What picture comes to mind when I ask you to think of a successful person? When we hear successful, we often think of business leaders and entrepreneurs, maybe Steve Jobs or Richard Branson. Or political figures. People that acquired outstanding financial wealth, fame, power, or all of those combined. Because people – and certainly the media – love a superlative. However, I cherish one thing that these people normally aren't known for: moderation. There, I said the "m"-word, knowing this probably made 90 percent of readers drop out.
For the remaining ten percent of readers, let me explain. Moderation, as dull as it sounds, has had a lot of positive effects on my life. I attribute the quality of my personal relationships in large part to moderation. The fact that I have what I consider a sensible financial cushion that can take some of the pressure of running my own company off of me is a direct function of exercising moderation. Not having burned out so far, being free of any chronic pain or disease and generally feeling pretty fit and in shape (mostly) are all things I attribute to moderation.
When I look at my values and how I aspire to live my life, moderation has turned out to be highly conducive. But moderation is only one part of the equation. There's a second vital ingredient as unspectacular: consistency. And the real magic happens when moderation and consistency pair up.
Don't be fooled by the aura of dullness surrounding those terms, and let's explore the different possible combinations:
High intensity + consistency = unsustainable
If you try to go pedal to the metal all the time, there's a good chance you will burn out. I know there are people out there claiming to have found the key to sustainable peak performance. But that doesn't even make sense from a linguistic viewpoint (it's not a peak if it's consistent). You can give it your all sometimes. But you can't give it your all, all the time. Eventually, you'll break. There's no life hack around it.
High intensity + inconsistency = shortlived results
This formula has you function in cycles - boom and bust. You're super enthusiastic and go full throttle, only to be stopped by your own physical or emotional limitations after a while. Or you simply lose interest as soon as progress starts to plateau. And then you crash. Once you regain strength, the cycle starts again. The problem with this formula: In many areas, success is building up over time. With every cycle, you start again from scratch. Plus, high intensity normally forces you to make sacrifices in other areas of your life, creating collateral damage with each cycle.
Moderation + inconsistency = limited outcomes
If you pursue your passion with moderation but don't keep at it, you simply will yield no significant results. That may be ok for certain areas of your life. Exhibit A: my guitar playing skills. But regarding the most important things in life, moderation paired with inconsistency simply won't get you far enough.
Moderation + consistency = sustainable outcomes that build greatness over time
Only by dialling down intensity can we apply consistency. And only through consistency can we achieve long-lasting success. To me, that's the sweet spot. It's also the combination that requires the most grit and self-restraint. Maybe that's why many find it hard to follow this formula. It often seems our brains are wired for seeking novelty and abandoning things when they get tough. That's what makes consistency difficult. And when we've found a thing we're passionate about, we tend to go all in and give it all we got, abandoning moderation.
I invite you to think about what formula best describes how you pursue your aspirations, and to reflect on how your approach has worked for you so far.