The Accumulation of Small, Consistent Actions

If you spend enough time studying the philosophies and practices of manifestation, peak performance, self-realization, or whatever other tag you might affix to the field, you will come across a powerful metaphor for human development. That of the Chinese Bamboo tree.

The seed of the Chinese Bamboo is so hard that it requires watering and soil cultivation for five years before any sprouts appear above ground. Once it does break ground, however, it can grow to a height of ninety feet in six weeks.

What is important to realize, however, is that in order to achieve any growth at all, the care and cultivation of the seed and the soil must take place consistently for those five years. If this consistency is not present, no growth will occur.

So while it would appear that nothing is happening for several years followed by extraordinarily rapid growth in a short period of time, the reality is that the vast majority of growth took place out of sight, prior to an explosion of observable progress.

The same tends to be true for humans working on our larger life goals.

Historically, I have been an all-or-nothing person. The problem with such an attitude often was my refusal to engage in many endeavors unless I could immerse myself in them completely. I set my expectations so high for my actions, that it became easy to fail to execute them.

This was harmful, first off, since it always left me with some form of excuse as to why I hadn’t achieved success.

“Well, I would have been better at this…

…  if I could have devoted more time.”

… if I didn’t have to do (insert excuse here).”

… if my hair weren’t in my eyes.”

… if the wind had blown the other way.”

… if so and so hadn’t distracted me.”

… if… if… if… if… if… blah… blah… blah…

The “if only” excuse became not only an explanation for prior failures, but also a justification for current and future ones.  I frequently failed to achieve success precisely because I would quit on pursuits when I couldn’t do them “full tilt”.

So then I had all of my bases covered.

“I didn’t succeed with that because I couldn’t give it my all, and I won’t succeed with this because if I can’t give it my all then I shouldn’t devote any energy to it.”

But that isn’t how progress is made.

In truth all progress is gradual and incremental, even in situations where the bloom of results occurs suddenly. The small consistent actions are what yield the fruits.

If progress occurs incrementally through consistent action, then achievement is merely the appearance or clear evidence of results that have been accumulating regularly and incrementally all along. Two significant events in my life showed me this truth.

After two failed attempts, at the age of thirty-three, I finally completed my bachelors degree. During the graduation, as various speakers hailed the significance of the threshold that the day’s graduates were crossing, I understood the purpose of such ceremonies.

Ceremonies and awards are symbols, not of achievements made in that moment, but of the accumulation of consistent actions that culminate in some external result.

Earning a college degree is not a matter of walking across a stage in a cap and gown. It is a matter of applying sustained effort, regardless of, sometimes in spite of, how one feels about the work at hand. It is a result of all-nighters pulled to complete projects, papers, and exam study sessions. Or, in my case, three to nine hours of daily practice on my instrument, ear-training, keyboard harmony, music theory, music history, or the like.

I recognized the same to be true of my marriage. The wedding itself is not a commitment, it is a symbol of the commitment that we have made up to that point in time, and a promise of future commitments.

The commitment to a marriage is not made at the altar. It isn’t a choice made once in the presence of friends, family, a justice of the peace. It is made every day, leading up to, and more importantly, following a wedding day.

Marital commitment is made in the moments when we share our feelings with our partner even though it feels safer to shut down. It is made in the moments when we are vulnerable enough to forgive or ask forgiveness. Commitment to our spouse is manifest in the choices we make regardless of, even in spite of selfish inclinations that may encourage us to choose otherwise.

Along with the notion that progress and achievement are comprised of consistent, incremental acts, is the essential understanding that grand gestures and deeds can be inconsequential, even detrimental to long term progress.

Given my all-or-nothing tendencies, the big action I would take frequently led to a rapid expenditure of energy. Worse, having believed that one big surge of effort would get me to my goal, I would feel disillusioned and frustrated when I met with what I didn’t realize need only be temporary failure. So I quit.

Make no mistake. Our attitude and our actions need to be decisive. But if we grant ourselves the gift of a long term commitment to our goals, and we take the consistent actions necessary, even if we must rest occasionally, even if we don’t arrive there when or how we thought we would, we will reach our destination. And who we have become in the process will be just as important, if not more so, than the rewards we reap as a result.

Are there ways that you may be cheating yourself by acting inconsistently? The best part about resuming our pursuit of a goal with small actions, is that we are never far from getting back to it.

So keep at it, or get back to it. The reward awaits.

Please reach out if I can be of any assistance.

At your service.

Jon

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