It’s a little unnerving to think that our lives are, essentially, the sum of our habits.
We prefer to think that we will our lives into the forms that they take. But that’s simply not true. We are the sum of the long game. Repetition is what builds a life.
James Clear puts it well in his book Atomic Habits:
“The goal is just an event — something that you can’t totally control or predict. But the reps are what can make the event happen. If you ignore the outcomes and focus only on the repetitions, you’ll still get results. If you ignore the goals and build habits instead, the outcomes will be there anyway.”
You would think that this idea should be comforting. Playing the long game means that if we start picking up a book regularly this week, 10 years down the road results in us being well-read and informed. If we start working out this week, 10 years down the road reveals us to be in much better shape than if we remained on the couch.
But we can’t rejoice in the long game because our culture is fueled by two things: perfectionism and quick results.
They go hand-in-hand, and both turn us into quitters. We skip the gym once so we are imperfect, and thus the habit gets abandoned. We aren’t made rich by choosing to eat at home so we quit because the results aren’t coming fast enough.
Both of these ignore the fact that consistency makes all the difference. Clear speaks to this as well, writing:
“It doesn’t matter when it occurs, making a mistake and slipping up does not alter the long-term outcome… if you find a way to get back on track. What separates the elite performers from everyone else? Not perfection, but consistency. This is why the most important thing is not to prevent mistakes altogether, but to avoid making a mistake twice in a row.”
While this might not do much to quench the drive for fast results, it speaks volumes to the perfectionism that lurks in the corner of our brains as we work to build our lives.
Push the perfectionism to the side and start putting in reps, recognizing that long-term consistency is what will become your building blocks. Someone who takes on that mindset in approaching the gym or finances or any other part of life is perfectly positioned to see true incremental change occur.