Looking for Consistency in All the Wrong Places

by Belinda Munoz on April 19, 2010

inconsistent red

The human mind is a fascinating thing.  When I let my mind wander, there’s no telling where it will go.

At this particular time in mid-meditation, thoughts traveled to the hazy days of high school.  Sophomore year to be exact.


I was rushing to my next class, in my uniform of gray pinstriped skirt and powder blue blouse, when I happened to pass by the faculty lounge.  A few of the teachers milled about, chattering and laughing.  It didn’t take much effort to make out what they were saying.  The subject of their discussion was another teacher who wasn’t present at the time.  This teacher, Mr. MB, was a Vietnam veteran who had just joined the faculty.  One teacher made fun of an outfit Mr. MB wore one day; deemed inappropriate and unprofessional.  Another teacher made a remark about how it wouldn’t be surprising if one day, this reclusive educator came to school with an AK-47.

I remember how much I regretted eavesdropping.  My tender teenage self expected this type of behavior from my cohorts, but not from these teachers.  They were my role models whose abilities and wisdom I admired and trusted to mold me.  There I was with my typical adolescent trials, seeking logic in an illogical world, troubled by the display of pettiness from this exclusive confabulation.


Flash forward to today.  Fret not.  I’ve mellowed out quite a bit from this tense teen.  Thanks to many years of living in the real world.

Over the years, I’ve seen many people make little sense.

I saw a colleague devote her career to the causes supporting women and girls, and yet she habitually treated many women around her with disrespect.  I saw an ambitious political candidate revere one of his mentors, and yet he refused to stand by her when she needed him the most.  I saw an acquaintance profess undying love for her spouse, and yet she proceeded to bamboozle her very same life partner.

I see me, with all my lofty notions and good intentions, fail and fall more times than I can track.

Consistency is a fascinating concept, don’t you think?  Those of us who see the value of it strive to be consistent in our own actions.  I personally prefer to be relied upon instead of being thought of as a flake.  I want those who know me to think I’m dependable and believe that I’ll do as I say.

But I know now that this is unrealistic.  As much as I understand the value and power of being grateful, the last thing on my mind is gratitude in the midst of a difficult conversation.  Or a sucky morning.  Or inedible food at a restaurant.  Or terrible customer service.


When I find myself beleaguered by unpleasantness, all I can think is, how much wine (or martini or Long Island iced tea) will it take to make this pain go away?

Kidding aside, when we require consistency from others, doesn’t it seem like a form of self-punishment?  Isn’t it a bit like sticking a finger in a pot of boiling water?  Might it not be similar to taking a hammer to our big toe?  Peeling layers of paint off a wall with a Swiss army knife?  Clipping nails with a razor blade?  Plucking hair from our heads chunk by chunk?  Is my point here clear or would you like me to go on?

Wouldn’t you like to have a word with whomever first propagated the bunch-o-baloney notion that consistency is achievable?

Sure, in the business realm, there are many outstanding companies that continually deliver quality products and services.  In our personal lives, there are those friends whom we can count on time and time again.  Within our own selves, we possess indomitable greatness that we may yet to discover or comprehend.

But if we dig a little deeper, that award-winning company has likely bungled an account or two.  That reliable friend has probably faltered on a friendship with someone else.  And me?  Ha!  The term walking-talking inconsistency comes to mind .


Consistency is a noble quest.  Striving for it may even prove to be a good motivator to oneself.  But seeing as how we may try but can’t effectively control other people’s thoughts and actions, it seems pointless to impose it upon others and expect pleasing results.  To do so is to subject oneself to disappointment and unhappiness.

Our desire for consistency is inconsistent with our history and nature.  Change happens.  Unions divide.  Majesty falls.  Nepotism breaks.  Leaders stumble.  Even clocks fail.  Still, a new dawn shines with beauty and brilliance.  So, too, do humans.


Is it possible to hope for consistency without expecting it?

Is hoping for consistency from oneself and/or others a torture trap best avoided?

Or is there any merit in striving for consistency from oneself if Aldous Huxley is right that too much consistency is as bad for the mind as for the body?

Do you agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson that  foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds?  Or do you agree with Peggy Noonan that part of courage is simple consistency.

Image by canonsnapper

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eduard @ People Skills Decoded April 19, 2010 at 4:10 am

Is it possible to hope for consistency without expecting it?

This is a major question for me. Or rather, the more general one of “Is it possible to hope for something without expecting it?”. It’s sort of like wanting without needing, acting and being detached at the same time. I think this is possible. That’s what Buddhism is all about.


Eduard (from the new blog :))


2 Amit Sodha - The Power Of Choice April 19, 2010 at 4:20 am

Hey Belinda,

As with all things, I believe consistency to be contextual. If I want to lose weight, I need to consistently exercise and east well. If I want to get better I at tennis, I need to practise and push myself consistently. Can I improve if I don’t? I might get lucky but long term not.

With my blog, do I practise consistency in my writing? Nope because I feel in some ways I still haven’t found my true form, so I experiment and I know through experiementation I’ll get there….

Does that make sense?


3 Tony Single April 19, 2010 at 7:03 am

Is it possible to hope for consistency without expecting it?
That’s a great question, Belinda, but I’m afraid I don’t know! It doesn’t seem possible because for me there’s a component of hope that will always be built on expectation of some kind. Consistency may not be attainable if hope isn’t tied to the expectation of attaining it. And now I’m losing myself… so I’ll stop there. 😛

Is hoping for consistency from oneself and/or others a torture trap best avoided?
I’m not sure that I could ever be consistent. I contradict myself in thought, speech and deed in subtle ways all the time, and sometimes in catastrophic ways. Anyone who knows me must surely know what a hypocrite I sometimes am. I’m learning to not expect that mythical level of consistency that I strived so hard for in my youth. Better just to be transparent about my failings and freely admit culpability whenever I do wrong somebody. And chances are that I WILL do wrong by someone because I already have many times in the past.

Or is there any merit in striving for consistency from oneself if Aldous Huxley is right that too much consistency is as bad for the mind as for the body?
Yeah, I can see that point actually. Perhaps consistency can become another form of stagnation if one isn’t careful. Consistency could be the very thing that rots things like the imagination, the desire to get out there and discover something new. Consistency could be the dirt clogging up a vehicle’s gas tank. Consistency could be the air sucked out of a room.

Do you agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson that foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds? Or do you agree with Peggy Noonan that part of courage is simple consistency.
I think they’re both right depending on the person and the context they find themself in. Like Amit suggested, losing weight requires consistency to exercise and eat well, so Noonan’s quote would hold true in that context. But Emerson would also be correct when it comes to Amit and his blog. Experimentation, therefore a lack of consistency, is required for him to find his true writing form. Makes sense because creativity needs the freedom to cast its net wide and in as many different places as is applicable. 🙂


4 Rudri April 19, 2010 at 9:21 am

Great questions Belinda. I think consistency requires an individual to really examines his or her motivations for saying certain things or acting a particular way. Most people, in my opinion, don’t like to self reflect, because a) it requires work; and b) it requires admitting some things that you may or may not like. I also find that inconsistent behavior somehow ties into people wanting to actively sabotage themselves – why ? I don’t know. Like the post and got me thinking… Thanks.


5 Patty - Why Not Start Now? April 19, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Wow, another great post to get me pondering, Belinda. Sometimes I wish I was more consistent. Wouldn’t it make life easier? I often change my mind, want to do things differently from the time before, don’t want to be tied down by rules. But then I wouldn’t be me, I suppose, if I was too much different. I think Ralph Waldo Emerson has it right in his quote above. I notice he prefaces consistency with “foolish.” So that’s the challenge for me, discerning between foolish consistency and wise consistency. I’m pretty sure foolish consistency beats the creativity out of us. Thanks, Belinda!


6 Marianne Cantwell April 19, 2010 at 2:32 pm

I LOVE this! So much complexity. I personally have no problem being thought of as a flake in terms of my (lack of) organisational skills! However I would never let someone down.

This is because integrity is one of my core values.

Consistency when it comes to marrying up your values and your actions is imperative.

Lack of consistency has a real impact: when I am helping people figure out what work and life they would REALLY like to have, the biggest issue is always around personal ‘internal inconsistency’. As is: saying ‘making a difference on a wide scale’ is my #1 value (and meaning it), yet making an active choice every day to live a life where there is no room for this.

When people figure out how to be internally consistent (and marry this up with their actions), their progress toward a life the DO love skyrockets. When people live lives that are not happy (or like in your examples!!!), then I’d put money on their values and other influences clashing to drag them in different directions.

Thanks for a great post highlighting the importance (and challenges) of consistency!


7 Baker April 19, 2010 at 3:21 pm

It’s interesting, I came across your blog for today, and I realized I hadn’t posted a blog in several days now, which would be conisider “inconsistent” for me. You pose some in depth questions, I am not sure of yet of the answers in my development. However at this stage I have found that there are rewards that have come to me when I became consistent in what I was working at in the moment.


8 Jack April 19, 2010 at 3:32 pm

I like Emerson’s essay on Self Reliance. “No law is sacred unto me except that of my own nature.


9 Zengirl @happy heart and mind April 19, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Hi Belinda,

I am sorry that some of teachers were talking bad behind someone back like teenagers. I too have seen similar things in my life and I may have done it myself without realizing it. One of my uncle was all for woman’s right, everyone except his own daughter!

Why do people do this? I wish I has the answer.


10 rob white April 19, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Hi Belinda. You are certainly asking some good questions. I myself thrive on routine and consistency. I have been very successful in my life in the domain of business, and I attribute this success by developing habits that work for me. For example I make it a habit to go the extra mile for associates, partners etc. I’ve always felt the key word is “Foolish” when regarding Emerson’s quote. Certainly it is foolish to be consistently late or lazy. We all have habits that work for us some that do not. To be consistent with impeccability is virtuous.


11 Amber April 19, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Great post, great questions. My mind is whirling with things to say but it can’t seem to focus on one thing!

Let’s see…

I think that all around consistency is impossible–like perfection. Yet, there are some areas you can be consistent in. For example, (for the religious folks) a person can be consistent in their morning and evening prayers. A person can be consistent in their moral outlook. Yet, we must understand that consistency, like perfection, is constantly evolving. What we once thought was important often becomes less and less so. As we age (and hopefully mature) we become more well rounded and able to see the big picture. Perhaps it is then that we can figure out areas that we are consistent in and feel good about those.


12 Christopher Kabamba April 20, 2010 at 2:43 am

A wonderful blog and a thought provoking post you have here.

At the risk of sounding too philosophical 😀 I would say that Consistency and Inconsistency are a duality of existence evident in all life. I think that our very own survival makes a certain kind of inconsistency a natural blueprint of what just IS. At the same time, it is true that life as we know it would crumble had it not been for a certain kind of consistency that underlies all.

I hope i am making sense 🙂

After reading such a great post, i am at a loss of words to express the thing that your words have shed light upon, in my heart. If by any chance, i find a better way to express i will not mind a second shot at rendering my thoughts.


13 Phil - Less Ordinary Living April 20, 2010 at 4:45 am

Hi Belinda –

You always have such a great take on fascinating topics. For me, the only way to be consistent is to act authentically. If I’m acting with integrity, I strive to be consistent to the world around me. Does this mean I’m always consistent – no way! I join you as a walking talking inconsistency. Do I get down on myself or others about this – NO! If we accept who we are and what we do, we need to accept that others will be inconsistent and let us down / act crazy sometimes too. Learning to take that on the chin and be cool with it is probably as close as I can get to consistency and authenticity. Great post!



14 BK April 20, 2010 at 6:35 am

There is a saying that goes, “Integrity of a person is doing what one said he/she will do even when no one is watching.” I believe in being accountable for what we say and promise. However, I would not expect this same consistency from others because not everyone will think the same way. I cannot force them to think the same way as I do. What I can do is to inspire them by doing what I preach – even when no one is watching.


15 BigLittleWolf April 20, 2010 at 10:53 am

What an interesting post.

In parenting, consistency is very important. But none of us is perfect. This is one of the reasons that when I make a promise, I qualify it with “if I possibly can.” Nine times out of ten there is no problem. I have delivered on my word. If for some reason I cannot, I haven’t broken my word, and I’ve shown my children that good intentions and plans cannot always yield the desired result.

When it comes to other areas of human endeavor and relationships, there are so many factors constantly changing – inside of us and external to us – with everything from some measure of control to none at all. The result? We can strive for consistency as you say, and we may succeed at being reasonably consistent much of the time. And I really think that’s as good as it gets.

I do believe it is possible to provide consistent quality within a certain range – whether it is work product or service. And I think it’s reasonable to expect it, keeping in mind that things happen which are outside anyone’s control.


16 Sara April 20, 2010 at 11:12 am

Belinda — I really have struggled with this post, but in a good way. It’s been a challenge and I’ve actually stopped writing and done other work only to come back and try to answer your questions.

This is just food for thought, but what keeps coming up for me regarding consistency has to do with our values; the beliefs that comprise our own personal moral compass. We all have these value systems and they tend to influence how we expect people to behave or even how we live our lives.

I think consistency is very possible when values are also consistent. However, the opposite can lead to what appears to be inconsistency, but which is actually a conflict of values.

For example, I value kindness and will be kind to most people, except for those I perceive as being unfair. In this situation, I may react strongly and even be unkind. If you don’t have that same value, I’m pretty sure I will appear inconsistent.

I simply think we must consider consistency within the multitude of beliefs/values that people hold. When these values bump into each other, it can make it very hard to be consistent or even to expect it from others around us. Just something to think about:~)

As usual, great post!!!


17 Eva April 20, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Oh, I’m relieved to hear other people struggle with these things too. Lately work has been so busy for me, and I feel bad because I haven’t been as responsive with colleagues as I like to be. I want to be known as someone reliable, but sometimes there are many barriers.

I think consistency is something to strive for, to work toward. But we should remember to be forgiving of ourselves when we waver.


18 Greg Blencoe April 20, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Hi Belinda,

First, I love the picture you chose to include with this post!

Consistency is definitely a tricky issue.

One of the things that comes to mind is that I think there is a difference between consistency and perfection. Everything is not always going to work out despite our best efforts.

Perhaps the focus should be on consistently doing the best we can. I think this is really all we can ever ask of ourselves.


19 Lauren April 22, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Awesome Post. I especially like this quote: Our desire for consistency is inconsistent with our history and nature.

It’s great for me to read because although I can be zany, I strive to be consistent with my friends and in life. Sometimes, though, I do laugh at myself because as you point out, we are not always consistent.

We are odd creatures, we are, and who we were yesterday doesn’t necessarily reflect who we are today. Unless, that is, we remain stagnant as a pool of “dead” water. Not a pleasant thought!

I think for me it was tied into this perfectionism I had when I was in my 20’s. I tried to be perfect. Fortunately, I awakened to what a joke – and burden that was.

Consistency does rather fall into THAT category, does it not?

I love how you have taken a light and shined it upon this topic. It helps me to reflect more deeply on this significant area of life.

Thanks so much!


20 Kristen @ Motherese April 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm

What a fascinating post, Belinda. Thanks for starting this thoughtful conversation.

As someone who has definite obsessive-compulsive tendencies, I cling to consistency like a life vest. I need routine to feel safe and comfortable (even while recognizing that routine, safety, and comfort are not the greatest catalysts for deep reflection and art). I often feel more hurt than is actually called for when someone behaves in an inconsistent manner toward me. I had always blamed my over-reaction on my own unfairly high standards, but your post has got me thinking about whether an expectation of consistency is even feasible.

I agree with Big Little Wolf that consistency is vital to parenting – as it was to me as a teacher – so I think I will continue to strive for it, even if you’ve helped me to realize what I’m up against.


21 Elizabeth June 17, 2010 at 9:30 am

I think as one poster suggested perhaps it is too hard for many of us to be consistent. Being authentic with ourselves and others maybe what really matters.


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