We live in an age of the quick fix, be it in fitness, relationships, business, learning, creativity, or health. We’re bombarded with advertisements for magic bullets, hacks, new programs, and all manner of bright and shiny objects that promise results now—and make it seem like everyone else is getting results now too. Yet the truth is that meaningful change takes time.
- In nutrition, a 2018 study out of Stanford found that the best diet for weight loss and general health is the one that you can stick to. Sticktoitveness had a much larger effect than carbohydrates, fats, proteins, ketones, or hours between meals. Writing about these results in the New York Times, Aaron Carroll, a physician and researcher at the Indiana School of Medicine, explains that “successful diets over the long haul are most likely ones that involve slow and steady changes.”
- In fitness, a 2016 article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that the majority of injuries and subsequent performance and goal-achievement failures are caused by doing too much too soon; in other words, by rushing for an overnight result.
- In creative and professional endeavors, a study in the prestigious journal Nature found that most people experience a hot streak in their careers. These hot streaks are somewhat random in timing. But one thing just about every hot streak has in common? They rest on a foundation of prior work, during which observable improvement was much less substantial.
If you are constantly switching or impatiently rushing, you’re liable to end up stuck, regardless of what it is you are doing. This doesn’t mean you should never change your approach. Doing the same thing over and over again for months and maybe even years and expecting a different outcome than what you’ve been getting doesn’t make much sense. But the pendulum has swung so far in the direction of the quick fix and instant result that more people seem to be quitting too soon or moving too fast than sticking with things for too long or moving too slow. While we often discuss the risks of the latter we generally don’t even mention those of the former.
Consistency compounds. If you go slow, steady, and smart for an extended duration you’re likely to end up with something big. If you constantly change your approach or put forth rushed and frenzied efforts, you probably won’t end up with much at all. In a world that is more ephemeral than ever and contains endless choices, and in which so many people move around frantically from one thing to the next, the ability to cultivate persistence—to stay the course and give things time to unfold—is becoming a significant competitive advantage for pretty much anyone in anything.
“Move fast and break things,” as popularized in Silicon Valley, often results in a whole bunch of broken. Moving steady and considerately—though not nearly as sexy—generally works out a lot better.
Again: This isn’t saying you should never quit or move on from something. It’s just saying that you shouldn’t always quit or move on from something either. If you do, you’ll constantly be seeking. Perhaps part of the reason it’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of seeking is because it’s a lot easier to seek than it is to practice. Seeking happens in your mind. Like in craving, it’s the chase, the hope, and the pursuit that is fun. Practice, on the other hand, happens out in the world. It’s real. It’s concrete. It’s hard. It’s also a lot more fulfilling, even if it takes time and you occasionally fail.
Pick meaningful goals. Don’t expect to accomplish them overnight. Develop a reasonable plan, consulting experts and others who have gone before you. Create small progress-markers and milestones. Tweak along the way as needed. Surround yourself with like-minded others who are on a similar path. Stay present and patient in the process.
Simple. But not easy.