Hi, I'm Kara
Updated: Jan 23, 2019
• By Kara Koser •
Consistency was never a part of my daily routine. In fact, sometimes I’d go out of my way to be intentionally inconsistent. Matching socks? Get real. Same entrée I ordered last time? No, thank you, I’m too cool and adventurous. I couldn’t bear being a “constant” kind of person. On some level, I was associating being consistent with being a lackluster robot; which didn’t fit with my sense of self. I have recently come to learn, though, that being consistent with the definition I now know and more deeply understand, has saved my life. I’m talking both physically and spiritually.
Hi, I’m Kara. I’m not a therapist.
I feel like I am sometimes, and maybe sometimes I play that part, but I have no license that says so. I am the receptionist here at Walnut Psychotherapy Center.
When you walk in our doors, I am essentially a one-person welcome committee. I’m usually checking clients in, listening to the calming sounds of birds (asoftmurmur rules), eating chocolate (come to me, Ghirardelli), or answering the phone. I assist with setting therapy up for new clients and take care of odds and ends that happen in between. I honestly enjoy helping others with the difficult situations I frequently hear on the phone. In problem solving, I have also become fascinated in discovering what patterns or habits help others be most successful on a daily basis. Rewind: I enjoy finding healthy, positive, and reasonable habits that help build people up on a daily basis. Why?
Hi, I’m Kara. I’m an addict.
I have no choice but to be consistent in my sobriety if I want to continue a life I love. This requires me, everyday, to find, create, or continue meaningful habits.
In writing this blog, particularly because of what time of year it is, I thought about how quickly New Year’s Resolutions are dropped. I thought about what it’s like to want to stay true to a goal, to something important to you, but have difficulty sticking to it. I have thought about how recovering addicts practice consistency literally every single day. I have thought about what it’s like to feel all those things AND feel the pressure of that all-powerful “New Year, New You” sentiment. I have thought about how I’ve seen friends fall into such extreme absolutes that their goals can’t ever realistically be reached or sustained. “I will never use plastic again.” “I’m going to the gym 7 days a week from here on out.” “If I don’t limit screen time to 2 hours a day, I suck.” Is self-shaming the biggest thing that prevents one from being consistent? Do impossible expectations set us up for failure? What positive motivators are out there?
I wanted to know. I think I have a better idea. I also think I have more work to do.
I first began with a Facebook post asking friends and haven’t-talked-to-you-in-ages-but- we’re-still-Facebook-friends a series of questions about: what helps them be consistent?, had they experienced anything that required unwavering consistency?, and how did/do they hold themselves accountable? I was able to ask a little over 25 people in person, a little under 25 online, my crazy Aunt on the phone, a handful of humans riding Septa, then categorized their answers.
Now I know this data isn’t all-encapsulating, as it is skewed to who my friends, colleagues, and tinder matches are. The most common things people credited with helping them stay consistent were prayer, meditation, and yoga. I’ve never done yoga but I have heard stellar things about it – specifically the meditation portion of it. I’m not here to tell you to do yoga. Maybe you have mobility issues or tried yoga and hated it. The important thing to note is that meditation in various forms has been deemed the most helpful. Maybe this simply means that spending time tending to your own mind and body creates the true possibility for long term, consistent change. What do you think?
In many sobriety circles, it is suggested to find a source of hope to meditate to. This could be talking aloud to whatever/whomever your source is or even practicing breathing exercises. I’m not here to tell you to find God (or Goddess) or something of the like. I believe heavily in a higher power and have seen the benefit. Apparently so have many people I talked to; but that doesn’t mean you have to. A higher power doesn’t need to take the shape of a deity, by the way. I have heard people using a space or good luck charm as their higher power. The point is simply that something exists outside of oneself that can be trusted.
Visual Aids were listed as the second most helpful tool. Apparently check-lists do wonders. They are not only visual reminders to keep one accountable, but perpetuate a feeling of satisfaction when one strikes something off. This is the ultimate in behavioral reward systems and positive reinforcement. It’s simple and it’s old school.
One friend said “checklists are useful for smaller projects. When I draw that line through a task, it initiates me to celebrate a mini-win. Mini-wins keep the momentum up.”
Another friend said “I like crafting what I want in the form of pictures and hanging them in high traffic areas in my apartment. It’s not as in-my-face but still reminds me daily what I’m working towards.”
So how else can we do this? How else can we achieve the result of building better habits without the pressures or discomfort of goal writing (like some of the people I surveyed described)? This brings us to pie chart number two: the mindset/the intangibles.
I think Steve Jobs does a great job (no pun intended) in stressing the largest category above: frequent mental assessment, aka checking in with yourself. “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
The important concept here, I think, is just finding what works for you and eliminating what doesn’t, without shame or judgement. Let me say that again: without shame or judgement. So what if you have to go back to the drawing board 1,000 times? Go 1,001 if you stink at drawing! If you find you’re still dissatisfied, despite being consistent day-after-day, try being consistent at something else. As author Magic Stevens puts it so sweetly: “We are often more dynamic than we think – we just need to experiment with what parameters work for us.”
The second largest category, “adaptation to focus,” is really about not being so rigid in your journey, and adjusting as needed. I read an example by blogger James Clear that recaps: “It’s all about average speed, not maximum speed. Daily failures are like red lights during a road trip. When you’re driving a car, you’ll come to a red light every now and then. But if you maintain a good average speed, you’ll always make it to your destination despite the stops and delays along the way.”
Am I crazy about this quote? No. Do I enjoy the word “failure”? Not really. But he continues: “It’s never my intention to make a mistake, but if I do, I have given myself permission to view my progress over a longer timeline, an average speed, than a single day or an individual event.” Basically, he is urging to keep our eye on the long-game and to have perspective about our own processes.
Now, that, I can get down with. Because intensity does not equal consistency. You don’t need to be at 100 all the time. Trying to be consistently ON without slowing down will burn you out. It’s about finding the right pace for you and not letting mistakes and slowdowns stop you entirely. It’s about embracing imperfection. I feel like some of these concepts seem so “well, duh, Kara.” I know we (sometimes) hear them often. But are we really listening? Are we finding the sweet spot between being kind to ourselves and challenging ourselves?
You’ll also notice “fear” is a category. Perhaps you’ve heard the familiar motivational expression “go towards the things that scare you.” I don’t think this is always true, but I understand what else this could mean; sometimes fear is really just self-doubt. Sometimes fear is the thing that derails us, sometimes fear is the thing that propels us. A friend said “the thought of dying before I’ve accomplished even a quarter of what I want to experience is motivation in itself.”
Take or leave what works for you.
For me, as an addict, consistently applying a 12-step program is crucial. There are some days I do it more than others. But the important thing is that I do it and it doesn’t have to be done perfectly. Some days require I adjust my focus and remember why I’m doing this. Some days I reflect and journal A LOT. Some days I just get by. The goal for me has become to live within my commitment towards consistency and to let all of the doubt, fear, and self-effacing shame pass through me as I stand solidly facing my intentions for health and clarity. I’m… consistently... figuring out what that means for me; even just for today.