View this post on Instagram
January 1, 2022.
I was prepared with my new planner and an epic five-day-a-week morning routine written out for myself.
This was the year I was going to do all those things I always intended to do. I had subscribed to three different online movement studios, and damnit if I wasn’t going to make use of them all.
I would wake up naturally, start my morning with 60 minutes of yoga (studio number one). I would move on to 30 minutes of mindful strength and body rolling (studio number two). Then I would meditate for 10 minutes, followed by a gratitude practice; I had to write down at least three things I was grateful for, every day.
Afterwards, hot water with lemon, before coffee and breakfast (but no added sugar, because I wasn’t going to eat sugar anymore). Then, my hour-long strength training session (studio number three). After the workout, a cool down run, and a shower, I have checked all my boxes, and my day can begin.
Pretty epic, right?
Did I mention I am a mother of four, and all this was supposed to be before they woke up? This is generally no later than 7:00 a.m.
If I truly tried to do all of these things, I would need to allow myself four hours. That’s a 3:00 a.m alarm, and a 7:00 p.m. bedtime to get a full eight hours. The reality was, I was staying up until 10:30 watching Netflix, falling asleep by 11:00. Naturally, I didn’t wake until at least 6:30. When my (ridiculously long) morning routine was (inevitably) interrupted by waking children, and I didn’t have time to finish my laundry list of tasks, this made me grumpy and irritable.
And here I was, just wondering what was going wrong.
Needless to say, January was rough, and three weeks in, I abandoned my routine altogether, literally throwing my planner in the trash to destroy the evidence of my failure.
The “all or nothing” mindset is a tough one to break. I have embodied it for as long as I can remember, and it led to many Januarys just like this one. I am not alone; a quick search brings up countless articles regarding New Year’s resolution abandonment, which typically happens sometime around late January into February. So, I suppose I was right on track.
There are many reasons that resolutions fail: too lofty a goal, lack of specificity of the goal, lack of true emotional attachment to the goal, or in my case, an intensity of multiple goals that would have required a complete overhaul of my life, all at once.
Let’s focus on this last reason. Four hours a day, five days a week? That’s half a full-time job. No wonder my planner made its way to the landfill.
It took me a month of sitting in my shame before I was able to plod forward. Even then, I took baby steps. My shame and frustration waned; in their place came potent self-reflection. I began to see the baby steps as powerful. And one piece of wisdom kept running through my head.
This wisdom came from one of those online studios I joined. It is a movement group hosted by mobility coach and self-proclaimed body nerd, Alexandra Ellis. (I have since quit; I am so sorry Alex, you really are amazing). During one of the live events I attended, she spoke these six words:
“Consistency, over intensity, wins every time.”
The context, in this case, was crafting a sustainable workout routine. Her point being that doing just a little bit, every day, will always be more beneficial than focusing on the intensity and length of every single session. That it is just about showing up. That something is better than nothing, always.
It has taken me a long time to really understand what she was saying. Truthfully, I am still figuring it out. But now, these words are changing my life.
Let’s start with some definitions from Merriam-Webster:
Intense: existing in an extreme degree.
Consistent: marked by harmony, regularity, or steady continuity.
Let’s now examine how these could each manifest in varying areas of change:
Many of us know the benefits of strength training. But starting a strength training plan can feel daunting, and the weight room can feel like a scary place.
Intense: I will go to the gym for two hours a day, five days a week, and I will never miss a day. I will follow this power-lifting program to a fault, I will always lift as heavy as possible, I won’t take any days off, and in a few months, I’ll be deadlifting 250 pounds.
Consistent: I will purchase a few light weights for my home. I will get familiar with what it feels like to task my muscles, while paying attention to my alignment and engaging my core. Perhaps I will follow a beginner video to learn how to lift safely. I will give myself a 20-minute container in which to lift the weights, and then I will try again tomorrow. Once I am confident and building strength, maybe I’ll try the gym.
Of course there are many shades of gray between these two examples, but in reference to our above definitions: which feels extreme, and which helps me to establish a regular self-care practice with room for growth for years to come? Following the latter program has led me to a 60-minute, four day-per-week routine that has improved my strength and posture, and which I truly enjoy.
Intense: I will run every morning at 6 a.m., and I will run three to six miles.
Consistent: I will focus on getting outside every day for at least two, 20-minute walks.
I used to run a lot, often long distances of up to six miles at a time. My knees would ache; I would continue on. Now, I take frequent walks, or the occasional one mile run. I can reap the benefits of high impact outdoor exercise (fresh air, bone strength, cardiovascular fitness, mental clarity) without blowing out a joint. Purchasing a reliable step counter was helpful here. But no matter the number, the principal remains the same: consistency adds up.
Intense: Every morning, I will complete a 75-minute vinyasa practice, no matter how I’m feeling.
Consistent: I will get on my mat, every morning. I will do at least a 15-minute class.
This often looks a lot like rolling around on my mat. I wake up slowly, I gently stretch, I enjoy quiet, and I take mindful breaths. It’s an intentional start to my day, and because it doesn’t come with heavy expectations, or a 75-minute timeline, it happens daily.
Intense: Starting tomorrow, I will go to bed at 8:30 p.m., every night. And damnit fall asleep! Fall asleep! Fall asleep, now!
Consistent: Tonight, I will try to go to bed five minutes earlier than last night. I will do that all this week, and then next week, I’ll do even five minutes earlier and see how that feels.
After years of a Netflix-too-late habit, it would be unrealistic to expect that I can suddenly shift my schedule by hours. A routine is a powerful thing; my body wouldn’t know what to do. But if I gradually go to bed just a bit earlier, even shifting just five minutes per week, it sets me on a trajectory that, eventually, has me catching some Zs a lot earlier. It follows that I can start the next day earlier as a result.
Hobbies or passions:
For me, let’s use the example of writing.
Intense: Every day, I will write for two hours. I will publish a new article every week.
Consistent: I will show up to write for at least 10 minutes every day.
What we place our attention on, grows. If I want to nurture my love of writing, I have to write. But this doesn’t mean I have to sit down for a marathon session every day. My current life is full, and I have many other responsibilities. If I told myself I had to write for two hours, I would likely fall short many days; enter the thoughts of “I’m not good enough.” Currently, it’s 6:50 a.m. and I am committing to 10 minutes of writing every day before I get the kids up for school. What did I used to do with this time? Mindlessly scroll social media. Using these 10 minutes more intentionally means that I will eventually get that article written, and I can consistently publish—and it doesn’t have to be every week.
Intense: I will never eat added sugar. I will eat salad every day for lunch. I won’t ever eat after dinner, and I will fast for 14 hours before breakfast.
Consistent: Day to day, I will choose whole, fresh foods. I will only eat at night if I’m truly hungry. I will occasionally enjoy homemade scones and sticky buns from a friend, brownies I baked with my daughter, and ice cream cones when we go out as a family.
Eating well 80 percent of the time is realistic. I am consistent with a green smoothie every day for breakfast, which nourishes my body without the need to completely overhaul or place unrealistic limitations on my diet. This first nourishing choice typically leads to more. Consistent nourishing choices add up—even in the presence of dessert.
There are other areas that I have seen consistency work wonders:
If I commit to reading one page of my book every day, books will get read.
If I wash and fold one load of laundry every day, it never piles up.
If I consistently clean the bathrooms every Sunday, the chore feels doable each time.
If I clean my sink drains, my dishwasher filter, and change my car’s oil regularly, all those machines keep working smoothly (that one’s for you, dad).
If I drink one cup of water in the morning, I am that much more hydrated.
If I take three minutes every morning to lie on a foam roller, my back pain diminishes to almost none.
If I help my kids put half of their allowance money into their savings accounts, we watch them grow.
If I have a long to-do list, I do only the most urgent one first.
We started a family gratitude practice at the dinner table every night in which we light a candle and take turns saying one thing we are grateful for. We’ve done it consistently for close to six months; it takes all of a couple minutes, and the ritual is so ingrained that the kids ask about it now.
As for formal seated meditation, lemon water, and body rolling? I trust that in time, if meant to, they will find a home in my daily routine. Or not. And that’s okay, too.
The cumulative effect of these steady routines is a level of body, mind, soul, energetic, and family wellness that I have never before reached. And it has never required four hours at a time. It’s just bite-sized pieces throughout the day. Most days; not every day. Nowhere in the definition of “consistent” does it say anything about 100 percent of the time. It just says harmonious, regular, and steady. So, when I find myself becoming irregular, I hop back in.
What kind of life am I choosing? Do I choose to live in the extremes, a life full or jolting starts and stops? Or would I prefer a routine that is harmonious, steady, and regular? What will be most beneficial when I am 75 years old? Am I on a path toward burnout, injury, quitting, and the inevitable shame spiral that follows? Or am I walking toward sustainability, growth, and progression, even if it feels slow at times?
I choose consistency. I choose rooting myself in behaviors where I don’t have to be perfect, rituals that I can do even on “bad” days. I choose the small things, done one at a time, over a long period of time, that eventually add up to me living the life that I envision myself living.
Being consistent with these rituals has also helped me to build trust in myself. I have followed through on my promises; I have done what I said I wanted to. This has instilled self-confidence that I can in fact care for myself and make progress. This compounds; more self-trust leads to more action, which leads to more self-trust, so on and so forth.
Take the time to write out dreams or visions, of any size or magnitude. What kind of person would realize that dream? What kind of person would become that vision? I would argue, to start, a consistent person. No great feat is realized on the first try; showing up, over and over, is key.
How can 10 minutes be used differently today?
How can I be show up again tomorrow?
On January 1, 2022, my vision was that of being a grounded, strong, well-read yoga teacher who focused on self-care and self-development. What I lacked was a sustainable plan to get there. I thought I could overhaul my entire routine without the proper self-reflection on what I had to do to get there.
January 1, 2023. I hold the same vision. But I didn’t buy a planner this year. I didn’t set any resolutions. I chose just one word to usher in the new year: consistency. I simply asked myself to keep doing what I’m doing, most of the time. To show up.
February 2023, I’m still showing up.
Who knows what can happen from here?
This piece was inspired by Alexandra Ellis and James Clear’s book Atomic Habits.