Business owners and executives who want to improve their performance come to coaching looking for solutions. They know they have to do something different but aren’t quite sure what that is.
The problem is most of us have unrealistic expectations. We want to make massive changes that will yield explosive results. We humans are impatient. We tend to overestimate what can be accomplished in a month and underestimate what can be done in a year.
When I remind my coaching clients that slow and steady wins the race, they become disenchanted, even bored. Journalist and author Brad Stulberg explains five principles on consistency and sustainable progress, all backed by research and practice. You may have heard these before, but this time you may be ready to take it to heart and make a change.
Give up heroic efforts and keep away from extremes. Stulberg sites activities like “pulling all-nighters, working out until you vomit, and going on extreme diets” as activities that “usually end in illness, injury or burnout.” He points out the difference between behaviors that are “comfortable (sustainable), comfortably uncomfortable (can be sustainable in the right dose), and downright uncomfortable (very hard to sustain).”
Stop looking for immediate results. ABC Sports used to talk about “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Both can leave you depleted, feeling burned out. Consider the corporate wizard who beats the street or has a meteoric rise to the top only to come crashing down because their efforts and habits are unsustainable. Think progress, not perfection.
Stulberg recommends seeking “small marginal gains that add up over time.” When gains slow down or disappear you can still feel proud of your sustained, laudable efforts.
Recognize that progress is non-linear. When you learn a new skill or job, improvements are easily recognized by you, your peers, and the higher-ups. As you become more proficient, the gains become more incremental— five percent, one percent, half a percent, a quarter of a percent, and so on. That’s okay.
Expect plateaus and to put in effort with no or few results. This phenomena is why it is so important to be patient and to enjoy what you do. Reframe not progressing as consolidation of gains rather than failure. Keep zigzagging along and enjoy the process.
Forget overnight breakthroughs. These are myths that are promulgated by movies and social media. Stop seeking immediate remedies and instead value diligence and persistence. Most importantly, focus on learning to tolerate discomfort and delay gratification.
Keep your balance, even when you feel good. This is where I often see business owners and executives get tangled up. Things are improving because of what they’re doing well and yet they stop doing it. They show up and give everything they have until their tank is empty and then they stop.
Sustainable progress requires consistency. If you are one of those all or nothing types, the trick is to leave some gas in the tank so you can continue the journey tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Becoming consistent isn’t magic, but it’s doable and will eventually bring you the success you want. Aim to be consistent at being consistent!