This is a guest post by Lyman Reed – @lymanreed.
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. “ — Emerson
I’ve known that quote from Emerson’s Self-Reliance for as long as I can remember, but I don’t think that I really understood it until recently.
People often use it to slam conformity, but when they do, they reveal that they are just as ignorant of it’s point as I used to be.Â Conformity and consistency are two different things.Â Conformity is doing something just because everyone else is doing it.Â Consistency is doing something on a regular basis.
Here’s the rest of the passage:
“With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. â€” ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ â€” Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”
What Emerson is talking about is a consistency with our own beliefs.Â Believing something today simply because you believed it yesterday, and the day before, and the day before, is one of the most foolish things you can do.
It’s a great way to stay stuck right where you are, never growing, never learning, and never experiencing anything new.
I recently decided to take a real look at some beliefs I had around metaphysics, specifically the Law of Attraction and what’s known (or at least used to be known) as New Thought.Â While it was by no means easy, I decided to drop those beliefs in favor of a more rational world view.
This one was difficult not just because of my own internal dialogs, but because suddenly people that I associated with didn’t know what to expect of me.Â The guy who used to talk about the Law of Attraction and who thought that Wallace Wattles was the smartest man in the world was now saying “Nope, I was wrong.”Â Which was threatening to those who still believed as I used to.
But in In some things, consistency isn’t foolish, and can be a fantastic tool that we can use to our advantage.
For example, for the past 44 days, I’ve filled a page in my personal journal every day.Â It started as a 30 day trial, to see what I would get out of it.Â The benefits included a renewed confidence in my writing, massive amounts of ideas for articles, and a honing of my skills.Â So I stuck with it because it made my life better.
Another example: for the past 21 days, I’ve gotten out and gone for a walk every day.Â That’s a 30 day trial that’s still going on, and while I’m not sure yet if I’ll continue on a daily basis, I do know that the benefits I’m feeling (sleeping better, more energy, the ego boost) will keep me doing at least some form of exercise.
In some things, consistency can be deadly.Â My personal example of this is my smoking.Â It’s something that I constantly struggle with, so much so that it’s possible that I’ve built up in my mind that I consistently go back to smoking, and it’s become a part of who I am.Â While I still struggle with it, I’m going to keep struggling until I win.Â I will not give in to that kind of consistency.
What we are consistent with determines our future.Â And what we make the decision to not be consistent with determines our future as well.
Staying consistent just to be consistent is bullshit. Staying consistent in order to achieve a goal is greatness.Â Staying consistent when it’s leading us down the wrong path is suicide.
But staying consistent because we can’t bear what people would think of us if we changed?
About the author: Lyman Reed is a personal development blogger who currently lives in Valencia, CA.Â He you can visit his blog, Personal Development in the Real World, at http://lymanreed.com/.