Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The One Consistent Thing to Look for in a Person

It's not something our society seems to celebrate, but it's really important.

Key points

  • Look for consistency when you are considering someone as a leader, a collaborator, a mentor, an idol, a friend, or a significant other. 
  • Being consistent is not the same as being boring or totally predictable. You can still be fun, innovative, adventure-seeking, expansive, more.
  • In the long run, it's better to play the long game: See how a person is and what a person does over an extended period of time.
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk.
Source: Photo by Pavel Danilyuk.

Imagine being on a plane where the pilot was unpredictable. You never knew when the plane would take off or land, go up or down. What if that pilot were to say every now and then during a flight, "Get out. There's more important people to ride on this airplane?" Or "Instead of oxygen masks, we've equipped this airplane with Eminem's latest album?" Would this be the right pilot for your airplane? Chances are you'd deem that pilot too inconsistent for you. So why not consistently do the same all the time?

You may not find the word "consistent" on that many Tinder or LinkedIn profiles. You may not hear many fans oggling a celebrity exclaiming, "Oh, she's so darn consistent" or "Wow, his consistency is just so hot." The word "consistent" may not equate to "sexy" in many people's eyes and may seem more like something to describe a bowl of soup. But it should actually be one of the biggest things to look for when you are considering someone as a leader, a collaborator, a friend, or a significant other.

Take, for example, someone with whom I've collaborated on a project, whom we'll call Climb D'Ladder, who exhibited behavior that was heavily dependent on the circumstances. Climb could be quite charming, treating you well as long as Climb needed something from you or perceived you to be the most important person in the room at the time. This would include heaping praise—sometimes excessive praise—on you and offering you little favors here and there. But once someone seemingly more important came along or an opportunity for political gain arose, Climb would not hesitate to do whatever would allow Climb to, well, climb politically and leave you in the dust. In fact, if you stood between Climb and what Climb wanted, Climb would often elbow you out of the way and even criticize you behind your back.

Source: Photo by Marina Abrosimova.
Don't you want a stable presence in life?
Source: Photo by Marina Abrosimova.

Here's another example: someone we'll call Like D'Wind. Like certainly had no shortage of guys interested in her. Other guys called her "sexy" and "alluring." They really liked her spontaneity. I ended up dating Like for a little while. On some days, Like was very passionate and expressive. This was the alluring Like, the one who told me frequently how much I meant to her. Yet, on others days, there was the cold and more distant Like, and you couldn't quite tell how much she even liked you. The flip-flopping was, like, too much to handle.

Dealing with such inconsistency proved to be way too difficult. I couldn't tell which Climb or which Like would show up on a given day or even a given hour. Their behaviors were too dependent on the circumstances around them and what they happened to be feeling or wanting at the moment. I much preferred people who instead were driven by internal feelings and values that wouldn't change so rapidly. Heck, I would have even preferred someone consistently nasty to everyone because at least you know where you stand with such a person.

Being consistent is not the same as being boring. It is not the same as being totally predictable, either. People who are consistent can be fun, creative, innovative, adventure-seeking, expansive, even spontaneous in many different ways.

The difference is that they are predictable in certain core ways. They are predictable in whom and what they prioritize. They are predictable in making decisions based on a clear set of internal values and not the immediate circumstances. They have consistent moral compasses that aren't affected by who or what is around them at the time. They are predictable in the big things that they want. They are predictable in that when you go to them with a problem or issue, you know what you are going to get. They stick to their principles regardless of the weather. Consistent people are the ones who become trusted leaders, loyal friends, and life-long partners. They are the folks on whom you can depend when the going gets tough, which happens often in life.

Yet, our society doesn't seem to celebrate consistency that consistently. It's People's "Sexiest Man Alive" and not People's "Most Consistent Man Alive." You have love songs like "Crazy in Love", "Bleeding Love", and "You're Beautiful" but not "Crazy in Consistency", "Bleeding Consistency", and "You're Consistent." There's too much "what have you done for me lately" rather than "what have you done for me over time." People seem to regularly accept and even laud political and business leaders who say one thing at one time and then something completely different on another occasion. Such leaders can also say one thing while doing the opposite yet still retain their leadership positions. That can be maddeningly inconsistent. And yet....

Instead, it's better to play the long game. See how a person is and what a person does over an extended period of time. Does his or her actions match what he or she says? How does that person treat other people? How does that person act when others are and aren't around? Does that person's opinion of you or other people seem to change with the wind or remain steady and stable? Can you clearly tell what that person likes and doesn't like? Do you always know where you and others stand with that person?

Whether it's your house, your car, your air fryer, your toilet plunger, your airplane flight, or, yes, your soup, wouldn't you prefer consistency? After all, life already brings lots of topsy-turvy uncertainty, lots of turbulence. Why add to that mix?

Think of anyone with whom you are going spend time as a co-pilot on your plane of life. Would you want to be on an airplane where you were always thinking, "Down? Up? I don't know where we are going to go." That may seem fun at the beginning. But over time, that would make for a lot of stress, consistently.

More from Bruce Y. Lee M.D., M.B.A.
More from Psychology Today