When starting a training program (or continuing one), nothing is more valuable to the novice (or expert) lifter than consistency of action.
Too often we are mislead to think that intensity is the hidden force that produces long-term and sustainable change. It seems that if we apply a max effort than we will yield max results.
The same result tends to come about, as that belief leads us to yet another failed attempt at achieving our physical goals; even those beyond the novice level have fell victim to this consumer mindset.
First and foremost, understand that it is a consumer mindset that begets our failures. A way of thinking that has come about due to our constant and persistent exposure to things that promise success. It goes beyond fitness, nowadays the media will promise us anything, including instant debt relief to those that are unable to pay off their own accumulated debt (which of course came from an overabundant consumerist mindset).
Infomercials that show extremely fit models (they are never just regular people; at best they are people that have spent time preparing specifically for the video shoot using advanced physical manipulation tactics) using very intense methods of exercise that look exciting and fun. The entire premise of home based workout DVDs feed off our hidden desires to get results without actually trying that hard. We also think that there will be less willpower required if all we have to do is stand up from our seated position on the couch, press play, and then bam! results.
But it never works because the workout DVD fails to address underlying problem.
Anything worth doing requires consistent effort. Success takes that effort applied everyday for a meaningful amount of time.
The habit mongers will say 30 days it all that it takes but there is sound evidence that points to a more realistic effort of 66 days. Personally, I feel consistent change takes even longer because of the pitfalls of our society; meaning that we can lose our hard gained positive habits at a moments notice- therefore, consistent effort must be applied indefinitely. A life of mastery over oneself seems to be only “XX” option that produces real results.
That is not to say that short-term goals cannot be achieved in a specified amount of time. However, comma, unless you want to be on your fifth go around of a 30-day fitness challenge, then your short-term challenges should be lifestyle and mindset shifts towards more permanent change.
The spartan-like discipline that you build from mini challenges can be useful because you learn to control the power that you have over yourself and your surroundings. The ability to change slowly becomes rooted in your identity; success begets more success.
Once you have established a consistent effort and you have learned the proper mechanics of your endeavor, then you get to sprinkle in some intensity.
To further elaborate on the working out metaphor, you would then be able to push yourself past the point of exertion on certain elements within a well-crafted regimen. To transpose my example onto a CrossFit training program, you would then start to really push yourself to reach recommended time caps, work per rounds, or weight moved within specific time domains. You will really start to experiment with your own unique physical capacities, eventually surpassing previous perceived limits. Intensity is required for growth, but only have after consistency has been well-established within a domain.
CONSISTENT EFFORT IS THE KEY
1. Aim to apply a certain amount of volume per time. When starting a training routine, slowly introduce time and loads to ramp up intensity. Do not introduce too many elements at once and avoid pushing yourself too far beyond exertion early on in any routine (regardless of what you use to be, what you use to lift or run, or how many college groupies you got to know).
Something I struggle with is applying this concept to creative work. I am generally strategic with time and I know how to get things done when working inside a well-established construct. I am an excellent student for example. I work well with timelines and I am able to project work requirements out over several months.
What I generally struggle with, and I expect is a debilitating condition across all creative pursuits, is managing my time when I am in control of what I produce. When it is up to me to write, design, publish, or research toward the independent goal of growing and expanding my businesses, I generally work in flow induced manic bursts or spend days doing nothing but reading, brainstorming, and cataloging (things I enjoy very much).
I have been experimenting with the Pomodoro Technique (amazon) or website; a tool for controlling work volume over planned time intervals. It is designed so that you work on a single thing for a certain amount of time before taking a planned break. During breaks, you are allowed to do as you please, which frees up your mind to focus intently on your work. The power of this kind of focus is unmatched.
Books like Deep Work and Execution help to further elaborate, but deep practice is seen as the key component of mastering anything. Mastery by Robert Greene is truly my favorite book that delves deep into this concept. Greene’s text is authoritative but work by Anders Ericsson is often cited, which I saw in other books like Outliers, Talent is Overrated and The Talent Code. I have yet to read Ericsson’s book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, which I believe is the culminating piece from his years of often cited research.
2. Scale accordingly. The idea is here is that you build up to a manageable level of work over defined time domains. For example, if you are going to attempt a workout of five sets of five back squats with one set weight, you would try to complete the workout in about 15 minutes. If you choose a weight that has you finishing in five minutes, then too little, or if your taking 10 minutes a set, then too much.
A sense of awareness is required but you are your own masterpiece and no one can replace this instinct. The key is to have a goal and then scale accordingly to reach that goal. For creative work, I am learning that I can tolerate two bouts of timed Pomodoro intervals, but doing more has me mentally taxed. However, I know that others are able to tolerate several hours of creative work per day, so I will continue to push myself until I reach a level that is considered above average within relative comparison. I like to be good, as near to the best as possible. I do not chase the minimum standards, otherwise I would produce minimum results.
3. Build discipline. Do not rely on motivation alone. There will be times when you don’t want to do anything except lay on your couch, binge watch Netflix and stuff your fat face with everything within arms reach. It happens to everyone and it used to happen to me all the time.
The key is to cultivate disciplined habits; make it a part of your existence to be excellent.
- Read In Pursuit of Excellence by Terry Orlick (amazon)
- Try a 30 day game changing, routine breaking challenge (post)
- Read about Willpower and Habits (amazon)
- Do something productive every single day (post)
- Have a goal and a plan for your day (amazon)
- Understand that small incremental change is the key to unlocking massive results (post)
I workout every day, mostly because I love to do it, but also because I expect to do it every day. There have been moments in my life when I didn’t have this expectation and I have fallen into the soft and pudgy world of mediocrity. It was not pretty and the climb out of that dark place was twice as hard as maintaining the daily habit of exercise.
I have found that it is best to always keep the mind sharp and focused on obtaining goals that continuously increase in difficulty. The ability within you to focus and work will only get more pronounced until it eventually becomes a part of your identity.
By continuous study and the commitment to learning, I have realized that this overarching goal is indeed a lifelong pursuit. But never forget, consistency before intensity.
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