I define consistency as performing an activity on a regular basis. Otherwise we perform activities irregularly, maybe once a month at random intervals, or give up altogether after a week or two.
A regular basis can be daily or weekly, depending on what we're doing. It can also be cyclical. In fact, consistency need not be every day for the rest of our lives, nor should it be. The body and mind need rest to perform at their best. We naturally perform activities in cycles and, in the long run, we thrive as much from built-in downtime—weekends, vacations, and holidays—as we do from our work.
But body and mind need something to rest from. In the end success comes from the amount of work we put into any given activity (the rest helps us work more diligently in the future). Work, in this case, does not necessarily mean “effort.” The term Wu Wei best describes the trust given to consistency.
Wu Wei is “effortless action.” It is trusting the process. Trusting that consistency can make us successful, and leaning on our intuition and natural talents. It is simply letting nature run its course, the brain learn, and the body improve.
This is precisely what I've done as a writer, and what many other writers have done without realizing it. We improve through a form of play, spinning stories, each story better than the last as we pick up little improvements here and there.
It is an effortless process in that it needs not be forced, or for us to exert unnecessary force to make it work. We do not have to wind ourselves up and put pressure on ourselves to do something that, if left alone, the mind and body will do on their own. It is much like opening a stuck jar lid. Relaxing the hand, taking a deep breath and exhaling while turning the lid slowly, calmly, will open what brute force could not accomplish.
The process of improvement does itself. Like the egg cooks itself naturally in the heat of the pan, the human brain naturally, as a matter of course, turns play into progress.
This process of “work as play” applies itself to anything and everything we human beings can imagine to do. If we have any natural talent at all for something, playing at it will gradually and certainly train the mind to function better at it. And consistent play means consistent improvement, even if the consistency and improvement are cyclical, with natural ebbs and flows in productivity.
Many of us go about improving ourselves by making the activity more difficult. We add pressure to the process as if we hope to create diamonds, while in reality all the pressure we ever needed exists already. Anymore than that will crush our “diamonds” into dust.
The greatest challenge to consistency and overall success is our swiftness to sell ourselves short. We expect quick results, and when they do not immediately appear, we give up and say “I'm not cut out for this.” But if it's something we truly enjoy, we must ask ourselves “how much would a year, or two years—or ten years—of my consistent daily or weekly practice improve my skill?”
Providing built-in cyclical breaks, periods of inactivity to allow the brain and body to recharge, reinvigorates the process of learning and growing.
Success comes because of this process, and despite our other “forced” efforts. Success is different for each person. For one their dream may be to win a championship or to earn a million dollars, and to another it is only to be healthy or to supplement an income—or to simply say “I am good at this.”
And the process works whether it's applied to a small or large scale. Even hobbyists, like professionals, have moments of exhaustion or boredom in which they feel that quitting would be easier than going on. This is the final advantage of consistency. Those willing and able to push on through these periods of time, knowing that their heavy feelings will pass and that they will once again enjoy the practice or the outcome of what they're doing, will find that in their continuity they have put all the pieces together.
Nothing is finished if it is quit. What every successful person has in common is their consistency, day in and day out, often for years of their lives, but never giving up.
Read Part II
Read Part II