The Simplest Way to Generate a Major Breakthrough

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits,  recently tweeted, “Most people need consistency more than they need intensity.” In my experience, especially as a business coach, that’s true.

Last year, for example, one of my clients experienced a significant revenue shortfall. It had a dramatic, negative impact on his cash flow and almost destroyed his business.

Initially, he focused on trying to find a big, dramatic solution—the Hail Mary pass that would turn the situation around and win the game. He tried one thing after another. Nothing worked.

At that point, he reached out to me. I asked him, “What is the one consistent behavior you could implement (or re-implement) that you know would lead to a turnaround.” 

Without hesitating, he said, “I need to make three sales calls a day, every day, five days a week.” 

I then asked, “Why do you think that will work?” 

Again, without hesitating, he said, “Because it’s just math—and it’s something I know I can do. If I make fifteen calls a week, three of them will become customers. It will take several weeks to make a big difference, but it will work.”

Some business coaches focus on intensity. They advise you to take “massive action” in order to get the results you want. This can be helpful occasionally , but, in my experience, it’s usually better to focus on consistency, just as my client did.

Here’s another example. Let’s say you have a goal of writing your first book—or, if you are already a published author, your next book. If you wanted to focus on intensity, you might rent a remote cabin for thirty days, kiss civilization goodbye, and write eight hours a day, every day for thirty days. I wrote my book, Living Forward, with Daniel Harkavy that way.

This approach worked, but here’s the problem I experienced:

  • It required a huge block of dedicated time, and
  • It required a massive amount of motivation, so
  • It was easy to procrastinate.

For most changes I want to see, I find it’s better to focus on consistency. This is generally much easier and leads to the same result over a slightly longer period of time. James Clear again: notes, “Rather than trying to do something amazing from the beginning, start small and gradually improve . . . One percent improvements add up surprisingly fast.”

Here are a few examples:

  • Instead of writing a 50,000-word book in 30 days, how about writing 500 words a day for 100 days?
  • Instead of going on a two-week juice fast to get in better shape, how about eliminating sugar and processed carbs from your diet?
  • Instead of waiting to start your business until you’ve quit your job, how about pursuing your endeavor three hours a week as a side gig?
  • The intensity approach is more flashy and dramatic. It makes for a good story. But slow and steady wins the race. 

Few people have achieved more than Warren Buffett. At 87, his net worth is valued at $86.5 billion. But his achievements were built one step at a time. It took him 35 years to reach $1 billion, and another 30 more to top $50 billion. Buffett said, “It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results . . . I don’t look to jump over seven-foot bars; I look around for one-foot bars that I can step over.”

As in Aesop’s fable “The Tortoise and the Hare,” the race is not always to the swift—or, in my experience, to the intense.

Here are three steps you can use to employ consistency rather than intensity to achieve your goals.

1. Get clear on your goal. Regardless of your approach, you have to start with clarity. Vision always precedes strategy.

2. Identify the right behavior (i.e., a habit). The right behavior is one that, if successfully implemented, will enable you to achieve your goal. Don’t make it too difficult. It should be relatively easy. The trick is in being consistent. You want the compounding results to work for you.

3. Track your progress. You can make a tick in a paper planner, or create a recurring task in your task manager. Reinforce the habit by recording your progress.

4. Enlist an accountability partner. This could be someone who wants to achieve the same goal, a formal coach, or just a friend who is willing to support you. I’ve used all three with great success.

And just to close the loop, my client experienced a complete turnaround in his business. It didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t flashy. He was clear on what he wanted and just focused on making his sales calls. Little by little, he made the progress he needed to get things back on track. That same approach can work for you.