The Power of Repetition
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
Three to five times each week, I run up a trail called the Laguna Bowl. It starts on the inland edge of the 133 leading into Laguna Beach, right next to the tennis courts and the Pageant of the Masters. The Bowl is nearly two miles long and climbs nearly 1,000 feet. Once I get to the top, there are a dozen different routes I could take. If I wanted to, I could run a 50k from my back door and not repeat myself.
Three to five times each week, I climb up the same damn hill. Today is Tuesday and I've already climbed the Bowl twice. I know every inch of that trail. Some days, it feels easy. Some days, it feels like I'm dragging a case of lead. Some days, I dislike the monotony of doing the same climb, and some days, I look behind me and see the ocean stretching out like a wide, yawning chasm and I can't help but feel happy that I'm here, on this trail, in this small artsy city by the ocean.
Running up the same trail is redundant and repetitive and sometimes tiresome, but it's also been incredibly rewarding. I've grown to love the Bowl through sheer repetition. Running itself is an act of repetition, broken up by new scenery or new people or new things to think about. To zoom out a bit further, any exercise can be redundant. Any thing, done enough times to really stick, is repetitious and boring; the 10,000 hour rule isn't lauded for its entertainment value.
But the benefits of repetition stretch beyond the physical. Social Psychologist David Meyers pinpoints the power of repetition as one of psychology's most reliable phenomena. Repetition does two things; it fosters fondness and breeds belief.
People like the things/people/places that we're familiar with and that we consider safe, known as the mere exposure effect. The more you see a painting, for example, the more apt you are to like it. Mere exposure also increases our fondness for people. The longer you interact with a stranger, the more familiar and more likeable they become. We prefer our own images that we see in a mirror more than our image in photos. Advertisers capitalize on the power of repetition, knowing that the more a consumer sees their product advertised, the more they will come to prefer it. Familiarity can increase fondness without our realizing that we've even become familiar. The more I run up Laguna Bowl, the more I grow fond of it, not because it's special, but because I know it well. Repetition not only increases physical strength and mental toughness, but it increases how much we like the thing we repeat as well.
Repetition also breeds belief, which might be a great thing if you're trying to memorize lines in a play, but which might be a bad thing if you're say, Adolf Hitler trying to convince an entire nation that mass genocide is the only path forward. Repetition can make good things stick, but it can also spread disinformation and half-truths. Repetition is what makes mantras so compelling and what fuels political campaigns (MAGA). Implementing repetition into writing is an underrated way for the author to drive home a point. In 1984, George Orwell repeats several phrases many times over: “Freedom is slavery," “Ignorance is strength,” “War is peace.”
Three to five times each week, I run up the same hill. Five days a week, I make twenty sales calls to warm or cold leads. Every day, I think about what to write about and then, I try to write. Repetition isn't fun or exciting or sexy. Sometimes it's dull and stale and hardly bearable. Sometimes, the last thing I want to do is the same few things that I always do.
However, repetition is the secret sauce that many successful people utilize on their pathway to being the best.
"It is the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen."— Muhammad Ali
"Repetition is not repetition, ... The same action makes you feel something completely different by the end."— Pina Bausch
"Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out."— Robert Collier
P.S. Read about the power of repetition here, listen to David Goggins talk about the power of repetition here, or read about the power of repetition in the subconscious mind here.