If you are like me, some days don’t feel like enough work is getting done.
You might think it’s too many meetings, an avalanche of emails, too little prep time, urgent fires that surprise and distract, a hallway convo that lingers longer than you’d like, a mountain of resumes to read or travel for four weeks straight. A wise man once told me that most people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a year. The reality is all those moments are our work. And each one means something is moving forward. Time, as it ends up, is a constant. We decide how to spend it, in big or micro increments. Little by little, those small moments add up to represent a totality of impressive big wins.
Also, like me, I bet a lot of you skip lunch to “catch up”; or log back on after dinner to send a few more emails; thinking you’ll finally make progress. As a reminder to myself and unsolicited advice for you… STOP and take a breath! Spend a minute to look back at the past month, quarter, and year. There are way more micro-wins along that path than you might have otherwise appreciated.
“The Tortoise and the Hare” is a well-known and loved allegory masquerading as a childhood fable. Aesop was famous for teaching core morals in his stories, some more overt than others. Like this tale, which traditionally concludes with an often repeated phrase, “slow and steady wins the race”. Dig a little deeper to find not just a reason for the tortoise’s victory, but a cautionary tale to those who rely solely on their inherit skill and natural talent to get ahead. Had the Hare not suffered from idleness, sloth, and ego, the race was his. One’s doggedness can overcome another’s natural ability. Ultimately, everyday races are not always won by the swiftest. Consistent – at any skill level – will often be crowned the winner. The Greek’s had a different moral to the story, better suited as a mantra when faced with adversaries bigger, stronger, and faster. “Zeal and perseverance can prevail over indolence”.
The Greeks also have a wonderful word for the tortoise’s winning tactic. A combination of hypo, meaning “under” and meneo, meaning “to abide”, forms hypomeneo or hypomone. It translates as “the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty, with patience, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness, perseverance.” In “The Cup and the Glory“, Greg Harris describes it as “a strengthening derived from bearing a heavy weight upon one’s shoulders for extended periods of time.” For me, sometimes less is more. I’ve decided I like the Hebrew definition best. Simply, “a patient endurance”.
Omne Trium Perfectum
At a recent gathering of online sales professionals, I presented three critical daily activities needed to be successful; plus one magical silver bullet. The specifics of those daily activities are unimportant outside that room, only that we aimed to improve three specific key areas. Not an arbitrary collection of best practices. The absolute three simplest and most critical, core, fundamental items. Why three and not more or less? Well, the rule of three is approachable. It is persistent in folklore (three blind mice; three little pigs), literature (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), sports (three strikes in baseball; Olympic medals in gold, silver, and bronze), and religion (Mind, Body, and Spirit; Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva). Three is baked into our DNA as a wonderful pattern to shape behavior.
Psychology has taught us there is a lower cognitive load to process and remember patterns. It’s not more because our brains naturally hold information only in short chunks. Think of the cadence you use when reading a phone number aloud. From an early age, our world is shaped to support this by “learning your ABCs”. We overcome subconscious intimidation by distilling that tough task into a digestible bite: a 3-step catchphrase. Imagine telling a first grader they would need to learn and understand 26 unique shapes and that they’d have to artfully replicate those in two distinct styles by hand to communicate. We’d have a grade school revolt on our hands! We can eat the elephant when it’s as simple as 1, 2, 3. Eventually, our brains are trained to treat three as a whole, as complete, and as enough. Then, doing the whole becomes muscle memory; easy; achievable.
As an aside, a memorable moment can be created by breaking rules and patterns. This wonderfully charming ad from Apple declaring “no step three” is a powerful example.
Rather than be demoralized, intimidated, or discouraged by the totality of a difficult challenge ahead of you, start by defining three core building blocks. Success, the hardest part, comes from repeating those over and over.
The Silver Bullet
“Consistency beats talent. Consistency beats luck. Consistency beats good intentions and consistency even beats quality.”Unknown, but probably a stoic philosopher
Writing one page does not make a writer. Painting one picture does not make a painter. And, as Simon Sinek so simply articulates, “going to the gym for 9 hours does not get you into shape. Working out everyday for 20 minutes gets you into shape.”
It’s not enough to rely solely on the output of one day. Or even on sheer talent, skills, or wit. There are millions of people in the world attempting to do the same thing you are doing, right now. Some have a head start, better resources, a stronger network, or a better education. Yet, when all else is equal, everybody has equal opportunity to outwork the competition. Grit, determination, and tenacity is the advantage. Consistency said another way is just commitment over enormous periods of time. Like diamonds from coal, it’s that tireless commitment that sets apart the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Dwayne Johnson, and Warren Buffet from their peers. The average person lacks the drive to do work over the long haul. It’s daunting, boring, and lonely. Great athletes practice and great musicians rehearse. Fair-weather people just dabble.
Consistency makes you better. Consistency will make you incredible. Consistency will make you world-class.Anthony Moore
A relentless pursuit for better as fuel for achievement is an unrivaled tool. If you aren’t very good at something right now, consistency will make you better. If you are decent, consistency will make you great. And if you are great, consistency can propel you to unbelievable new heights.
Consistency is the underrated and rarely discussed trait that drives visible progress. Apple understood omne trium perfectum when they created three rings to close as part of their Fitness app: Move, Exercise, Stand. And they fundamentally understood consistency when they built the rest of the Apple Fitness+ ecosystem.
Rise and Grind?
Right now, you might be mistaking consistency for the grindset mentality or hustle culture. Those ideas are pervasive in Silicon Valley, are celebrated in some companies, and get perpetuated on social media. The concept centers around the idea that working long hours and sacrificing self-care are required in order to succeed. “Put in the hours”, they say. “No pain, no gain”, they chant. Bragging about sleeping at the office or meals they’ve skipped. Simply put, this glamorizes wildly unhealthy workaholism and disparages consistency.
Need help understanding the disparity in popularity? Look no further than your social feed. #SideHustle videos have nearly 2 million views on TikTok and #GirlBoss has 27 million posts on Instagram while #WorkLifeBalance can barely break thru the algorithm. Mike Rowe, the consistently dirty job guy, has 1.4 million Insta followers while Grant Cardone, huckster of toxic productivity, has 4.4. It seems good old fashioned hard work has fallen out of favor. When we associate success with overtime and self sacrifice rather than working smart and keeping your tank full, we create unreasonable new standards. Seemingly, Gary Vaynerchuk has it figured out. “There is a bigger issue at hand,” he told Khaleej Times, “which is that [people] are completely and utterly living their lives for outside validation. So, they’re in such a rush to create optical success, to show everybody else that they’re such a winner. When you play for yourself, and you do these things on the side for yourself, you never burnout.”
Frankly, I want to win. Hearing a message from the pulpit that I’d have to sacrifice everything for it is more demoralizing than motivating. I have no interest in burnout. Instead, I aim to be 100% on and 100% off. To take vacation and forget what day it is. And to prioritize long periods of consistency over short bursts of intensity.
“All success is a lagging indicator”. When the moment of visible progress finally arrives, credits goes to the fact you previously did the work. Yesterday, last month, or over the past year. Only when we’ve patiently and relentlessly delivered the work can we bask in the glory of success.
These are my summer gardening gloves compared to a fresh new pair. A day or two here and there slinging dirt, weeding, mowing, chopping wood, and harvesting tomatoes compounded countless times over. Suddenly those weekends when I didn’t think I had done enough look a lot different. And a realization I’d never do all that work in a single day, no matter hard the grind. As I tossed the old ones in the trash recently, I gave pause for a moment of reflection. I’ve always had appreciation for consistency and a do my best mentality every time I put them on. But this time was an added epiphany. I should have done all of this sooner: both reflect and get a new pair of gloves.
So here’s a reminder to take your lunch breaks, step away from the daily grind, and glance in the rearview mirror occasionally. You win by showing up everyday, closing your three rings, and repeatedly getting your hands dirty. I promise, in hindsight you’ll see all that wonderful progress has been made.