Consistent Action

Story

I had just finished my first 10-day Vipassana Meditation retreat and was riding a wave of motivation. I thought that after meditating for over 12 hours a day for 10 days straight, meditating for just 2 hours a day would be a breeze. I thought wrong.

The first day I woke up, grabbed my meditation bench, set my timer, and started the session. After 40 minutes I had a strong urge to be done. However, I grinded through and finished the hour. That evening I grudgingly disengaged from my family for my second sit. I sat for 45 minutes and then called it a day. Total time: 1:45 minutes.

Day 2 I meditated for 30 minutes in the morning. I skipped the evening sit. Total time: 30 minutes.

After my failure on Day 2, I couldn’t bring myself to meditate at all on Day 3. Total time: 0.

Day 4- Total time: 0 min.

Day 5- Total time: 0 min.

Day 6- Total time: 0 min.

By Day 7 I had mostly forgotten that I had the goal to meditate for 2 hours a day. Just a week earlier I had made a strong commitment to the practice. What the hell happened?

Daily Action

Making progress towards any change requires action. Whether you’re preparing for a marathon, or starting a business, progress requires targeted, consistent action. What’s going to happen to a marathon runner who forgot to do any training? He’ll show up on race day in the exact same physical shape as always. What about the entrepreneur who fails to put any work into his business? He’s going nowhere fast. If you don’t put in the work (consistent action) then nothing is going to change. 

This concept is exceedingly simple, but why can consistent action be so difficult to maintain? Why did I, despite my best intentions, fail so hard at my goal of meditating 2 hours a day?

There are 3 main reasons:

1. You try to do too much too soon causing overwhelm and despair.

2. You lack clarity on the specific actions you need to move towards your goal.

3. You forget you’re supposed to be doing something.

You try to do too much too soon causing overwhelm and despair.

The easiest example is physical training. Maybe you’ve never lifted weights before but you decide you want to lift a total of 1000 pounds combined on deadlift, squats, and bench press. Great! That’s probably a doable goal though you need to be realistic about the timetable.

But what is likely to happen? Hyped off of this new dream, you go hard in the gym the first day. The next morning you wake-up and can hardly get out of bed. You have enough motivation to push through and you complete your second workout, again going hard. You wake up the next morning and feel crippled. You take that day off: you earned it. The next day you’re supposed to do a workout, but the thought feels you with dread. You decide you need another rest day. The next day you muster the courage to get to the gym, but you hate it. You forget why you thought it was a good idea to begin with and you throw in the towel. Lifting in not for you.

What went wrong? Simply starting at too difficult a level. What needed to happen is to start at a level that you can physically and mentally handle. The process then becomes enjoyable and overtime you build a habit of it. Overtime you get better and stronger and are able to do harder and harder sessions. You enjoy these because they are a skill-appropriate challenge.

And that is the solution: find the correct level of challenge for your current skills and progress from there.

This same concept applies to the entrepreneur. Instead of burning out on 12 hour workdays, maybe they start with only working 4 hours a day, or maybe even 2, whatever is appropriate for their current skills. They should then progress from there as they get better and stronger. 

You lack clarity on the specific actions you need to move towards your goal.

Good goals are attainable: meaning, if you put in the time and work necessary you will eventually reach your goal. However, for big goals this might mean months, or even years of consistent action. For these big goals, it can be difficult to see what you need to do today in order to make progress. If I want to make $100k this year, or find the love of my life, what should I be doing today to make it happen?

The answer lies in reverse engineering the goal you want to achieve and getting specific. Let’s take the ‘finding love’ example. What are clear steps along the way? Two immediately jump out at me. First, you need to meet a lot of potential partners, and second you need to be an attractive person (personality, looks, livelihood, etc.). 

How do you meet potential partners? I would start by brainstorming where the type of person you would be interested in hangout. One way to approach this is looking at what you like to do, and then go to group get-togethers. If you like to run, join a running group. If you’re an avid reader, join a book club. Then the specific, consistent steps you need to take are straightforward: identify your hobbies, find groups of people doing those things, attend those events, and talk to people. The more you do that, the more potential partners you will meet.

As for being an attractive person, what do you need to do? Again, two major categories jump out at me: being physically attractive and having an attractive personality. For being physically attractive you have body shape, clothing, and how you hold yourself. If your body shape isn’t attractive maybe you start an exercise program. If your clothing isn’t attractive you have a fashionable friend take you out shopping. If you body posture isn’t attractive you learn how to hold yourself in a confident manner. All of these could be broken down further to create an actionable plan. I’ll allow you to do this same exercise with creating an attractive personality (think fun, genuine, truthful, confident, etc.).

The solution to clarity on consistent action is to get specific about what you want and to determine the logical steps you need to get there.

You forget you’re supposed to be doing something.

This happens to me all the time. I come across some good idea that I want to implement in my life. I sit down and create a plan of implementation in my notebook. I then never turn back to that page and completely forget about the idea. Another common way this occurs is when I try to make too many changes at once. I try to start meditating, journaling, practicing gratitude, eating keto, and more all at the same time. Inevitably things fall through the cracks until I’m left with whatever I had before I tried to make all the changes. 

The solution to this is again simple, but you must bring constant awareness to it. First off, I recommend you only change one thing at a time until it becomes a strong habit. Write down the change your making along with the ‘why’ and stick it somewhere that you can’t avoid seeing multiple times throughout your day. Now, first thing you do every morning is to go look at the piece of paper and read it aloud. For example: I’m going to meditate everyday to achieve a more balanced mind. The first habit you have to build is reading your statement first thing every morning. Once that habit is established you’ll never forget what you’re supposed to be doing again.

Process

1. Get specific about what you want and why you want it

2. Break the goal down into smaller elements and create a plan of attainment

3. Write down what you need to do and why you want to do it on a piece of paper.  Read it first thing each morning.

4. Take the consistent action you decided upon and trust the process. Reevaluate your plan when needed.

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