The Power of Monotony
Mission Accomplished … “Sort of”
I had been walking for some time. When I paused to look up, I had reached Anchorage, Alaska.
Ok, not physically, but in actual miles walked. You see, back in 2014, I set a goal to “Walk to Memphis.” Memphis is about 1,000 miles from our home in Boca Raton, so I set my sites on walking the equivalent on my morning strolls.
Mission accomplished! By December 31, I had logged 1043.2 miles. I walked 1,200 in 2015 and then again in 2016. I relaxed my pace a bit in 2017, but still hit 1000 miles. Baring injury, I am on pace for another 1000 this year.
Since I began keeping track through my Nike Run Club App (yes, I am a contradiction in terms since I never run — I walk), I have logged 5,187 miles. For me walking is exercise and more. I always walk with a book (thanks Audible), which fills my mind, fuels my thoughts, and stokes the fire of energy for my day.
You can listen to the fruit of these walks on my reading podcast, On My Walk.
And the point is . . . ?
The point is that there is a necessary monotony if one is going to pound the pavement all the way to Memphis or Chicago or Anchorage or around the block.
Monotony conjures up ideas of dreariness, boredom, and a dull "same old same old," but that is only one way to see it. The Oxford Dictionary also defines monotony as "tedious repetition and routine."
Isn't it faithfulness in the tedious repetition and routine of parenting, serving, and leading that God uses to raise great kids, empower others, and take essential ground in any enterprise?
Achieving a goal -- any goal -- means enduring a certain degree of monotony.
Isaac Asimov “wrote and published more than 400 (!) books by typing non-stop 6 am to noon, every day for forty years.”
Pat Conroy, the author of The Great Zambini and The Prince of Tides, read 200 pages a day from the time he was a sophomore in high school. At 69, Conroy said he had maintained that monotonous discipline over five decades. It is a monotony that has enabled him to "out-read a generation of his contemporaries." It has also contributed to his outstanding prose.
Kobe Bryant's trainer noted that before the 2012 Olympics, Kobe "started his conditioning work around 4:30am, continued to run and sprint until 6am, lifted weights from 6am to 7am, and finally proceeded to make 800 jump shots between 7am and 11am. Oh yeah, and then Team USA had practice."
There is a power to monotony for those who understand it and harness it. Perhaps we should consider monotony as "the quiet brother of diligence" or "the sister of self-control" or "the prelude to achievement".
Scripture repeatedly touts the power and payoff of diligent, monotonous self-control:
A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. Proverbs 10:4
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. Proverbs 13:4
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
When I think of the power of monotony I think about Nehemiah, that leader par excellence from the older testament.
Leading a rag tag group he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days. That is amazing, but that is still 52 monotonous days of laying one stone upon another stone -- through heat and with impending threats of enemies all around.
I think of Paul planting churches throughout the Mediterranean world. Paul's achievements occurred through the power of the Spirit and his relentless -- monotonous -- efforts to enter towns, engage dialogue, share the gospel, teach the Word, invest in people, and launch churches.
I think of Abraham Lincoln's efforts to triumph in the political process.
Doris Goodwin notes that:
Monotony does not always guarantee victory.
Lincoln is proof of that. He failed several times in his attempt for public office, but it was his monotonous diligence that ultimately aided his rise to the presidency. And while monotony will not always facilitate "success," we can be sure that the lack of disciplined tedium will contribute to destruction:
Given the power of monotony to aid ones cause, leaders should consider how to harness it. Here are a few questions that can help:
The tedious repetition and routine question: Leaders are like Nehemiah. We all have to "stack bricks." There are some routines that we need to repeat over and over again to deliver our leadership best. What tedious repetition and routine is absolutely essential to your leadership: Reading? Writing? Meeting? Careful scrutiny? Thinking? Are these routines in order? If not, what needs to change . . . and why?
The excuse question: Where am I generating excuses instead of generating a little more "sweat equity"? When it comes to walking, running, or cycling, there are a host of reasons not to "log another mile": sickness, injury, fatigue, boredom, and plain old "I don't want to" for starters. Am I making excuses for not attending to my essential leadership routines?
The payoff question: The power of monotony is about achieving our leadership best for the glory of God. We do ourselves and our followers a disservice if we simply put our heads down and plow ahead without stopping occasionally to evaluate the progress and "see" the results of all the diligent effort. Nehemiah saw his vision become a reality long before the walls went up. He also took time to remind himself and others of the big WHY behind all the activity (Nehemiah 2:17). What are you accomplishing? Why is this so important?
The helper question: The more I read biographies the more I am captivated and convinced that we all need that person, like David's armor bearer, who is with us body and soul (1 Samuel 14:7). Who is with you on the journey? Thank that person.
Sure, I walked to Anchorage . . . but I've got a hunch you did too. Anchorage is a metaphor for the leader's life and work. It's a long walk followed by a rewarding prize. There a tedious repetition in the journey, but that routine serves a bigger cause for those who appreciate the power of monotony.
What is your next “monotonous step”?
"Isaac Asimov 'wrote and published more than ...'" from Seth Godin, Poke The Box, page 19.
"Pat Conroy, the author of ..." from My Reading Life
"Kobe Bryant's trainer ..." from "Lessons on Success and Deliberate Practice from Mozart, Picasso, and Kobe Bryant" by James Clear at www.jamesclear.com/deliberate-practice. Accessed January 11, 2015.
Doris Goodwin notes ... from Team of Rivals, by Dorris Kearns Goodwin (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005, page 89). Goodwin also notes the power of Lincoln's monotonous "fierce ambition" -- "an ambition that drove him to devour books in every spare moment , memorize his father's stories in order to captivate his friends, study law late into the night after a full day's work, and run for office at the age of twenty-three. Team Of Rivals, page 132.