Intensity vs. Consistency: Why Kurt Cobain Was Wrong

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Reading time: 3 minutes

If given the choice, would you prefer intensity or consistency? Don’t try to weasel yourself out of this by giving me the “it depends” answer. Here, I’ll make it easy for you.

A magician pops out in front of you. In his left hand he’s holding a red pill labeled Intensity and in his right hand he has a blue pill labeled Consistency. Taking the pill will determine how you will live the rest of your life. Everything you do, think, and feel will be influenced by this one pill. Which one do you pick? 

If you had asked me this 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have even blinked. “Where does this wizard live and how much does he want for the red pill?”. Too many of the older people I knew were slow, jaded, and boring. Like they had dried out. They had no spark. I never wanted to end up like that. 

It’s better to burn out than to fade away 

Kurt Cobain
Intensity or Consistency – what will you choose?

Why Kurt Cobain Was Wrong

My opinion changed a few years ago. And no, it didn’t suddenly happen after I became a dad. It was years before that. I remember sitting on a train, scribbling the following note to self on my notepad: 

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Treat it accordingly. 

Then I thought: “Wow, this makes me sound old!”. But the deeper I dug, the more evidence I found supporting it. The greatest works of art, the most impressive athletic feats, and the most remarkable products of the human mind ⏤ all are the result of consistency. As much as we like to admire a sudden burst of inspiration, the truth is that every great achievement is built on consistency, not intensity. Here are a few examples: 

Leonardo da Vinci took four years to paint the Mona Lisa, taking it with him when he traveled between cities. And it wasn’t because he lacked talent or inspiration. He worked on it consistently, adding layer after layer, continuously correcting here and there until he was satisfied. The result? The most famous painting the world has ever seen. 

J.R.R. Tolkien needed 12 years to write The Lord of The Rings. You think that’s long? George R.R. Martin wrote the first book of his A Song of Ice and Fire series in 1996 and he hasn’t finished it to this day. I think we can all agree that these are successful authors who have written some of the most beloved books in history. And they both have one thing in common: consistency. 

Dwayne Johnson is the highest paid actor in history. If you’ve seen any of his appearances in a movie or in the wrestling ring, you would think he’s the embodiment of intensity. Well, you’d be wrong. But instead of giving you his life’s story, I’ll just let The Rock speak for himself: 

Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.

Dwayne Johnson
The Rock says success is about consistency

How to go From Nothingness to Greatness

By now I hope you’re convinced that consistency beats intensity, at least in the long run. And when we’re talking about designing our lives, it pays to play the long game. That’s the conclusion to which I came sitting in that train.

But this was all 4 or 5 years ago. The train ride, the supporting facts, the note to self ⏤ they’re all in the past. In the meantime I’ve met people who have aged gracefully, I’ve seen folks enjoying their last years to the fullest, and I’ve consolidated my belief that it actually is better to burn out than fade away.

So what made me write this post today? 

I stumbled upon a short clip that reminded me of the value of consistency. It does a great job of explaining what has taken me 600 words in just 3 minutes. But then again, it’s narrated by Simon Sinek, so I’m not ashamed to admit defeat. On the contrary, it motivated me to keep working consistently, because it’s the only way to achieve anything worth mentioning. And I hope it will do the same for you. Here’s the clip: 

Life is a marathon, not a sprint

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