleasure at the other. Humans continued to figure out ways to spend as much time on the side of joy and stay away from the painful side.
All people, including you and I, have developed different methods by which we acquire the so-desired pleasure. It could be a pleasure to our bodies, our minds or egos, or emotional pleasure. There are as many pleasures as there are people.
We also developed an acute awareness about those things that give us pain, and we learned how to stay away from them. From burning our palm on a hot surface as children to having our hearts broken in our adolescence, we’ve learned what to stay away from to shield ourselves even from the possibility of pain.
But there’s one major problem.
The way we see pain and pleasure varies significantly on the time horizon we are interpreting it. That is where the short-term outlook and long-term outlook come into play.
Short-Term Outlook vs. Long-Term Outlook
It is not only elementary to learn the short-term effects of pain and pleasure, but you’ll also retain them as instinctual cues.
If I touch this, ouch! It hurts. If I caress this, mmmm, it feels good. Despite the constant argument of people being unable to live in the present moment, we all live very much in that present when it comes to intense pain and pleasure.
It’s hard to think or focus on anything else when you are deeply aware of either pain or pleasure.
But here is where the ability of some people to think forward and be visionaries about their lives starts to become a critical differentiating factor.
If you can project an intense future pleasure and then connect it to a present, immediate action, you are ahead of the game.
The exciting thing is that most people do have this ability. If we didn’t, nobody would get married or go to school and gather experience to get a job. We all can comprehend what today’s action might do for us, not just tomorrow but a thousand tomorrows from now.
On the other hand, there is the concept of instant gratification, which very often gets in the way. Instant gratification means expecting an instant pleasure boost from one’s action with no delay whatsoever.
Delayed gratification means the ability to take action right now and be okay with the pleasant result later down the line or never.
We can think about these ideas as three separate but related concepts:
- The constant need for pleasure (hedonistic lifestyle)
- Permanent fear of pain or inability to withstand pain (risk adversity)
- Instant gratification vs. delayed gratification
The way you score on these different scales defines a part of your mindset, and that mindset will then determine your approach to consistency and intensity.
Why Do You Need Consistency?
“Rome was not built in a day, and neither was your body,” said Tony Horton in one of his P90X workouts. This statement stuck with me because it’s obviously true and a bit deceiving.
Of course, in the context of a video workout designed to make your body better, he meant “a better, healthier body.” I think that’s a valuable addition because anybody knows that it takes three to five times more time to get your body back to a healthy point than it is to drive it to an unhealthy state.
If you put Diesel fuel into your gasoline-powered car, it will stop working in thirty seconds, and it will stay dead until you take it to the car shop. Over there, they’ll have to take it apart and clean every bit of that Diesel fuel before your car can start again.
Your body, mind, and soul work in the same way. Poison is quick to act; healing is slow and painful.
Consistency implies doing the same thing over and over again toward a goal. Although it might not be apparent that you are approaching that goal, it is reasonable to assume so long as the purpose is adequately defined. That is why people who have difficulty letting go of instant gratification have a similar problem embracing consistency.
On the other hand, your mind will lose motivation if you expect results after the first one or two attempts. The “pleasure” you are expecting is not there. So, instead, you seek a different way to get to that pleasure right away.
Here is an example:
- To lose thirty pounds healthily, you can lose about 2 pounds on average per week; however, you’ll lose little to nothing in the first few weeks and accelerate toward the end of the process when your body has adapted to the new regimen.
- That means that it takes ten weeks of managing calorie intake and exercise to get there.
- If, after two weeks, you see little to no results, you might feel disappointed and believe that it won’t work; you no longer realize the future pleasure of losing all those pounds will give you; instead, you perceive the instant pain of not getting results.
- So, you eat an entire can of ice cream, and now you feel instant pleasure.
Therefore, the problem with consistency is that it requires you to accept or tolerate immediate pain in favor of delaying gratification and inviting future pleasure. It also requires an elevated level of self-discipline to stay on course.
Why and When You Need Intensity?
Does this mean that you should ditch intensity entirely and not even consider it? Absolutely not. The truth is, you need both.
Simon Sinek once said, and I paraphrase, “if you only go to the dentist twice a year, all your teeth will fall off. You also need to brush twice per day every day.”
Brushing every day is consistency. Going to the dentist is intensity. You need to go to the dentist so they can find any cavities, do a deep gum clean up and remove any deposits that mere brushing cannot solve.
When you do both, you have clean and healthy teeth for the rest of your life. If you only do the intensity, your teeth won’t survive. If you do only the consistency, you’ll be better, but not ideal. You need both.
In addition, intensity is a morale booster and acts as a beacon of light because it can quickly become a goal. Here are some examples:
- Consistency: run an average of 5 miles per day for 90 days to lose weight and become healthy;
- Intensity: after 90 days, run a marathon;
- Consistency: Save $100 per week for 50 weeks to create a vacation fund;
- Intensity: Take a $5000 vacation;
- Consistency: Study for one hour every day for two months to improve your knowledge of a particular field;
- Intensity: Pass a difficult exam and get a diploma;
- Consistency: Lose 2 pounds per week for 40 weeks to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol without medication;
- Intensity: Buy the bathing suit you always wanted to fit in;
You can probably think about many more examples of this in your context. You can see how the intensity is like the big 4th of July firework show that the consistency has led up to.
You can also see a deeper why behind your consistency baked into the consistency statement, but the intensity gives you that extra oomph you need to believe in it genuinely.
This kind of thinking requires you to have the mindset that ACCEPTS and EMBRACES the pain of consistency, expecting the much larger pleasure of intensity.
It means having the patience to allow consistency to slowly build up to that point when intensity becomes possible.
Start in intensity too soon, and you’ll feel like you’ve failed. You can’t run the marathon, you can’t afford the vacation, you failed the exam, or the bathing suit still doesn’t fit.
When you jump to intensity too early, the effects are sometimes devastating and cause you to reverse all the excellent work you’ve done with your consistency streak.
So, how do you stay consistent, then?
How To Stay Consistent And Be Patient With Results
Here are six steps to improve your game of consistency over intensity. If you’re wondering, it’s not an easy fix or a magical solution. It’s simply a framework that you’ll have to mold to your particular situation.
However, it works as tested by time and backed up by scientific research.
Define Consistency and Intensity
The biggest enemy of any long-term process is the lack of clarity. If you don’t know what it takes, you won’t set the proper expectations.
It doesn’t matter what you are trying to accomplish. Always start by defining the goal clearly and directly, and then identify consistency and intensity in the context of that goal.
I recommend doing this backward by starting with the root goal or vision and then associating intensity with it. Once you know what intensity means, break it down into consistent steps or pieces.
So, if losing weight is your vision or goal, perhaps doing a 100 Km bike race is the intensity you associate with it. Then, you take that intensity and split it into 100 days of a bike-training regiment that slowly builds up your resistance.
Understand Pain and Pleasure
The next step is to define beyond a shadow of a doubt the pain associated with consistency and the pleasure associated with the intensity. In the same phase, also understand the long-term pleasure and the short-term pain.
The short-term pain is often elusive because instant pleasure is often overwhelming. It’s hard to think about the destructive effects of a sugary slice of cake you eat every day because that slice of cake makes you happy every day. To understand the pain, you’d have to picture the cumulative effects of three hundred slices of cake over three years.
Before you start, use your thinking brain (not your feeling brain!) to define what pain you may have in the long term if you don’t keep consistent and what pleasure you’ll have in the future if you do stay consistent.
The latter must always be more extensive and more significant than the former.
Create a Plan to Reach The Goal
Consistency is, by definition, a repetitive task. The pattern of repetition might be number of times, number of days, times per day, times per week, etc. You have to create this plan for consistency and write it down in your calendar planner.
When you set up a goal, and then you define a clear plan to get you from A to Z, you eliminate the uncertainty along the way.
If you decide that it will take you 100 days to lose the weight and you do what it takes, even if you don’t feel the results working, you’ll feel compelled to go on through to the end of that plan.
Measure and watch for trends
Because the relationship between consistency and intensity is that the consistent regimen makes the intensity possible, you need to be diligent in measuring your progress along the way.
Measuring is necessary to help you understand trends and directionality and acts as a motivator. If you have 100 boxes to check off, the initial unchecked page will be scary. But once you have 10, 20, 30 boxes checked off, it’s no longer scary; instead, it’s motivating.
Trends are critical in helping you understand where you are. That’s why it’s a good idea to also set milestones toward your intensity ultimate goal. For instance, if you want to run a marathon, you should have milestones of 5k, 10k, 15k, 15 miles, 20 miles, and so on.
Have an accountability partner
Every time you set yourself on a consistent path, especially if it’s for the first time, you’ll have good days, and you’ll have bad days. Those bad days will come when you least expect them, and they’ll shake you to the core. They’ll create cracks in the foundation of your self-confidence.
When that happens, it’s critical to have someone trusted to turn to for help. It could be a support group, a close friend, or a family member. Often, all you need to hear is a word of encouragement or to speak your mind about your fear and lack of motivation.
IF you open up and are genuinely vulnerable, you are much more likely to not listen to those thoughts and return to your consistency and keep going.
Last but not least, you should get into the habits of celebrating victories along the way. Don’t be afraid to celebrate. When you celebrate your successes and bring that boost of positive energy, you are more likely to keep going.
If you’ve never run in your entire life, celebrate that first mile. I don’t care if it sounds silly. Everything sounds ridiculous if you think of it that way.
Whatever you were unable to do and now you can, is a reason to celebrate.
Become comfortable to celebrate you as you go through your journey, and that journey will not only be easier, it will be more fulfilling, too. In the end, you will live a more exciting and happier life.
Consistency Is Key
Although in this article, I’m advocating the need for both consistency and intensity, what I was hoping you could take out of it is that, in the end, consistency is the key.
Because consistency builds you up to intensity, developing the skill to master consistency is the key to this game.
The better you become at making plans and then consistently executing the steps in that plan, the better you will accomplish your goals.
Soon, you will be able to envision anything and do it.
So, what do you say?
Can you start today?
Other Resources On Consistency Over Intensity
- CONSISTENCY OVER INTENSITY
- Consistency Over Intensity
- CONSISTENCY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN INTENSITY
- HOW YOU CAN BE MORE CONSISTENT: CONSISTENCY OVER INTENSITY
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Do you find it easy to create a plan and stay consistently on track?
- Have you ever worked consistently toward something and then have the intensity party at the end? How did it feel?
- What are your main struggles when it comes to consistency?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!