First Published: January 21, 2024 | Last Updated:

The gist: Hustle Culture's idea of consistency in habit building has led a lot of us to burnout. Here's an alternative approach.

I’m celebrating 400 issues of the Work Brighter Weekly newsletter this week.

That officially makes it the longest-running habit, routine, and creative project of my professional and creative life.

It’s basically the only creative project or habit that I’ve never gotten too bored to show up for, or too burnt out to keep up with.

Thinking about this milestone had me thinking 🤔…

What is it about this newsletter routine that’s made it something I’ve kept doing, eagerly, for the better part of a decade (I started it in late 2015) now?

The biggest factor I’ve landed on is my theory of comfortable consistency, which I’ve written about here and there, but never fully explained (until now!).

Even before I recognized the theory, given it a name, and intentionally practiced it, I was doing it with my newsletter routine.

In fact, the newsletter might be the first comfortably consistent routine I built around my work.

So this milestone around it seems like the perfect time to dive deeper into this idea.

What is comfortable consistency?

Comfortable consistency is the idea that consistency can be supportive, comfortable, and easy, instead of the hard, intense, and exhausting way Hustle Culture has conditioned us to think about “consistent habits.”

That consistent habits can be life jacket that helps you float when you feel like you’re drowning in overwhelm, instead of an anchor weighing you down faster.

And most importantly, that building consistency into a habit means adjusting the habit, not yourself.

How Hustle Culture warps our idea of consistent habits

Comfortable consistency is in contrast to the way Hustle Culture’s impact on society has conditioned most of us to think about consistent habits.

Because of its focus on intensity, effort, and output, Hustle Culture leads most of us to believe that consistent habits have to be hard and intense, that consistency is a completely binary situation, and that there’s no room for changes or evolutions over time.

Myth 1: consistent habits have to be hard and intense

First, we’re trained to believe that the “good” kind of consistency only applies to self-improvement-y things that are hard, intense, and exhausting.

For example, most of us would probably apply the label of “consistent habit” more readily to “productive” activities like running multiple times a week or waking up at 5am every day, than we would something like getting up at 9am every day for work or having a ritual with your partner around watching HBO’s Sunday night line-up live.

But a regular wake-up time is a consistent habit proven to improve sleep hygiene. Even if it’s at 9am, or even 10am, that’s a healthy thing.

So is a weekly social TV night, even though Hustle Culture loves to demonize watching TV.

Building consistency into your habits doesn’t mean making them more difficult or intense. In fact, it usually means the opposite.

Myth 2: consistency is a binary

Hustle Culture also loves to think in binaries, including around the topic of consistency.

That means a lot of us think that we only get to call a habit consistent if we have a 100% success rate of doing it ever time we’ve ever wanted to.

Which is unrealistic for anyone with a life and responsibilities.

Luckily, consistency is more of a dial that can be turned up and down, than an on/off switch.

When thinking about building more consistent habits, it’s helpful to to think of trying to turn up that dial a little bit at a time, versus switching an “on” button and dialing things from 0% to 100% immediately.

For example, when I track the habits I’m trying to be consistent with, I count the “yes” days to create a “success rate” percentage. And I’m happy when it’s anything above 70%. I’m aiming for small improvements, not perfection.

Myth 3: consistent habits can’t change

Finally, a lot of us think that if a habit or routine evolves over time, its consistency was broken.

We’re a failure at consistency. That habit doesn’t “count” (count for what?) anymore, we’re starting all over.

But in my experience, the opposite is true.

Over time, the habits you stick with will change and evolve, but for the better. In ways that make the actions easier to fit into your life and schedule. Ultimately making consistency easier to achieve.

For example, I’d say I’ve been intentionally journaling consistently for about 5 years now.

That doesn’t mean I’ve journaled every single day, at the same time, in the same way. It just means I’ve journaled more days than not, whatever way I could or wanted to those days.

Looking back, I can confidently say that whenever my journaling routine really changed, it was in a way that made it fit into my life more easily. I’ve developed different approaches and “versions” of the habit for different situations and needs, and I can adapt the habit to what I need most at the moment.

That’s how and why it’s continued for 5 years.

Those changes and evolutions supported the consistency, versus working against it.

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Rethinking consistency: what if it was comfortable?

When I first started rethinking how I approached consistency in my habit building and life design, I asked myself questions like…

  • What if consistency can be comfortable and energizing, instead of a burnout-inducing struggle?
  • What if we looked at consistency as a spectrum with room for flexibility and imperfection, instead of a rigid binary?
  • What if we took consistency as a good sign, proof that we’re not overextending ourselves with a habit and making it fit into our lives?

That’s how I came up with the theory of comfortable consistency.

I realized that aiming for consistency, making it a “goal” with a habit I was trying to build, didn’t need to mean things like improving my stamina, discipline, or productivity until I had the capacity for it.

It could mean adjusting the habit or activity until it could fit into the capacity I already had.

The 4 rules of comfortable consistency

  1. Lower the bar for what counts: if something you’re currently trying to achieve or do isn’t fitting into your current schedule, lower the bar for what “counts” as achievement. For example, if going for a 30-minute walk doesn’t happen as much as you want it to, lower the goal to 15.
  2. Ease up on the intensity: another (or additional) approach you could take for when something is too hard to be consistent with, is easing up on the intensity. To continue the above example, you could try to walk slower and pace yourself instead of, or in addition to, lowering the time goal.
  3. Allow imperfection: accept that you will not be perfectly consistent. You will “break the chain,” as the saying goes. Cool. Fine. Just start building a new one. Or stop tracking streak trains and track your success score instead, like I did.
  4. Let habits change as you do: finally, habits and routines have to change as the rest of your life does. Otherwise we’re expecting a square peg to fit in a round hole.

That’s how you build consistency that works for you, instead of against you. Consistent habits that feel like life jackets instead of heavy anchors.