Flexible Consistency: Combining Contrasting Values

October 18, 2020

I almost skipped writing this week’s post on my blog.

It was a tough week at work. And I only managed to hit my work goals for the week by pulling in extra hours on Saturday.

Exhausted, I was racking my brains on what should I write about.

In the weekly content brainstorm call with the DelightChat tribe on Friday, there were a few potential topics I talked about - Ask dumb questions, Life is not a zero sum game, Generalist vs Specialist - none of them flowed out of me like it does every week.

How I write on my blog

You see, every weekend when I sit down to write, the entire writeup just kinda flows in one continuous stream of thoughts.

A monologue but on paper.

But more importantly, what allows that to happen is that whatever I write about each weekend is a topic that naturally came up in my life - in my thoughts, readings, conversations with friends, with team members, with my co-founder, my girlfriend, or family members.

And because I would had lived and gone through the meat of the topic already, writing it down would feel natural and effortless.

This week when I tried to write on some of the topics mentioned above, I felt stuck.

Honestly, what I wrote after an hour of applied effort read like gibberish.

I told Sankalp that I’m not sure I’ll be able to write anything good this weekend, and his reply was - “The weekly content writing is supposed to be therapeutic and fun. It’s not supposed to be something you are forced to do.”

He was right, the purpose of this whole exercise is to release our thoughts, learnings, ideas from our minds onto paper and then to the whole world. And feel great in the process. I wasn’t feeling great.

But then my reply to Sankalp was - “I do want to write something. So I'll dedicate 2 hours to it and write the newsletter early morning. Keeping the consistency is important to me.”

Consistency

A few years ago, I was the sort of person who would have a string of habits, strict (and exhaustive) morning routines, a diary where I was checking off whether I performed my habits each day, you get the picture.

And if I ever missed a day or two of my habits or routines, my whole routine would break down.

My habits and routines were not anti-fragile, and I knew that was a problem.

The game changer for me was over a long conversation one evening, over a few drinks, with my friend Sandesh. He explained to me that I’m being too hard on myself, and that my system has a single point of failure which drags me down every time I hit it. I cannot let missing a day or two of routine breakdown the whole routine.

“So how do you do it?”, I asked.

“I’m flexible”, he said.

Sandesh went on to explain how he discovered this flaw in strict routines and rituals, and therefore came up with weekly goals - do X task Y times this week.

For example - exercise 4 times this week, no matter which days and at which times.

It’s alright to miss 3 days in the week, it’s alright if he didn’t go every morning to the gym, he can go in the evening, he can skip that day. As long as he went 4 times a week (or even 3), he was good.

Consistency with flexibility

There were fireworks in my mind. Introduce flexibility into my rigid and consistent routine?

Flexibility and consistency are contrasting values, yet it was the simple and obvious solution to my problem.

Even though earlier I would be fine if I performed a habit 5 out of 7 times in a week, it was my mindset that needed a change.

Instead of seeing the 2 times I missed as a failure and being down about it, what if I accounted for failure in the routine? What if I embraced failure?

It was a simple change in mindset - from “perform a habit 5 times a week” to “you are allowed to fail upto 2 times a week”.

Have room for failure, so that when it does eventually happen, it doesn't set you back.

This is reflected in the habit tracker app that I created, where there’s a column for ‘Goal’, ‘Achieved’ and a final column that says ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’ if you crossed the goal. If the goal was to meditate 20 times a month, you get 10 chances to fail.

That eases off so much pressure from the mind and allows for serendipity to take over.

Consistency and flexibility are contrasting values. Yet combining them increases your chances of success, and helps you foster better mental health.

Topics come organically

Over a 2 hour conversation that often went too deep into philosophy (we couldn’t help it because it was so much fun) with Siddharth and Rahul who host The Indian Dream podcast, when the topic of keeping ourselves healthy during the times of Covid-19 came up, we talked about flexible consistency.

We talked about the importance of having a routine, yet being kind enough to ourselves to allow room for failure. These are tough times and nobody was prepared for this in advance.

I was reminiscing this conversation last night while talking to Mausumi, my girlfriend, thinking that I will skip writing anything this weekend and that it’s okay.

I went on to explain the concept of flexible consistency to her, a phrase coined by Anne-Laure in her blog. I borrowed her phrase because it sounds and reads way cooler than how I used to describe it earlier - “Consistency with flexibility”.

That’s when it struck both of us at the same time.

I’d found my topic for the week.

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