The Power of Consistency and Persistence

‘Tis true there is much to be done […] but stick to it steadily, and you will see great Effects, for constant Dropping wears away Stones, and by Diligence and Patience the Mouse ate in two the Cable; and little Strokes fell great Oaks, as Poor Richard says in his Almanack, the Year I cannot just now remember.

Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard Improved (1758)

A few years ago, I bought a new indoor bike. I had to. The axle on my old bike snapped, just like that. I wasn’t surprised: I had biked 20 to 30 miles on it every day—seven days a week—for the previous eight years.

I was surprised, however, by the total mileage: 73,000. Actually, I was stunned. If I had biked from West Quoddy Head (Maine) to Point Arena (California)—the two most distant points within the mainland United States—it would have been 2,892 miles. Round trip: 5,784 miles. I had biked from sea to shining sea and all the way back again, the equivalent of 13 times. 

Incredible. Impossible. Yet, I did it, even though I had never intended to do so. All that I had set out to do was to bike regularly—no, faithfully, every day, seven days a week. 

I’ve been thinking about other things that I have done regularly.

Like the $25 Series E Savings Bonds that I started purchasing bi-weekly in the 1960s when I was in college and kept purchasing for decades. When the time came to buy my first home, I was surprised by my investment. Actually, I was stunned. I had a down payment for a row house in the shadow of the United States Capitol. My own piece of the American Dream.

Incredible. Impossible. Yet, I did it, even though I had never intended to do so. All that I had set out to do was to save regularly—no, faithfully, every other week. 

Or what about the pocket change I started saving daily when my niece/goddaughter was born? That first year, pennies. The next, pennies and nickels. Then, pennies, nickels, and dimes. Pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters followed. Finally, all of my pocket change. I saved it regularly—no, faithfully, every day, seven days a week. Seventeen years later, when it came time for Minnie to go to college, it was time for me to take all of my coffee cans—chock-full of daily pocket change—to the bank. I was surprised. Actually, I was stunned. The total? Nearly $10,000, not nearly enough for even one year’s tuition, but certainly more than enough for textbooks, computers, cell phones, and even a $500 Series EE Savings Bond. A future as bright as a shiny new penny.

I shared these examples and my essay-in-progress with my students. One emailed me later, “I think your essay would be marvelous. Your three examples are kind of unbelievable, but, of course, anyone could bike 13 times round trip across America or save up a down payment for a house or start a college fund if they tackled those goals a little bit at a time, fairly regularly.”

Yes, Bonnie: that’s my point, precisely. Anyone can achieve any goal—regardless of how impossible or how incredible it may seem—simply by tackling it a little bit at a time regularly and faithfully.  

Anyone can.

Anyone.

6 thoughts on “The Power of Consistency and Persistence

  1. Consistency and patience are two life lessons that are never too late to learn. I still have all of the EE bonds given to me from the family over the years. A few have yet to mature. I’ll sit and wait and enjoy the rewards at a later date.

    My goodness, you must have the knees of a 10 year old! I hear and feel the cracks in mine with every squat and lunge I perform. Congrats on the “cross country” trip and happy riding!

    • You are right: it’s never too late to learn consistency and persistence. Hang on to those EE bonds until they mature so that you can reap their full rewards.

      Knees of a ten-year old! I wish. However, I am blessed to be able to bike 20-30 miles a day. I bike to Black Gospel music at the start of my day. It’s good for my body, my mind, and my soul!

      Thanks so much for your comment!

  2. The latest info on habits is that it’s better to add a small habit to a habit you already have, especially if it’s pleasurable (or relatively painless), than to jump into a huge project all at once and then berate yourself when, nearly inevitably, you begin to fail.

    The accretion of small habits sounds like what you did with your pennies routine.

    I used to have a wonderful habit of walking every day (except Sundays, my day of rest), that I added it to my dog’s habit of needing to get out and do her business and oh, while we’re out here, why don’t we head on up the road and smell the neighborhood? Sadly, she died, and it’s hard to get going now, without her urging. Should I get another dog?

    I’m not really asking … just pointing out how hard it is to keep a good habit going when circumstances change.

    • You are 100% correct: “accretion of small habits” is exactly what I did as I saved my pocket change for my niece’s college fund.

      And, I agree: dogs bring out some of our best attributes and help us maintain some of our best habits! I am reminded of something that Maurice Maeterlinck wrote somewhere: “We are alone, absolutely alone on this chance planet; and amid all the forms of life that surround us, not one, excepting the dog has made an alliance with us.” My dog Ruby has certainly made a lasting alliance with me!

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