Typically, we consider consistency to be a good thing.
We want employees who are reliable. We want business partners who stick to their word. We want friends that we can count on.
In fact, we desire consistency so much that if someone continually displays erratic behavior, then we may categorize them as having some type of mental illness.
The Danger of Consistency
Most of the time, our desire for consistency makes sense.
In general, consistent action leads to positive outcomes. If we exercise consistently, then our health is better. If we communicate consistently, then our relationships are better. If we smile consistently, then our attitude is better.
But there are two sides to every coin, and consistency can also keep us in undesirable situations.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of our love affair with consistency is that we often keep ourselves in unfavorable circumstances because we convince ourselves that being consistent is the right thing to do.
This phenomenon often rears its ugly head in relationships. Stay with someone for a long time and it’s easy to convince yourself to “stick it out” and stay consistent, even if you know it’s the wrong thing to do. In other words, staying in the same relationship is easy and so we rationalize it by telling ourselves that we are being consistent.
Now relationships aren’t the only area where this happens, of course. Quite often, we make the same error when it comes to our careers, our businesses, and our professional lives.
The following quote summarizes the problem…
Once we have made up our minds about an issue, stubborn consistency allows us a very appealing luxury: We really don’t have to think hard about the issue anymore.
We don’t have to sift through the blizzard of information we encounter every day to identify relevant facts; we don’t have to expend the mental energy to weigh the pros and cons; we don’t have to make any further tough decisions.
Instead, all we have to do when confronted with the issue is to turn on our consistency tape … and we know just what to believe, say, or do. We need only believe, say, or do whatever is consistent with our earlier decision.
Read that quote again.
The danger of consistency is that we blindly follow it.
In many cases, we use consistency as a shortcut for actual thought. You are witnessing blind consistency in action when you hear the phase, “because we’ve always done it that way.”
Consistency becomes particularly troublesome when we use it to follow decisions that were initially good, but are no longer relevant.
You see, most of the time humans are pretty smart. We often make the right decision based on the initial circumstances.
Over time, however, things change. Our initial thoughts, feelings, and reasons are no longer relevant, but we continue to follow them anyway because we want to remain consistent with our previous decision.
Additionally, following our past decisions allows us to avoid facing the difficulties of change. We don’t have to contemplate new decisions. Instead, it is easier to create new justifications for why we should follow our previous plan of action.
And that’s the real rub.
We think that we have new reasons for why we should continue with our previous decision. In reality, however, we are simply inventing new reasons to stay consistent. These new justifications would never have been enough to drive us towards that type of action in the first place.
Safeguarding Against Consistency
Now that we know the dangers consistency can provide, let’s discuss a way to avoid such pitfalls.
The best way to safeguard against the ill–effects of consistency is to continually take stock of our situation and circumstances.
Is maintaining your current behavior the best decision for your current circumstance?
Just because it was the right job for you five years ago doesn’t mean it’s the right job for you today.
Just because it was the right way to treat your customers 12 months ago doesn’t mean it’s the right way to treat them today.
Just because it was the right business for you to start then doesn’t mean it’s the right business for you to manage now.
Times change, situations change, and so must your decisions and actions. Are you doing the same things without thinking about why?
I’m not saying that what you’re doing is wrong. I’m just asking you to think about why you’re doing it.
Maybe it was the best choice then. Is it still the best choice now?