I’ve been in a rut and haven’t written anything recently. I blamed school and my lack of ideas, but when it came down to it, I just didn’t feel like writing.
I’ve fallen into the trap that ensnares so many others. How many times have you heard someone say, “I want to write, but I’m waiting for inspiration,” or “I want to get healthier, but I’m waiting for motivation to go to the gym.”
We all have goals we want to achieve, yet we only work towards them when it’s convenient. The problem with this mentality is that we find every possible excuse to not start.
It’s also the kind of thinking that separates the top performers from the rest.
Professionals show up every day and do the work, whether they feel like it or not, regardless of inspiration or motivation. They do not allow life to get in the way. Amateurs sit and idle, hoping for that spark of creativity to jumpstart them.
Look at the schedules of elite athletes. American figure skater Dorothy Hamill’s day used to consist of waking up at dawn to skate, going to school, skating after school, eating dinner, and then skating for another two hours before bed. Her training days consisted of four hours of practicing compulsory figures, two hours of free skating, and then running through the short program and long program twice.
Despite the grueling daily grind and her lack of motivation some days, she somehow never missed a practice. She went on to win an Olympic Gold Medal at the age of 20.
Ask any successful writer what their daily routine looks like, and the one similarity you will find is that they write every day. The best writers wake up, don’t feel like writing, and write anyway.
In fact, not doing so is debilitating. In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King recalls what it was like to write again after an accident that prevented him for writing for several weeks.
The first five hundred words were uniquely terrifying — it was as if I’d never written anything before them in my life. All my old tricks seemed to have deserted me. I stepped from one word to the next like a very old man finding his way across a stream on a zigzag line of wet stones.
If one of the best writers lost his flair after being inactive for a few weeks, how can the rest of us expect to achieve our goals when we only work towards them sporadically?
The key to entering the echelon of top performers seems to be consistency.
Consistency is doing the work when no one else is watching. It’s continuing to take action day in and day out, even when you don’t see immediate results. It’s getting things done even when life gets in the way.
Which it inevitably will. There will be days when you feel like quitting and giving up. We all know this — it’s why New Year’s Resolutions so often fail. But it’s the people that grind it out during the low points that make it to the top. Regardless of industry or endeavor, the formula to succeed is the same.
As the old mantra goes, “no pain, no gain.”
The pain, however, is only temporary, while the benefits are long-lasting. No one ever regrets going for a run or reading twenty pages. You’re simply doing your future self a favor by remaining consistent and taking action.
Interestingly, despite my current inconsistency in writing, I fully appreciate the power of consistency in another aspect of my life: weightlifting. It’s become a habit so ingrained in my routine that something naturally pushes me off my chair and gets me to the gym, even after years of doing it. If I don’t exercise at least four times a week, I’ll not only feel physically ill, but also a profound sense of underachievement.
The way I developed my exercise habit was to systematize the process. It became a part of my day just like brushing my teeth —no willpower needed.
Here’s what I did:
1. Set a Strict Schedule
I followed a strict schedule of going to the gym Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays following a predetermined routine. I knew exactly what to do on each day and never missed a workout, even if I hadn’t slept or ate well. My philosophy was that a mediocre workout was better than no workout, and if I skipped the first day, it’d be easier to skip the next, and the next after that.
2. Stick to the Schedule for One Week
I followed the schedule exactly for one week, no ifs or buts. The key here is to do what you want without life getting in the way. After the week is over, repeat the schedule the next week. Eventually, you will become someone who works out, reads, or writes, or paints. When you identify with the action, your efforts will naturally become consistent.
The takeaway is that consistency leads to habits, which leads to action, which leads to improvement. It may seem insignificant, but over time these small efforts will accumulate into large wins.
As Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
(As a result of writing this post, I’ve also decided to commit myself to a writing schedule. I will publish a new post every Monday for now and see how that goes.)
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