Influence: Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion – #2 Commitment and Consistency


“Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.”

Robert Cialdini, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”

Have you ever found yourself sticking to a commitment, even when it makes little sense? 

Once you’ve made up your mind and set something in motion, the further you go, the harder it is to stop what you’ve started. 

Robert Cialdini explores how Commitment and Consistency shape our behavior in the fantastic book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”

Commitment and Consistency is one of six powerful psychological forces of persuasion — together with Reciprocity, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity.

George W. Bush, loyalty cards, and marathon training are just some of the things we’ll look at to understand how Commitment and Consistency work.

Stay the course, and I promise it will all make sense. 

What do we mean by ‘Commitment and Consistency’?

Let’s make it perfectly clear how the author, Cialdini, defines ‘Commitment and Consistency,’ which is a psychological principle that centers around our deep-rooted desire to be consistent with our past actions, beliefs, and statements. 

Once we make a choice or take a stand, we experience internal pressure to align our behavior now and in the future with that commitment. 

Sure, we make all sorts of false promises to ourselves: “Next year, I’ll buy Christmas presents in September.” But once you make that promise to someone else, you’ll pay with the currency of internal pain if you don’t walk the talk.

Commitment and Consistency is not only a principle of persuasion that works on a personal level. It’s also a powerful tool for influencing others and shaping their decisions and actions.

Just take a look at the following examples. 

5 examples of Commitment and Consistency in action

1. Social Activism

Suppose you publicly commit to supporting a cause by signing a petition, attending a protest, or posting on social media. In that case, you are more likely to engage in further actions that align with your initial commitment. 

Activist groups know this, too. 

An organization might encourage you to take small initial steps, like signing a pledge, to cultivate a sense of personal investment. 

Now that you’re committed, you feel compelled to remain consistent with your initial stance. This leads to more participation, donations, and support for the cause.   

2. Goals and Habits

Engagement and new behavior are most effective when they are made public and require an active effort. 

If you make a public declaration and commit to a specific goal, such as quitting smoking or starting an exercise routine, you build psychological pressure to follow through. It’s much more potent compared to just keeping the promise to yourself. 

The commitment is really about you, but you feel like you’re letting other people down if you deviate from your promises. 

“The commitment is most effective when it is active, public, effortful, and viewed as internally motivated and irrevocable.”

Robert Cialdini, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”

3. Free trials

By offering a product or service at no cost initially, companies aim to create a commitment from customers. 

Once you have experienced the product and formed a favorable impression, you are more likely to keep or purchase it. 

(Admitted, sometimes you just forget to cancel the damned subscription!)

The main driver behind this is Commitment and Consistency: You already use the product, even if it was just a trial initially. And there’s less friction and ambiguity if you continue instead of hitting the brakes. 

4. Loyalty cards

Consider two loyalty cards. 

The first says: “Buy 7 to get a free coffee.” 

When you open the other card, there are already two pre-filled stamps. 

This one says: “Buy 9 to get a free coffee.” 

Both require you to buy seven more coffees to get one for free. So which one works better? 

You got it, the second card. 

People are more motivated when they’re partially done (or in progress) on a longer journey instead of starting from zero on a shorter journey. 

Starting something is always the most challenging part. The two “free” stamps signal to your brain that you’ve already started and must now complete ‘the mission.’ 

5. Product reviews 

If we all had a quarter for each time we were asked to write a product review about something we just bought … 

You might not know that product reviews serve two purposes. 

First, companies want you to write what you think to get social proof (“Other people bought this product – it’s that good!”) 

Secondly, they also know how difficult you will find it to change a positive review later. You would have to acknowledge that you were wrong. And this would be a painful blow to your self-image of being a consistent individual. 

Once a stand is taken, there is a natural tendency to behave in ways that are stubbornly consistent with the stand.

Robert Cialdini, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”

What would someone like me do in this situation?

When we make a decision, we want to appear consistent and feel good about it. 

Sometimes, we find ourselves in ambiguous situations in search of a nudge. 

In other words, we want to know what others would do in a similar situation. 

Nearly every hotel bathroom has a sign that says: “We care about the environment. Please reuse your towels” or similar. This message is vague, standard, and easy to ignore. What if we could change it to use the persuasive powers of Commitment and Consistency? 

Well, a group of social psychologists convinced a hotel manager to try a different sign:

80 percent of guests reuse their towels more than once.” 

Notice how this speaks directly to our desire for consistency and social conscience? And it worked wonders. Guests were now 26 percent more likely to reuse their towels (source: Switch, Chip & Dan Heath). 

Commitment and Consistency can empower or deceive you

Like so many other things in life, Commitment and Consistency can lead to good and bad outcomes for you. 

We’ll look at both sides with examples now. 

When it works out for you

Clear commitments establish a sense of purpose and direction. When harnessed effectively, Commitment and Consistency can be powerful tools for personal growth and achievement. 

Imagine a guy named John, an aspiring writer, determined to finish his first novel. 

Despite facing self-doubt, ridicule from friends, and writer’s block, John remained committed to writing daily. Over time, his dedication paid off, and he completed the novel. Commitment and Consistency helped John achieve his dream and improved his writing skills, leading to more publishing success.

Here are a couple of examples of famous entrepreneurs where Commitment and Consistency were key to success:

  • Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, faced personal and interpersonal pressures to stick to his commitment to produce electric vehicles. Critics doubted the viability, but Musk persisted, leading Tesla’s success in the EV market despite years of challenge. 
  • Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, faced immense pressure and negative publicity from activists who accused Nike of exploiting cheap overseas labor in its manufacturing. However, Knight didn’t shy away from the challenge. Through diligent efforts and transparency initiatives, Knight addressed the concerns and reshaped Nike’s image positively.

When Commitment and Consistency go wrong

While commitment can be a force for positive change, it can also lead you astray if you’re not mindful of its influence. 

Fitness enthusiast, Sarah, set a goal to run a marathon in six months. 

Initially, Sarah was enthusiastic and consistently followed her training plan. However, after a few weeks, she started experiencing knee pain but dismissed it, afraid of losing progress. Sarah continued pushing herself, ignoring the warning signs of injury. Unfortunately, her knee injury worsened, and she had to quit training for months. 

There are also countless examples where Commitment and Consistency played a negative role in huge political decisions:

  • Former President George W. Bush faced pressures to uphold the 2003 invasion of Iraq despite flawed intelligence and little evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). However, Bush remained resolute in his commitment to remove Saddam Hussein from power and eliminate the perceived threat of WMDs. The invasion obviously cost a lot of lives, and no substantial WMDs were found. Despite widespread criticism and questioning of the decision, Bush maintained his position. 
  • Brexit, the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, has brought much more pain than gain for the UK in the form of economic instability, bureaucracy, and uncertainty. Once the idea of “leaving the band and going solo” was presented, the power of commitment pushed the agenda all the way out to a public vote in the UK, which illustrates the impact of sticking with a decision with far-reaching implications.

3 ways to take control of Commitment and Consistency

1. Be mindful

Be careful to be pulled into commitments by a small ‘yes’ that leads you to commit to more.  

Before making a commitment, take the time to reflect on its implications and consider whether it aligns with your values and long-term goals. Pause and play out possible scenarios, and ask yourself if the commitment is genuinely beneficial or if it stems from external pressure or manipulation.

2. Stay open to change

Is confirmation bias at play? Maybe you’re being consistent with a belief or stand that’s not really true or hurting you. 

Recognize that it’s okay to change course if circumstances change or new information becomes available. Being flexible and adaptable allows you to reassess and make choices that truly serve your best interests.

3. Educate Yourself

Go deeper. Learn about persuasion techniques and the psychology behind Commitment and Consistency. By understanding how these principles of persuasion work, you become better equipped to recognize and resist manipulative tactics.


We can empower ourselves to achieve great things by harnessing the power of Commitment and Consistency. 

When faced with challenges or obstacles, Commitment and Consistency keeps us motivated and focused, helping us overcome adversity. Additionally, it can enhance our credibility and reputation, as others perceive us as reliable individuals who follow through on their promises.

However, it’s essential to remain vigilant and aware of how it can be exploited for less noble purposes. By understanding the psychology at play, we can navigate the realm of Commitment and Consistency with confidence and integrity.

By Kristian Magnus

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