Consistent Like the Tortoise

Remember the story, the tortoise and the hare — slow and steady wins the race? My logically inclined brain spent far longer than anyone should on wondering what that story was trying to say, I mean, how could that really happen? The hare is so much faster than the tortoise it makes no sense.

In hindsight, the story is actually delving into behavioural psychology, that is, humans don’t behave the way you generally expect. It is a story about consistency, and it brings up an very important core concept. You see, when it comes to achieving anything, most people are by definition average, and most people are like the hare. They start with a spike of motivation, and get miles ahead of the tortoise. They then slow down, due to any number of factors, overconfidence, drop in motivation, external events, excuses, other bright shiny objects etc. So yes, in theory, if you kept up that pace, you would well and truly win the race. In reality (and hence the message of the story) you don’t keep up that pace, and you are kidding yourself if you think you will for anything non-trivial, and eventually you will be overtaken by the tortoise. Because that tortoise will have a higher average speed.

Worse yet though you probably won’t even finish the race. This isn’t covered by the story but it is the more important point. If you are like the hare, you probably won’t finish at all. Don’t worry about beating the tortoise, just worry about finishing!

The take home? When you start, go slow, slower than you want to. Because you need to build consistency into any new system (remember systems/habits are far better than goals). Some examples:

  • Learning a language? Start with just one word a day.
  • Trying to get fit? Start with a 5 minute walk a day.
  • Trying to lose weight? Eat one healthy item a day.

Too easy? Yes! That’s the point, it is meant to be so easy you can’t not do it. Then once you get going you can build momentum, but even if you don’t, you’ll still be moving like the tortoise. Slowly? Sure but still moving.