Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Commitment and Consistency

Commitment works hand-in-hand with the need for a consistent mental image of ourselves. We unconsciously react in ways that are consistent to our beliefs and initial decisions. If you think about it, you can probably spot that knee-jerk reaction in yourself. It's another mental shortcut that saves us from the work of having to rethink about small (and big) commitments. Like other heuristics, although usually helpful, it can cause us problems.

Inconsistency is seen as a negative personality trait, whereas consistency and "keeping one's word" are seen as signs of trustworthiness, stability, and honesty. We don't even realize we are doing it, but once we make a commitment, we're hooked.

Herein lies one of the traps for TFI members. Taking the stand to join the group, with its resultant requirements of burning bridges and giving away all one's goods, is not only commitment, but costly commitment. This puts psychological as well as in-group societal pressure on a member to be consistent. I've already written how doubts and questioning were considered sinful. Along with this, and perhaps more importantly, we had already made up our minds on the issue of "serving the Lord" with its unquestionable merit, and once that was done there was absolutely no need to waste mental effort by thinking about that decision anymore.

The more effort that is required of a commitment, (and in my case, like other TFI members, it was complete commitment - no looking back) the stronger the influence the decision has on the attitude of the person who made it. Then, as the years went by there was the growing sunk cost (which I mentioned previously), as well as the very strong need to be "a woman of my word."

"Because it is a preprogrammed and mindless method of responding, automatic consistency can supply a safe hiding place from those troubling realizations [that the cursedly clear and unwelcome set of answers provided by straight thinking would reveal]. Sealed within the fortress walls of rigid consistency, we can be impervious to the sieges of reason."*

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Ralph Waldo Emerson

* Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B. Cialdini, PhD

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