Logical vs. Foolish Consistency

In his bestselling book Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B Cialdini Ph.D shares his six universal principles of persuasion.

Book recommendation: Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini Ph.D

At the time of publishing, Cialdini’s bestseller was praised as one of the most important books for marketers written in the last decade.

For many marketers today it remains a firm favourite.

The concepts are timeless and shine a light on the psychology behind some the most effective approaches to sales and marketing.

Cialdini places emphasis on using his research to protect yourself against unethical persuasion tactics.

He also outlines positive and ethical ways to use the techniques yourself to improve various aspects of your life.

One of the techniques I’m most fascinated by is consistency detailed in the second of Cialdini’s six principles titled Commitment and Consistency.

The misquote

Cialdini highlights a popular Ralph Waldo Emmerson quotation from his essay Self-Reliance.

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” – Ralph Waldo Emmerson.

Emmerson was incredibly insightful here, although today the line is often misquoted without the word 'foolish', thereby losing it's true meaning.

Both Cialdini and Emmerson have recognised that consistency in human behaviour is a double-edged sword.

It’s a power that can work for us or work against us.

A power people can use against us or we can use to our own advantage.

The light side: logical consistency

Being consistent in our behaviour and actions is an essential facet of daily life.

We’ve evolved to be that way.

Imagine if we had to deliberate over every single decision we made.

Nothing would get done.

Consistency helps us get through the day and focus on what matters without getting caught up in the minutia of daily life.

It’s part of our human autopilot.

If we program the autopilot well our human instinct to be consistent results in positive new habits.

The dark side: foolish consistency

Unfortunately, our auto pilot isn’t aware of who’s mapping the course.

Much of the time it isn’t us.

It’s the person or marketing or software that’s trying to win our attention or sell us something.

That’s the downside of being consistent.

When we start doing something, anything, we take a step closer to being consistent with that new behaviour in the future.

Even if that behaviour doesn’t serve us well.

Over time we begin to own the behaviour. It becomes automatic.

It’s clear how dangerous this can be.

Living our lives on autopilot, letting other people map the course.

In the words of Emmerson, that’s “foolish consistency”.