February 2022

Adaptability over consistency

The virtue of adapting for sustainability over straining for consistency

Even with the best intentions and the most carefully crafted plans, we can still fail to catalyze the change we strive for. Often it starts with just one obstacle. When one part of our plan doesn’t go the way we expected we allow the whole thing to unravel and then give up entirely. We become fixated on an ideal outcome and spend so much energy fighting for consistency that we lose our ability to adapt.

The ideal of consistency

Striving to be perfectly consistent is a symptom of believing too much in our own sense of control. We have to remember that while we may be in the driver’s seat, we cannot control the road conditions. Uncertainty abounds life and we can’t predict how things will change and what obstacles will arise.

In straining for consistency we become rigid. We become so married to our idea of success that it divorces us from reality and leads to tunnel vision. As such, we lose sight of the full spectrum of possibilities. This spectrum includes ways in which we might adjust our approach to achievement, and ways in which we might adjust our idea of achievement entirely.

For example, in striving to lose weight, there are many approaches to consider. We might start by trying to exercise more, only to find that our schedule doesn’t permit it. So we might shift our approach to one of calorie reduction, only to find out that it makes us hangry. This might lead us to look at our expectations around time, and instead of trying to lose 30 pounds over three months, we extend it to six months or a year.

We might find that no matter how we shift our approach, we still fail to make forward progress. In this case, we need to be open to adjusting our idea of what achievement means. What’s the goal behind the goal? Do we really want to lose 30 pounds, or do we simply want to lead a healthier lifestyle? The former might be easier to quantify and measure, but keeping in mind the latter makes room for adaptability.

It’s a process and an iterative one at that. Our starting point is always changing as we learn from experience and gather new information. It’s also highly individual. There are a multitude of different systems out there for achieving goals but in the end we have to find our own way and see for ourselves the truth those systems are attempting to point out. That means, if we are to be successful, we have to summon our full intelligence to discover what works for us and then continue to adapt because what’s useful now may not be useful later.

Consistency vs. adaptability

Operating from an attachment to consistency looks different than when we embrace adaptability. There is a difference in attitude, in vocabulary, and the way we relate overall.

Consistency demands compliance and the vocabulary around it is mired by shoulds: “I should have worked out yesterday”, “I should eat better.” We talk in terms of what we should do without fully considering the feasibility of doing it in the first place. All our energy goes to keeping up with the impossible demands and we lose our ability to relate honestly with what’s happening.

Adaptability goes hand-in-hand with compassion. The vocabulary around it is interrogative and asks, “What can be done now?” It’s affirmative of our experience and keeps us connected with what is actually going on in our internal and external environments so that we can respond wisely instead of reacting habitually. Ultimately, adaptability requires an attitude of openness to experience, even when that experience doesn’t fit in the pattern of what we expected, hoped for, or planned for.

Making the shift

Changing our attitudes isn’t a matter of just making our minds up. It requires practice, reflection, and intentional effort. To help cultivate this shift, consider and reflect on the following:

  1. Be curious - Instead of giving in to frustration, bring a spirit of curiosity to your experience. Observe it with a sense of wonder and see what you might learn.

  2. Be easy on yourself - Your harsh inner critic isn’t doing you any favors. Know that you don’t need to identify with that critic, and you also don’t need to deny that its existence. Practice compassion.

  3. Practice gratitude - The pursuit of goals can become relentless to the point where we never feel like we have enough. A sense of balance is important. Gratitude brings to light what we already have that is taken for granted and invites joy into life.

  4. Cultivate a beginner’s mind - It’s said that in the expert’s mind there are few possibilities but in the beginner’s mind the possibilities are infinite. Every moment is a new starting point. Try to bring a fresh perspective, as if you are seeing things for the first time. What assumptions are you holding that may no longer be true?

  5. Practice connectedness - Find some way to get out of your head and connect with your direct experience. Get outside and connect with nature. Try talk-aloud walks in the woods. Write in a journal in a stream-of-consciousness style, without stopping or editing.

Consistency isn’t all bad, but when taken to the extreme it becomes problematic and stagnates our growth. Shifting our mindset from the ideal of consistency to an attitude of adaptability won’t happen over night, but over time our fixation on consistency can soften, broadening our perspective, and opening us to new possibilities for catalyzing change.