Consistency: What It Is And Why It's Important

November 26, 2018

Consistency: What It Is And Why It's Important

Ever wondered why we human beings have a strong preference for consistency? It's partly because we couldn't function if we didn't have some sense of certainty about the way things work in our world. For example, when we wake up in the morning we expect to get up and have a floor under our feet, we expect to see clouds in the sky, and for the grass to be green. Imagine a world where we couldn't be certain what we'd see, feel, or experience when we woke up in the morning.  

We also have psychological expectations about the world and the people in our world. Why do we expect our partners to love us tomorrow? Because it's consistent. Because if we didn't we would constantly be worrying about everything and everyone in our life. Consistency is the glue that holds our world together and it helps us to understand the world and our place in it. 

Consistency Theory

Consistency theory states that when our inner systems, our beliefs, attitudes or values, all support one another and are supported by how we behave, then we will feel comfortable and aligned. When the opposite of this is true we experience dissonance.

Cognitive Dissonance

You may have heard of the term cognitive dissonance; it's the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change. For example, when people smoke (behaviour) and they know that smoking causes cancer (cognition), they are in a state of cognitive dissonance. Or, when a person commits to doing one thing and then do something else, they will experience dissonance.

Dissonance causes discomfort and confusion. Things are not as we expected them to be, and so we want to figure out what we missed. Dissonance arises from inconsistencies, tends to be uncomfortable, and will continue to cause discomfort until it's resolved.

How We Try To Reduce Dissonance

There are many ways that we attempt to achieve consistency between conflicting items. Some of the strategies people use include:

  • Rationalisation/making excuses: 'It was going to happen anyway.'
  • Transcendence: 'Nobody is perfect.'
  • Denial/ignoring: 'I didn't see it happen.'
  • Things will be different next time: 'I'll be more careful next time.'

However, while these strategies may work in the short-term, we will continue to have dissonance until there is true consistency between our thoughts/beliefs/values and our behaviour.

So, if you say you're going to meet with a friend on Saturday and then don't turn up, and, you also believe that one of your values is respect and that you respect other people and their time, then you are going to start dealing with dissonance. You might say to yourself, "it's okay, nobody's perfect." And, sure we're all human and make mistakes, but if you do the same thing to that or another friend the following weekend, then, while you can again say, "it's okay, nobody is perfect" you're not acting with any kind of consistency. Unless you change your behaviour and start keeping your commitments, thus showing that you do respect other people and their time, then you are acting inconsistently toward others which will have an impact on how you are perceived by others. Additionally, you are being inconsistent with yourself which will likely result in lower self-esteem and increased dissonance.

It becomes easier to be consistent when we are clear on what our values are. Values are those things that you believe are important to the way you operate in the world. They help you to determine your priorities. You can consider them the signposts that provide direction for your life.

Examples Of Consistency

There are many benefits to being consistent. A good way to think about it is to consider the success of brands that have been consistent over time. Let's use a global example, Coca-Cola or Coke. What do you think of when you think of Coke? Most likely you'll think; red, soft-drink, America, socialising/friends. If you decide to buy a coke, you know that no matter where you are in the world it will taste pretty much the same. Coke's brand consistency over many years has made it the third most valuable brand in the world. 

Then think of yourself, how do you want others to see you? Do you think people know that they can rely on you to be a certain way? Consider how you feel about the people you know that are consistent and reliable, are those the people that you trust? How do you feel about those people that you know that are inconsistent? Do you trust and respect those people?

Please don't consider these ideas to be completely black or white. Of course, we're all human and we make mistakes sometimes, we change our minds, we're all constantly growing and evolving, but when we're living based on our values we're overall generally consistent. And when we are acting in ways that are consistent with our thoughts/beliefs/values we tend to feel more content, satisfied, and have healthier self-esteem. Which, I'm guessing, is how we'd all like to feel most of the time. I know that's what I aim for in my life. 


We can provide you with a free list of values or think about doing our simplify your life online course


Professional counselling offers many life-enhancing benefits including helping you to identify your values. I am happy to discuss your needs before starting the therapy process, just email or phone (contact details provided in the link through).




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