What is the secret to accomplishing your goals and mastering your craft? Consistency. Showing up every day and putting in the work. Not just sometimes, every time. This is something that almost every successful person will reiterate. It takes hard work to be successful and there is just no getting around that. However, success also requires us to know our limits and avoid biting off more than we can chew. It is commendable to try and be a workaholic but this often causes issues somewhere in your life. Whether it is your relationships, your sanity, or the work itself, something will suffer. Doing too little won’t get the job done but trying to do too much can have the same effect.
I like to refer to the book “Great By Choice” by Jim Collins in which he describes what he calls the “20 Mile March” as a solution to a 3000 mile journey on foot. Two people start out on the same journey with completely different strategies. On any given day, good weather or bad, feeling sick or energized, person 1 walks 20 miles. Person 2 goes by feel and walks 40 or even 50 miles on the days they feel great. However, those big days often cause them to feel exhausted which forces them to spend the next day resting. Big leaps in progress are made on the good days but no progress is made on the days they rest. Eventually those rest days compound on themselves. Person 2 finds it progressively harder to summon the strength to make those big leaps. Unforeseen events come up which hinder progress even further and, over time, they become frustrated. In the end the journey ends up being longer and less satisfying than it should have been.
Person 1’s consistent adherence to their 20 mile per day goal keeps them fresh. There are days when they feel great and are tempted to do more. But they exhibit discipline by completing the work they set in front of them. Person 1 also encounters some unforeseen events which stalls progress but the impact is felt to a much lesser degree. They’ve built confidence in their ability to get the work done. Walking 20 miles in a day doesn’t seem so hard when you’ve been doing it every day like clockwork. They finish the 3000 mile journey well ahead of person 2 and are able to enjoy the ride as opposed to resenting it.
This story isn’t unlike others you’ve probably heard in your life. The story of the tortoise and the hare comes to mind. But perhaps hearing it in this context as an adult reveals the lessons behind it. For example, what happens when you go overboard in the gym just because you were feeling great? You wake up sore, tired and unable to work out the next day. Keep doing this to yourself and you’ll eventually reach a state of overtraining. You end up going backwards in your progress and end up feeling terrible along the way.
Sometimes it can be hard to make ourselves do less when we know we are capable of more. It takes just as much discipline to know when to stop as it does to make ourselves begin. But remember that the journey lasts far too long to push yourself the extra mile at every opportunity. You don’t always have to do that extra set of squats or that extra 10 minutes of cardio. However you do have to exhibit consistency in your efforts. You have to be smart and pick your spots. Think about the long game, plan accordingly, set the work out in front of you, and execute.