The professionals we trust use checklists. For instance, surgeons tick the boxes so as to avoid forgetting to do routine procedures. Airplane pilots have checklists to ensure that mechanical and safety features are accounted for. Without checklists, jobs that are performed on a regular basis become deceptively comfortable. We want the airliner’s autopilot feature to work, but we don’t want the flight crew to oversee the journey on autopilot.
When our actions become consistent, we run the risk of becoming mindless and thoughtless. We do this in regular, day to day living, too. We may have a consistent morning routine where we go through the motions with unawareness and distracted by inner dialogue about the past or future.
We can say the same about attachments to beliefs and opinions. When we conform to comfortable modes of thinking we don’t risk the discomfort of thinking. We don’t need to contemplate our contradictions, points of view, and ideological preferences. To favor consistency is inherent in human life. We do not like unpleasant surprises nor discomfort. A certain amount of consistency is necessary in order for us to live efficiently. However, beyond a certain point, consistency creates blandness, lack of depth or unhelpful habits.
We choose our role models and heroes because they inspire strength and validate our aspirations. Such thinking gives us illusions of comfort and safety. We cling to such consistency because it seems to give our lives structure. Our default mode is to cling to our habits–helpful or not.
In our quieter moments we notice our contradictions. We realize we’re not as consistent as we envision ourselves to be. To be human is to have messy thoughts and beliefs. Consistency is incompatible to nature and to life. If you ever observe butterflies, they fly erratically. The individuals that flew with predictable trajectories were eliminated by predators. Inconsistent fluttering is a survival mechanism of butterflies.
The matter of consistency is a matter of balance and context. Too much consistency makes for a dull life. Not enough consistency leads to anxiety and scattered thinking. Sometimes we need the gentle currents and soft, lapping waves of a small body of water during a calm day. Not enough motion creates stagnation, the winds of a storm stir up confusion.
Living our lives is difficult. Creating a pleasant, happy life takes effort. On the one hand we desire variety and welcome change. On the other hand we need sustained thought and action over long stretches of time. An inconsistent amount of thought and activity are what happens as we go about our daily lives. It is helpful to think about how we are consistent and whether or not we are too consistent or not consistent enough.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a saying from the Ancient Roman architect, engineer, and writer, Vitruvius. “Consistency is found in that work whose whole and detail are suitable to the occasion. It arises from circumstance, custom, and nature.”