Does an Occasional Inconsistency Really Matter?


We often behave based on incentives and anticipated consequences. If a specific behavior will have a positive effect, we will likely move forward with it. Conversely, if an action is expected to have negative ramifications, we will most likely refrain from it. In my last post, I discussed immediate and delayed consequences, noting that our actions will often be based on immediate rather than delayed consequences. For instance, if a person is presented with the opportunity to experiment with a recreational drug, he may only consider the here-and-now pleasant experience rather than the possibility of lifelong addiction. 

I would like to provide two points of clarification. Within reason, it is what you do most of the time that counts. Doing something once or twice will not have a major impact on your life. I qualified this by stating “within reason” because many times, performing reckless behavior, even once or twice, can create catastrophic, lifelong repercussions. In addition to the recreational substance example, deciding to drive while intoxicated only once can produce irreparable damage for your entire life.

However, aside from careless behaviors, it is what you do most of the time that counts. Just as eating a single cheeseburger is not going to give you a heart attack, eating a single serving of veggies is not going to turn you into the picture of health. Conversely, eat cheeseburgers regularly, and you will likely see your health decline. Eat vegetables consistently, and you will likely enjoy good health. 

The second point of clarification is somewhat in opposition to the first point. Whereas it is true that a single act will not have major consequences on your health, it may have significant effects on your mind. There is a school of thought that believes the occasional indulgence will set you back mentally and emotionally. Suppose you have been eating healthy for a while and decide to reward yourself with that one cheeseburger. This will certainly have no ill effects on your health. However, you may savor its flavors so much that you decide to have another one tomorrow and perhaps again next week. If you have refrained from smoking for many months and then experience a stressful situation and choose to smoke a single cigarette to “help calm down,” this will have no adverse health impacts. However, you might have enjoyed this small indulgence so much that you decide to come back for more.  Again, although no immediate health impacts, there may be instantaneous mental effects, which can result in the restoration of the bad habit that you worked so hard to abolish.

Although consistency matters the most, sometimes, seemingly minor inconsistencies can have significant negative impacts.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope you have enjoyed it and found it informative. Please feel free to share it with anyone who may benefit from it.

Which Consequences Matter to You?


One day this past summer, I was driving a friend home, and he was hungry. I stopped at a pizzeria, and he bought a meatball parm hero that he began eating on the drive. At one point, he took a bite, and a small piece of meatball, along with some sauce and oil, dropped out of the sandwich and onto his shirt. He immediately tried wiping it off with a napkin and was understandably upset because he thought his shirt might be permanently stained. 

As I glanced over at him, a thought popped into my head. Yes, he was justifiably concerned that his shirt may be ruined. However, what about the other consequences of that meatball hero? He was eating a sandwich filled with sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Although these substances would increase his risk of developing diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, he did not seem disturbed about these potential health outcomes. Why was that? Why was he more concerned about what the sandwich did to his shirt than what it could potentially do to his health?

The major reason lies in the various types of consequences. His stained shirt was an immediate consequence. It happened at the time he was eating it, was quite obvious, and thus connected to the sandwich. However, the possible adverse health consequences mentioned are not so apparent. If they are going to occur, they will likely not arise for five, ten, or even twenty years. Those would be considered delayed consequences, occurring so far into the future that it would be exceedingly difficult to link them to the sandwich. 

Immediate consequences clearly have an enormous difference in impact compared to delayed consequences. Let us imagine that the opposite was possible for a moment—that immediately after eating the sandwich, my friend suffered a heart attack. If this was the case, I could pretty much guarantee that he would never eat a meatball parm hero again. 

I realize that I’ve made a bit of a stretch here. Eating a single unhealthy meal is not going to have unfavorable health effects, even after years have passed. However, consistently consuming unhealthy foods will most certainly increase the risk of poor health. The impact of each meal will add up over time until the outcomes become apparent. 

Please remember the difference between immediate and delayed consequences and their importance in your life. Just some food for thought (pun intended).

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope you enjoyed it and found it informative. If you know of anyone who may benefit, please feel free to share it.