It is what we do, day-in day-out, that ultimately shapes not only us but also our reputation. This is a point lost on those who devote January to losing weight, indulging in abstinence, getting fit or even changing careers. They have not learned the decidedly unsexy lesson that for many things in life doing the right thing occasionally fails to create sufficient zest, it does not cut the mustard.
We see this error in those who favour performance goals over learning goals. We know that about 95 per cent of people who go on diets either fail to lose weight or actually gain weight in the medium to long term. Part of the reason for this is that most people are encouraged to set performance goals – I want to lose 10kg. Instead, why not set a learning goal – I want to learn how to eat in a fashion that maintains a healthy weight.
The trouble starts when people either fail to achieve the performance goal, or ironically when they have achieved their goal. Because it is really not about what they do in the short-term, it is about what they are going to do, more or less every day from now on.
Consistency is not easy. It takes practice, effort, and sometimes grit. Anyone can embark on a diet or a run. Not many can maintain the diet into the second week, and even fewer can keep running the second kilometre. Learning how to sustain a diet, run or a career is to learn the discipline of consistency.
There can of course be delight in consistency, and when deployed with care paradoxically it can lead to great originality. Think of embroidery, or a magnificent painting that is constructed by the repeated stitching or application of brush strokes that collectively emerge into a thing of beauty.
Consistency becomes our brand and creates our reputation. It is used to define our so-called personality traits. We identify people by how they generally behave, rather than what they occasionally do. I make an exception for murderers here of course. It would be odd to describe a person as generally a very pleasant cove indeed, who occasionally indulges in a spot of recreational murder.
For those returning to work after the summer holiday, they may feel as though they are returning to the same-old grind. Yet as any student of consistency knows, nothing ever exactly repeats, and that is why consistency is so hard to achieve. There will always be tiny variations in circumstances, mood, health, levels of support and so on.
Sometimes these things act as challenges to be overcome, and occasionally they present new opportunities to try something slightly different, or even original.
By all means take the opportunity to be original when you can, but never forget that originality arises from and needs consistency.
Jim Bright, FAPS is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright