Really, though. Consistency is one of those things we don’t really actively think about very often, but we definitely notice it. And a lot of the time, our awareness comes in the form of comfort or discomfort. “Alright, who can pick up the coffee tomorrow morning and have it here?” Is that Todd volunteering? Really, dude? Aaaanyone else? Please? Because how can you trust Todd with this when Todd is consistently late to stuff? But on the other hand, a long-term relationship only really works when there’s a degree of consistency in the way you and your partner behave; I know that my wife will not wake up tomorrow and decide that she’s going to be a lion tamer (probably), and there’s comfort in knowing what to expect and what not to expect. Even looking back to Todd, at least you know what to expect from him, right? Cool. So, if consistency is comfort, then inconsistency is discomfort. And discomfort is stressful.
Story time! When I was in the very beginning of my college(s) phase, I would often visit good friends at Georgia Tech, and I would stay with Brett and Bob in their dorm room while I was there. There was quite a lot of tomfoolery (as the children would say) that took place in those hallowed halls, but one aspect of my time there stands out to me. I’m not certain of the exact time, but somewhere between “up too late” and “up too early”, a gentleman with an impressively resonant voice would triumphantly emit a high-pitched, “Woo!” into the hallway and subsequently slam his door. While I thought it was hilarious, Bob and Brett seemed not to even really notice, perhaps due to the fact that this seemed to be a nightly occurrence. Sure enough, every time I visited during that school year, I was blessed with this gentleman’s majestic cry.
I still remember the sound clearly, and that was in 2005. Why do I still recall it? Because it was consistent, down to the pitch of it. Consistency is a powerful thing. We acclimate to even weird events or terrible circumstances, as long as they’re consistent. This is a well-documented phenomenon, from Pavlov to learned helplessness to prison life.
We’re built to recognize patterns and predict stuff. It’s, like, one of the things we do best, and one of the things that sets us apart. It’s why we can train dogs, or have a railway system, or pick kids up on time. And generally, when things are running smoothly, we feel pretty good about ourselves. We feel “in control”, and like things are headed in a positive direction. However, when things start to slide into entropy, which is quite literally what always happens, we start feeling bad about ourselves. This is partly because we “missed the pattern” that we’d been looking for, which we somehow interpret as a referendum on our intellect. Moreso, though, I think it has to do with our understanding of inconsistency in a broad sense.
Example: Let’s take a trip to the carnival, disregarding the nightmarish clown situation and the safety violations, and specifically to the shooting gallery. You pick up your mostly-intact toy rifle and aim at the center target. According to the sights, you’re lined up perfectly, but you’re somehow way off to the right. So you adjust your aim left, and this time is a little closer. Within a few tries, you’re right about where you need to be. In this scenario, the sights are faulty, but the weapon, itself, is fairly reliable. Now you come back later to play again, but someone is using the one you had earlier, so you settle in to a different station. You aim, take a shot, wide right. Ok, you think, just like before. You adjust left, shoot, and… you’re somehow further right? So you adjust left again, and now you hit the target. Keep it where it is, shoot, and you’re wide left. It becomes clear that this weapon is inconsistent, so it’s faulty.
And that’s really our understanding of inconsistency, is that it is synonymous with “faulty”. The problem is, we are not equipment, and we are not immovable, “as-is” objects. Instead, we have the ability to adapt and react, to think, to change. We are dynamic. But we don’t feel like we are when faced with inconsistency, either internal or external. And that’s when you get into the “absolute” self-talk with sentiments like “shouldn’t”, which we’ve covered before.
The point? The fact that consistency is comfortable doesn’t mean that inconsistency has to be uncomfortable, and if it is, it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you; it just means that reality turned out to be different than expected and that’s ok.