Consistency Is Underrated


Consistency is likely the most underrated metric when observers study successful people and top performers in their respective fields. Raw talent and ability are noted without fail, but what one doesn't see is the number of hours and consistent training one has put into their craft through the years to be able to perform the way they do.

Consider the following idea: conventional success is the product of pursuing a goal over a period of time where improvement allows someone to meet that goal. I qualified the statement with the word conventional because how people define success varies, but suppose the goal is to be able to perform a single squat of a certain weight, a specific amount of pull-ups, or to send a particular project within physical reason -- these goals here are well defined and there are metrics associated with them that can be used to determine progress. If my goal is to be able to do 10 pull-ups without stopping, then my progress in being able to do five on the first week of my training, and eight on my third week of training can be used as an indicator that I am making progress toward reaching my goal.

When you set a goal that has a relatively low bar, meeting the goal itself ends up becoming the feedback to let you know that you're meeting it -- this is obvious and is quite the tautology (it's a "self-fulfilling prophecy"). But, what if you're not meeting the goals you've set out for yourself, and the metrics are not indicating that you're improving? In other words, what if you've reached a plateau?

When I wrote about consistency earlier, I used it in the context of training and sticking with a goal. Underpinning consistency is patience -- without patience, you wouldn't be able to stick to goals that require long term consistent training.  The caveat here is that a person's patience wears thin when they're pursuing a goal without getting any meaningful feedback, or when they regress in progress. Often when this happens, the person decides that the goal is too difficult and they end up losing interest and move onto someone else. When this happens, they're more than likely prematurely giving up on the goal.


The Key Is In Reading the Feedback

Meaningful goals, particularly goals that are worth pursuing, often requires non-trivial amounts of planning and work. Moreover, these goals invariably have plateaus where feedback is haltingly inconclusive, or seemingly nonexistent. When you find yourself in such a situation, it's important to be able to recognize it and read it as feedback itself. In other words, you need to treat negative (nonexisting) feedback as helpful feedback that propels you to study what you might need to do to improve and further progress.

When I was more involved in powerlifting, I used a fitness program called "5x5 StrongLifts" to help track my progress and to improve. If you're unfamiliar with this program, it's a popular weightlifting program that helps you improve the amount of weight you lift in various exercises. The program is meant to be simple -- you do five sets of five repetitions for three different types of lifts on alternating days. If you are able to successfully complete the exercise, you add an additional five pounds to the exercise for the subsequent session. If you fail, you attempt the same lift with the same amount of weight for the next session. If you fail too many times, you lessen the weight in order to complete the lift. Borrowing from the program's motto, failing is part of the process. Phew, that was a mouth full.

In "5x5", when you reach a plateau and continue to work on passing the threshold, you're essentially given the invitation to experiment with improving your technique and make iterations to see if it helps with your progress. For example, while squatting, you might find that your form needed adjustment that helps with your core strength and ends up providing you enough strength to meet your next goal. Or, perhaps it's a mental connection that needed to be formed to properly engage your muscles that leads you to complete the lift. I often refer to this program and its philosophy whenever I explain my beliefs about goalsetting and improvement in climbing.

React Incrementally To Plateau

Once you recognized that you've reached a plateau, it's important to not react drastically or prematurely to it. I've seen some friends and people quickly give up their goal and writing it off as it being too difficult for them, and that it's something completely out of their reach. From my observation, these people are often high performers and achievers in other areas, such as in their professional lives; they're so used to being good at what they do that they cannot bear being bad at something new, such as climbing (the sport is still such a novelty that many adults have never climbed before), so they are prone to improper goal setting and have little patience for failure and plateaus.

In such an instance, it's important for people, particularly high performers, to dial down their reaction to plateaus and make small incremental changes for experimentation.

Consistency is key, as is patience; pay attention to all feedback, and react accordingly. This is how you improve, and this approach helps with achieving your goals.