A human life is filled with highs and lows, triumphs and tragedies, and unpredictable swings from one to the next. One moment, you feel on top of the world, the next moment, you feel like a sewer rat. (Sewer rats probably feel bad, but I can’t confirm this.)
Anyone can perform in ideal circumstances. Our performance in emotional extremes is what counts.
Why The Extremes Challenge Us Most
When things are really good, it’s tempting to press pause on what got you there and celebrate.
When things are really bad, it’s tempting to console and pamper yourself or even give up.
The ultimate challenge in life isn’t how much you can do in a given day, it’s whether or not you can keep going in emotional extremes. Consistency is the gold standard of good living because it means you’re unstoppable: regardless of what’s going on and how you feel, you’re going to show up.
Anyone can have a single great day in any area, but what’s the point of one good day surrounded by dozens of bad or mediocre days?
Where Most People Get It Wrong
If you truly, deeply believe that consistency matters more than anything else in the world, then when you’re emotionally devastated, a part of you is going to say, “Yes, I feel like a sewer rat right now, but this is an opportunity to prove that I can still make progress in my life despite what I’m going through. This is my chance to prove I’m consistent.”
The typical person doesn’t value consistency like this. They see life as a fluid and varying journey, which is true, but they willingly match their behavior to the extreme emotions they feel. Varying progress is normal, but it’s not a good reason to give up even for a day. Many people will allow zero progress days if they feel a certain way.
In a very scientific experiment in college, I found that 2 hours of sleep is MUCH better than zero hours of sleep. In the same way, a small progress day is MUCH better than a zero progress day for your habits and your mental health.
When life seems perfect, it will get worse, because perfection is a ceiling. When life seems like a nightmare, it will get better, because real life nightmares are a floor. When life shifts from great to worse or vice versa, consistency shines! Here’s why.
When Good Turns Bad
Imagine that you’re having the best day(s) of your life. You’re in a loving relationship. You’re making money. You’re in great physical condition. Everything is as it should be. Nice.
Since life is so peachy, you decide skip some days at the gym to celebrate. You drink and eat like a king. Your income and job situation are phenomenal, so you figure you can relax a bit at your work and skill-building. You decide to “coast” with your significant other rather than pursue because your relationship is strong.
This continues for some time, but then the hammer drops. You lose your job, your relationship falls apart, and you haven’t touched a weight in months. Now, on top of your fall from grace, you’ve lost the very things that put you in that great position. This is how a temporary fall becomes a prolonged descent. You’ve got nothing!
Here’s an alternative possibility.
What if instead, you had continued your core tasks through the good times? In this case, maybe you’ve lost your love and your job, but your exercise habit remains and your skillset is stronger than ever. This prevents the meteoric drop from the first scenario. You know you’re still growing as a person, and that you’re likely to rebound swiftly. Your skills, emotional stability, and good habits make you quite employable and datable.
When things go poorly, our habits are our safety net. This is not just something I’m saying, it’s our biological response. Studies show that the natural human behavioral response to stress is to rely on habitual behaviors over cognitive behaviors. 1
I understand that habits aren’t sexy. But unlike the exciting things like romance, power, prestige, reputation, and money, your habits are reliable enough to be a foundation, an emotional foundation to pick you back up when life slams you to the ground.
When Bad Turns Good
In the flip scenario, imagine that you’re having the worst day(s) of your life. You’re all alone. You’re broke. You’re out of shape. You feel like a sewer rat. This is a common excuse to get out the ice cream and watch TV… for a week straight.
Self loathing cycles with self-destructive behaviors. People don’t choose to do this as a “solution.” They do it to cope. They do it to ease emotional pain.
The alternative to destructive coping is constructive coping. Like ice cream, good daily habits can pull your focus away from the pain in your life. Unlike unhealthy coping (which brings further guilt), good habits will remind you of your potential and they won’t let you admit complete defeat. Habits are deservedly touted for their ability to drive success, but their impact doesn’t end there.
Much of the power in consistency is psychological. It’s difficult to get into too deep of a rut when you KNOW you’re making progress every day in high-value areas. This consistent forward march is the healthy fallback you need when times are tough.
When life is bleak, your habits will sink you lower or lead your turnaround.
The Unmatched Power of Mini Habits
Now, many of you already know about mini habits, having read the book or taken the video course. But even if you are familiar, this discussion shows a different angle of why mini habits are so powerful. In my book and course, I showed a chart demonstrating the mini habits difference in regards to willpower and motivation. See it below.
That shows the doability of mini habits, in that a person struggling with low motivation and willpower in any moment can still get the job done.
In a human life of ups and downs, we also need a strategy that constantly generates positive emotions. As tough as many of us pretend to be on the outside, let’s be real. We are emotionally fragile and volatile creatures. (This isn’t an anti-emotion speech as our emotions are amazing gifts when they are positive.)
A mini habit is unlike any other strategy on earth in that it practically starts you in a position of success and gives you upward flexibility. Almost every other growth strategy you’ll see starts you at failure and asks you to struggle your way to your success target (exactly what you can’t do when emotionally devastated). Mini habits have a threshold for success too, but it’s so low that it isn’t a ceiling like most goals, it’s actually a floor. Mini habits offer an unlimited bonus area (no ceiling) and varying levels of success.
The chart below shows the emotional power of mini habits to create positivity in your life and keep it that way with consistency (the previous willpower chart above shows how you can be consistent with mini habits).
Mini habits are a constant positive force, either keeping you out of the gutter or sparking you to higher highs. It’s common sense that only positive actions can consistently make us feel positive, because everything else is just talk, potential, or hope.
The best way to get over life struggles is to move forward.
The best way to continue a great life is to move forward.
Consistent forward movement improves your life while minimizing the likelihood and impact of going backward. The way to do it is equally simple: choose the most important areas in your life and minify them into small actions you can definitely do every day, with the option and hunger for more.
For the comprehensive explanation of how to do this (and what not to do), read Mini Habits or take the video course. Their industry-leading ratings are not a coincidence and they’re not due to my eloquence as a writer or speaker. It’s just a solution the world needs.
If you’re already familiar with mini habits, integrate this information into your understanding. Previously, I haven’t talked much about the emotional support power of mini habits. As you can do them even on your worst day, mini habits are powerful enough to be the core of your emotional health and stability.
How My Habits Have Saved Me
Despite my chronically happy disposition, I probably would have spiralled into depression this year without my habits. I’ve moved three times in the last year. It has been brutal to start over in three new places where I haven’t known anyone. It’s been a lonely time trying to find a place on earth where I feel like I belong and that feels like home. And yet, somehow, I’m not (fully) insane and I’m not depressed.
It’s like I’ve been walking in a storm. Debris is airborne, swarming all around me. Dust saturates the air, and pelts my eyes when I dare to open them. I see massive tornado funnels wreaking havoc, threatening to uproot me. The wind is fierce, its sound deafening. Chaos! I don’t know from one moment to the next what’s going to happen. I’m constantly unsure of my direction, because I can’t clearly see what’s ahead. Every move I make feels like a guess. If I go this way, will a stray refrigerator crash into me? Nobody knows. Does the fridge have Chipotle leftovers inside of it? I can only hope.
The most perplexing part in of all of this scene? I’m smiling. It’s not because I enjoy breathing in dust (I admit it is fun), it’s because I somehow feel like a juggernaut in this harsh land. Despite being blind and vulnerable in this storm of confusion (which I think accurately describes a human life in many ways), I haven’t stopped moving forward. I haven’t stopped making progress. If I can move forward here, what can stop me?
I’ve forgotten about the dust. I’ve ignored the debris hitting my face. I can’t control those, so I’m focused on moving forward, knowing each step brings me closer to a new destination. I don’t know what the next destination holds, but I know that whatever it is, it will not stop me from making progress either. If my eyes are blinded, I’ll feel my way through. If a wall is in front of me, I’ll climb it. If my legs are broken, I’ll crawl. I may not pick the best path forward, but that’s okay.
In life, circumstances and results vary, and relying on them at all will result in pain and disappointment. Money, relationships, success, power, and pleasure can be taken from you in an instant. Instead, rely on your habits, which you control. Your habits can power you through life’s worst storms and constantly move you toward the life you desire. If times are good, they can send you higher and catch you if you happen to fall. If times are bad, they’ll be your rocket ship to a better place.
This message will catch you all in different places. Some will be struggling. Some will be thriving. Some will be in the middle. Wherever you are, this is equally relevant and important for your future and I hope you never forget it.
You can do nothing better than to be consistent in areas that matter to you.