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Beyond Instant Gratification

Personal Training

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The phrase “Consistency is key” is often uttered in health, fitness, and lifestyle circles, yet as we mature the phrase gains greater substance. The value of unwavering effort far outweighs a single commendable act, particularly in the realms of health and fitness.

As a husband and father of two, the importance of consistency in actions and behaviours is something that resonates far more profoundly today than it would have done in my 20’s. For instance, buying a new toy for my daughter or son during a weekend might provide momentary joy, but the long-term value of spending time talking about their day and understanding their feelings is immeasurable in comparison, despite the temporary thrill of a toy store visit.

Similarly, spending consistent quality time in the evenings over dinner with my wife will likely hold our marriage in greater stead than one-off extravagant purchases or exotic trips that live short in the memory. These one-off gestures have their place, no doubt, yet long-term success and true fulfilment lie in the consistent efforts we maintain over time, moulding the true character we evolve into.

The axiom that doing one good deed doesn’t necessarily make you a good person rings true. Just as reading the first chapter of a book doesn’t make you a “reader”, nor does a solitary workout session turn you into someone who “works out”.

In health and fitness, the struggle is real. We battle the urge for immediate gratification, facing the challenge of maintaining consistent efforts over time, often without immediate feedback.

Take for instance the ritual my wife and I share of reading a chapter of a book to my daughter as an example. A single night’s chapter won’t develop a life-long love of books in her. There’s no obvious instant feedback indicating her growing appreciation, yet with the inquiry “Would you like to read your book tonight?” met with an eager “Yes”, is a subtle testament to the cumulative effort over time, even if bedtime extends a touch longer.

In our past two articles, we’ve looked at shifting our beliefs towards health and fitness from a finite game with set rules and timescales, towards embracing it as an infinite game, adjusting to evolving rules and changing landscapes.

This transition epitomises the evolution in mentality from short-term thinking to long-term commitment.

Short-term thinking is giving into the immediate gratification that the most tempting things in modern society offer. It’s the dessert after dinner that takes you above a calorie target you set for yourself, it’s the slight disappointment you feel after a tough workout when the mirror still doesn’t reflect your ideal, or even opting for a expensive handbag to momentarily cover over communication gaps or failings in a marriage rather than addressing the core issue at hand.

Marketing plays on these desires for quick results.

“6-Week Bikini Body Transformation”

“Drop 10lbs overnight with this NEW Scientific Breakthrough!”

But these challenges are superficial compared to the profound impact of consistent efforts over time.

Achieving our desired outcome hinges on our perceived likelihood of success, weighed against the sacrifices and efforts we are willing to invest over a time span.

It’s a natural human behaviour to seek out immediate rewards. It’s incredibly hard to expand out our horizons far enough to consider the behaviours we enact today and how they impact ourselves and others down the line. Yet this foresight is precisely what we must do in the infinite game of health and fitness.

Consistent effort in the initial stages can be a painful experience.

It takes willpower and resources to begin to start the momentum building that’s needed for a new habit and behaviour to form and stick. It may require significant effort to wake up 30 minutes earlier for morning workouts. Likewise, it may take a painful amount of your time initially, that could be spent on much more gratifying tasks, to prepare your meals on a Sunday for the first few days of the week.

This lack of immediate results and reward can be demotivating. Yet as the habit develops, the rewards increase and process becomes easier.

If your perception of a successful outcome increases over time, you’re seeing results and progress being made, you’re sacrificing less to maintain current behaviours, and it’s actually becoming easier and more rewarding with each step you take, the likelihood of actually achieving your dream outcome only heightens.

Think of the behaviours you are now naturally most consistent in. Those things that you do on repeat day-after-day. What do those things have in common?

Brushing your teeth morning and night is likely second nature to you now. It requires next to no effort and is likely already attached to a host of other behaviours as part of your bedtime routine.

Yet my wife and I are constantly having to remind my 4-year old daughter to brush her teeth before school and bed. Why? Because for her it’s still a chore, she gets absolutely no feedback or gratification from the action. She has no idea about oral hygiene or the potential consequences that could lie in her future if she didn’t maintain the upkeep.

Yet day-by-day, with a diminishing need to remind her ourselves, she’ll ingrain the habit deeper. It will become second nature to her.

Similarly, regular exercise, a wholesome diet, or a daily meditation practice can become an integral part of our lives.

When we have a genuine passion or vested interest in a goal or outcome, it becomes much easier to maintain consistency in the long-term. Breaking down our overall end-goal, that will likely require constant updating, so that we do have small achievements that we can celebrate along the way helps in maintaining a positive attitude despite the absence of immediate gratification.

Eventually we can all embrace the long-term journey that we’re all on, and recognise that each day is consistent progress.

What was once a one-time action turns into something that’s part of our being, underscoring the power of consistency as a transformative behaviour trait.

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