Bias number 29 is known as the consistency bias. This is a cognitive bias that influences our ability to make decisions in the present by referring to past decisions.
This bias lies at the source of our tendency to double-down on decisions we’ve made in the past under the belief in the importance of consistency. Committing to the decision for the sake of being consistent, even when we have doubts, constricts our decision-making, often guiding us to adhere to bad decisions.
Consider the impact of doubling down on an important decision, despite having evidence that it is deeply flawed. You might remain comfortable in the fact that you appear as if you are principled by sticking to your guns. In some circles, this characteristic is known, affectionately or not, as stubbornness.
In psychological terms, I see the consistency bias as a symptom of a fixed mindset, a mindset that allows very little room for growth and expansion. It’s a mindset that likes certainty, that feels safe with the status quo.
What fuels the need for certainty and safety? You guessed it — the survival mind.
What is it that causes human beings to believe that consistency is important? Certainly the mitigation of fear of one’s own survival plays a big part in it. A fixed mindset, too, contributes to it. But there’s something else that hasn’t yet been explored here that I want to draw to your attention.
Consider that we live in a world in which the conversations we have about ourselves and other people suggest that we admire people who stubbornly blaze a trail through life to make things happen. We might even see these people as strong, courageous and principled.
In a business world in which the fear of loss — of a job, respect, our pride — runs the show, a demonstration of strength bolsters our self-confidence and presents a solid, formidable opponent to a potential challenger. Enduring the mental to-ing and fro-ing to justify our commitments, even when that nagging voice in our gut is telling us to tread another path, is far preferable to showing weakness by allowing flexibility of thought and behaviour.
Some people go to great lengths to keep up the appearance of being invincible by being behaviourally rigid. They might not realise it, but their survival depends upon it.
Truthfully, there is something at stake here. Any ideas what it might be?
Consider that it’s not necessarily the physical life that’s at threat, but the life of the self-image that’s at threat. If an inflexible self-image has been developed as a way of averting perceived or real risk in life, then it will occur as a threat to the person’s very existence!
It’s a misconception to believe that fixed ways of being promote life. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Fixed ways of being induce demise and, ultimately, death.
Consider the animal kingdom for a moment. Animals are constantly required to adapt to their environment. Animal behaviouralists spend years observing even the minutest of adaptations to understand how and why animals survive.
It’s no coincidence that rats make perfect subjects. It’s not that their use in testing rouses less ire from animal rights groups, but more that they have a long track record for survival. Their earliest relatives survived the catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs.
Rats are highly intelligent creatures who learn from their environment and then quickly and skilfully apply the new knowledge to adapt their behaviours. They are not attached to a self-image that projects a blustering display of strength. They work with their environment to master their participation in it rather than in opposition to it.
It’s the neuroplasticity, the brain’s agility of quickly acquiring new knowledge and applying it, that makes them such interesting subjects of study. Like them or loathe them, rats have offered a significant contribution to the study of behavioural psychology and an understanding of our mammalian brains as a result.
We humans can learn a lot from rats (and cats as in the previous article on conservatism bias). The characteristics that we dislike about them are the very ones that continue to keep them thriving on this planet for eons. Neither creature attaches any significance to its adaptable nature. They just flow with their surroundings.
If the consistency bias has struck some chords with you, how might you tackle it? Here are a few ideas.
Finally, recognise that as your knowledge grows, so does your brilliance. If there's a commitment worth creating, it is to be an agile thinker. It’s the personality trait that will keep you fresh well into your twilight years.