In my last post’s story, the always-happy friend is concerned about self-consistency. That’s not surprising, because consistency is a great tool to persuade our brains to behave the way we want to behave.
Psychologists will tell you that, as humans, we want to be (and to be seen as) consistent with our self-image. We want to follow through on our commitments. We want to live up to statements we made. We don’t like wrestling with the cognitive dissonance of behaving inconsistently. Our “lizard brain” takes over the decision-making process.
This leaves us open to manipulation (for good or ill) if someone can get us to express the behavior they want us to emulate. For example, clipboard carrying researchers who asked “Do you consider yourself a helpful person?” before inviting people to participate in a survey saw their volunteer rates shoot up from 29% to 77.3%, as detailed by Robert Cialdini in his book Pre-Suasion, among many other examples of influencing people.
But it also gives us a tool for self-programming. For instance, many weight loss approaches have been shown to work because they create habits through self-consistency. You stood up and told your Weight Watchers group what you were going to do this week… how can you go back on that now? Rather than just counting calories, you promised to avoid carbs or sweets or dairy… and are you the kind of person who goes back on promises? Your desire for consistency can convince you, at that moment of truth, to think I’m not a person who buys a candy bar in the checkout line as that belief becomes part of your identity.
So, as extreme as the “if I were any happier, I’d be twins” guy may have been in his response, he does provide a model for all of us. Wouldn’t we all like to say, in that moment of truth:
I’m not the kind of person who stops being happy when bad things happen to me.
I’m not the kind of person who gets angry at others and looks for someone to blame when my plans are disrupted.
I’m not the kind of person who lets problems take away my joy for more time than it takes to experience those natural negative emotions.
It’s up to you to decide how you want to program your brain. But if you don’t make a conscious effort to decide, your programming will be decided for you by your unfiltered life experiences.