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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Consistency Over Time

“It takes a long time to get good.”
– Scott Molina, Ironman World Champion
When I first got into triathlon I had very high expectations of how I’d perform. I over-simplified the sport, if not entirely trivializing it. I mean, “How hard could it really be?” I thought. I’ve been running and riding a bike since I was four, and I’ve been in a pool every summer since I was little. I played soccer competitively for over a decade and have always considered myself to be athletic. So you could imagine how I felt when I was saw much older folks who looked more out of shape than me crossing the finish line well before I did in my first triathlon one year ago. I was so confused as to how a woman with the number “56” written on her calf was flying by me on the bike as if I was stationary. A
humbling experience for sure.

Undoubtedly the single most important thing I’ve learned in my one year of being a triathlete is the quote above by Scott Molina. Getting good is all about the total volume over a given duration. Malcolm Gladwell discusses this concept as the “10,000 hour rule” in his book
Outliers. Whatever you want to call it is fine, but the underlying concept to this idea is that consistency over time is what truly matters.

We live in a society that demands instant gratification. Our patience to get good at anything is wearing thin. It’s all over the place with fitness, we all see it. “Six-Minute Ab Workout’s” that assure results in record time. Programs called “P90X” and “Insanity”. Detox kits that promise to melt away fat. Companies are selling products to capitalize on our desire to take shortcuts and abandon persistence. And I don’t blame them… there’s a market for it.

At the risk of offending some die hard P90X’ers, allow me to say this. I realize that programs like P90X and Insanity achieve real results and provide good workouts. I believe they can truly motivate and kick-start someone to get back into the realm of fitness and health, which is obviously a good thing. My problem with these programs is they’re not repeatable. Most people can’t cycle P90X over and over again. Countless hours of watching a DVD in your living room isn’t something most will do long-term. It’s not a lifestyle, like tennis, cycling, CrossFit or group fitness activities. So what happens? They do the program, lose some l-b’s, stop, then gain it back. Square one.

Most people that want to lose weight fast go the Atkins-route. Hardly any carbohydrates for an extended period of time, and you’re certain to drop mass. Although one problem with this diet begs the question: what happens when you lose the weight and go back to eating carbs? Simple, you gain it back. I’ve seen it first-hand. There are various reasons why, but the net of it in most cases isn’t a scientific one, but behavioral in nature: there was never truly a lifestyle change. The person got good at omitting carbs for a short period of time, but there was not an addition of frequent exercise, a conscious awareness of caloric intake (both quality and quantity), etc.

People want to buy a DVD or stop eating carbs so they can quickly and abruptly shed weight and be done with it, as if it’s a chore on their to-do list. It’s a short-term temporary fix, as opposed to a long-term solution. How about making healthy life-style decisions on a consistent basis over time? How about letting the progress happen naturally with discipline and patience?

Lately I’ve been noticing this theme in my life, and not just with health and wellness.

About a year ago I made a commitment to become more spiritual and further develop my relationship with God. One church service didn’t do it, two didn’t either. But consistent attendance on Sunday’s, followed by weekly small group sessions, and more frequent prayer has undoubtedly got me going in the right direction. It didn’t happen overnight; it happened after successive attempts… baby steps that add up to a lot.

I’m also seeing this theme with people who are trying to find a job. For some reason there’s this expectation that just a few applications should land them a full-time career. And as most of them are seeing, this is not the case. Searching for a new job is tough. It takes time and effort. And the more consistent job seekers are in searching over time, the better their results will be in the long run.

My chiropractor and I recently spoke about this idea. He’s an avid triathlete who recently qualified for Kona. He was telling me a story about someone asking him how he posted such a fast swim time: “They asked me what my secret was, what I did differently in training to get fast in the water, and I honestly didn’t know. I went back and looked over the past few years at my workouts, and discovered that I had swum at least once a week for the past five years.” No magic formula to boost endurance, no special workouts or PED’s to increase speed. Just consistency over time.