Choose: Growth or Consistency

People like to profess the virtue of ideas that are incompatible with each other. “Look before you leap,” yet, “he who hesitates is lost.”

Sometimes these contradictions contain a more nuanced explanation. I believe that learning things spaced over time results in greater retention, yet I do short-term learning projects. But I follow those fast projects with slow habits, so it’s not as contradictory as it seems.

Other times the contradiction has no resolution because the aphorisms were poorly thought out in the first place. Here are two popular ones:

Personal growth and change is important.


Consistency is important.

Normally these two thoughts aren’t placed side-by-side, but it seems evident to me that they contradict. How can you claim the virtues of being a consistent person, while also claim the virtues of being a changing one?

Choosing Growth or Consistency

I bring up this contradiction out of many possible ones (much of half-baked philosophy is self-contradictory) because it’s been very important for me.

The social allure of consistency is strong. People want and expect you to be the same person, with the same beliefs, attitudes, dispositions and behaviors that you always have. When you change, regardless of whether you deem the change a positive one or a negative one, people will resist that.

If you’ve always been the shy person, and you start going out more, trying to socialize and meet new friends, your existing friends will resist that. “You’re going out too much.” “You’re neglecting your existing friends.” “You’re becoming loud and obnoxious.”

If you’ve always been the party animal, and you stop drinking, people resist. “You’re no fun anymore.” “You’ve settled down and become boring.”

If you’re overweight and start getting in shape, your friends comment that you look gaunt and need to eat more. If you dress shabbily and start wearing nicer clothes, people gawk at your new wardrobe, “What are you dressed up for?”

People want consistency in their friends and associates. That’s not a sign of weakness, just a sign that they’re human. If I have friends who make abrupt changes, I react the same way as anyone else—with suspicion and unease. I associated with them because of certain qualities, and now those qualities are changing. The instinctual reaction is to resist.

But inconsistency is often a small price to pay for improving your life. Staying out of shape because your friends look at you funny when you start eating salads seems like a pretty trivial excuse, but it is a powerful one.

Choose Growth

I’ve always leaned heavily in favor of choosing growth in my own life. Part of that reflects my age. Young people should almost always choose growth over consistency because their relationships are more fluid, inconsistency is more easily excused when you’re young and there is enormous potential that can possibly be wasted.

But youth isn’t a requirement. I’ve had the pleasure of receiving emails from thousands of people in their 40s, 50s and 70s who see how consistency has held them back. Expectations for who they are calcified decades ago, and now they recognize that it’s not who they want to be. Choosing growth is hard.

Yet, choosing growth is a muscle. As you flex, you become stronger. If you regularly change, the people around you come to expect it. Those who can’t handle it leave.

But remember it is always a choice.

Read This Next
How to Be More Social
  • Thomas Frank

    A little over a year ago, I was doing research for an article I was writing that mentioned the benefits of consistency. I wanted a good quote on it, so I looked to Goodreads – only to find quotes like:

    “Consistency is the hallmark of the unimaginative.” – Oscar Wilde

    “Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead.” – Aldous Huxley

    Reading these, and then thinking a bit deeper, I realized that it’s a good thing to be consistent in some areas – and growth-minded in others.

    My article was talking about writing consistently, and I still stand by the fact that anyone who wants to get better at writing or gain an audience needs to do that.

    However, the quality of your writing should not be consistent; it should improve over time. It should reflect how you’re changing as a person and what you’re learning.

    I imagine this concept applies to other areas as well; certain facets of your life should remain consistent, while others should change. These facets might even be complimentary – e.g. Remaining consistent in a commitment to assessing evidence and updating your beliefs, and in turn changing your mind and growing as you learn more.

    Great article!

  • Bojan from Centask

    Choosing growth came with a price of loosing numerous friendships. Over time you learn that each and every person had a certain role in your life. Those who stay friends with you for longer periods of time are usually the people that also grow with you.

    There are times when we grow in separate ways. And it’s ok. Take what is the best. The fact that you grew distant from someone doesn’t mean that you won’t grow back to your friends once your roads converge again.

    Keep it positive and light, and grow, I’d say.

  • Elfin

    I am one of the 40 year old crowd ! I don’t know if I was consistent until now. At my age there starts to be a lot of social pressure on many matters .
    I had an accident almost a year ago and I have brain injury. So, this is huge and I am changing as a person and no amount of friends can make me change my mind. They are not living what I am, they don’t even get it because a brain cannot be seen like a broken arm can. But when you see your whole life go before your eyes you realize that change is important. I have to change, this is my life and those who really love me will understand and I can’t be worried about it.
    Expectations can be awful. In my hometown, I was seen as shy but most of the time I was just bored out of my mind. As soon as I left that changed, but everytime I go back home, there are people that want me to go back to that role and resent it when I don’t.
    I guess we have to learn how to juggle consistencly and change in a good and constructive way.
    This is a great post, thanks for consistently giving me things to think about and apply to my life…
    Sorry, for being long-winded !

  • Sebastian Aiden Daniels

    Personal Growth is more important than consistency. We try to remain consistent because it gives us the allusion of being safe. I have had friends say I have become boring or am lame when I stopped partying and gave up drinking for the most part. They really resist it and if you stick with it they will adjust or leave your life.

    I believe it is important to be consistent in your pursuit of knowledge and personal growth : D.

  • daphne

    I like to think that I’m young (43) and consistent in my pursuit of personal growth. A few years back, when trying to see what was the one constant in my life, the one thing that I was truly passionate about, I realized that since childhood it is has been growth. So I do not see them as contradictory ideas.

    Thank you for this post. Well done!

  • Brian

    Consistency is good but only if whatever you are consistent about is also positive. Why not: “Consistently growing in a truly positive way is important”?

  • Stephen

    There is no conflict between consistency and growth. You should stay consistent when you are doing things that make you better and you should change those things that don’t make you better.

    If you want to learn to play the guitar you could start practicing 30 minutes per day. Adding the practice habit represents growth and change. However, in order to get any benefit from it you need to do it consistently. If you are not consistent you will not grow or change. Consistency and change work hand in hand!

    It seems to me that the basic conflict that this article brings out is not a conflict between consistency or growth. It seems that it is a conflict between wanting to please your friends and growth. If you are concerned about what your friends think then you may have a hard time making changes that are good for you.

    I can see three reasons why a friend may not be willing to support you when you make changes to improve yourself.
    1 – They are afraid of being left behind.
    2 – They don’t share the same values or beliefs as you.
    3 – They don’t have your best interests in mind.

    Your drinking buddies who don’t want you to stop drinking are afraid that when you stop drinking with them they will loose you as a friend. They want you to hang out with them but you need to stay away from the temptation to drink. In this case you need to decide whether to give up on your growth goal or separate yourself from your friends … or at least separate yourself from that environment.

    If you select a different religion you will likely experience resistance from others who believe that you are making a bad decision. They feel this way because they don’t share your beliefs. But they resist change because they care about you.

    Another example of this is the friend who thinks you are making a mistake when you want to start your own business. They care about you but they project their own unwillingness to take a risk (their values) on you.

    In this case you should carefully evaluate their perspective and make sure that you aren’t making a decision based solely on emotion … and then you should make your own decision and move forward. If these friends consistently pressure you in a way that jeporadises your growth you should find new friends.

    Finally, if someone just doesn’t have your best interest in mind you should find new friends.

  • Leaf

    For many institutions, including fields of study and their study objects, a model relating experienced overall consistency and ongoing constancy to experiences of ongoing change is a primary problem requiring resolution. Gregory Bateson saw ‘patterns that connect’ in relation to ‘news of a difference […] that makes a difference’. In ‘Alice’ (last 5 paras of ch 6… Humpty Dumpty remarks that human faces are exactly alike, so need differences to be differentiated:
    ‘That’s just what I complain of,’ said Humpty Dumpty. ‘Your face is the same as everybody has— the two eyes, so—’ (marking their places in the air with this thumb) ‘nose in the middle, mouth under. It’s always the same. Now if you had the two eyes on the same side of the nose, for instance— or the mouth at the top— that would be some help.’
    So the issues you raised are important: consistency seems necessary to enable recognition both of any object (or subject) and of its changes. Change in constancy is developmental/evolutionary ecology’s big issue. And epistemology’s too. Also for intra/interspecific empathic relations.