You might have heard the term cognitive dissonance being thrown around in a conversation that was related to life stress and tension.
Cognitive dissonance simply means that your mind is not harmonious. The term is indeed being used rather commonly and broadly these days. But its true roots lie in psychology.
Being confused with opposing points of view is one thing, but in the case of cognitive dissonance, you are unable to distinguish a clear line between right and wrong, you jump from one perspective to its opposite constantly, and it’s hard for you to stick with one opinion.
This is the point where things get unhealthy. Today you’ll learn the basic idea of what cognitive dissonance is and simple tips to help you fight against it.
What is Cognitive Dissonance?
In theory, cognitive dissonance is a mental state in which the person experiences contradictory thoughts. When these opposing thoughts co-exist, the person experiences mental and physical discomfort, and rightly so.
What happens is that since the thoughts inside the brain aren’t on the same page, the person is unable to side with one opinion. This inconsistency in thoughts, emotions, and beliefs affects all parts of a person’s life.
This is what happens in the mind. But in real life, cognitive dissonance is way worse and harder to deal with.
A common example associated with this state of mind is smoking. Most smokers are well-aware of the harms of tobacco. Every pack of cigarettes has a note stating the harms of smoking. Yet, smokers continue to act against this knowledge.
In such a case, the person fails to see a clear truth. Even if the reality is clearly visible, the person chooses to ignore it. However, the guilt keeps affecting them deep down. Such individuals fail to reason with themselves, which is what then affects their work, personal health, and relationships adversely as well.
What Encourages the Resolution of Cognitive Dissonance?
As problematic as cognitive dissonance is, it is a natural mechanism. Every human is exposed to all sorts of information, and more often than not, it takes time to get the actions aligned with the beliefs in your mind. During this time, the mind is in a constant state of dissonance.
Let’s say you’ve been eating dairy products all your life. You absolutely love eggs and cheese. But then in your 20s, you start hearing about the concept of veganism. Every time you eat an egg or consume cheese, you’re mentally conscious of the vegan belief and it makes you feel guilty.
This feeling of discomfort and uneasiness can sometimes cause physical distress too. The person who is experiencing this dissonance will naturally want to adjust their lifestyle and actions to get rid of this restlessness.
Basically, cognitive dissonance naturally pushes a person to start acting per the new information that they have learned. If this doesn’t happen, the new knowledge is rejected and pushed out of the mind.
It is an on-going cycle in which the person learns something new, feels uncomfortable if the cognition contradicts this information, makes an unconscious effort to fix the contradiction, and the cycle continues.
The dissonance most adversely affects a person who feels in control of the opposing emotions versus actions. If there is a control of choice yet the person still chooses to act against the emotions and thoughts, the negative consequences are stronger.
It’s practically impossible to get rid of dissonance altogether. However, if you learn to master your emotions, you can keep the dissonance from overpowering your lifestyle.
Conscious Efforts to Resolve the Issue
While your mind is constantly trying to balance out the cycle of dissonance unconsciously, there are some conscious efforts you can make to encourage the resolution.
1. Get Rid of the Weaker Thought
Generally, the dissonance is a result of emotions or beliefs that aren’t aligned with your actions or other thoughts. These two thoughts aren’t on the same level.
What this means is that one of your beliefs may be more deeply rooted in your mind than the other. You may feel stronger towards one of the two. Similarly, you may be more easily convinced by one than the other.
One of these contradictory thoughts is always slightly weaker. Hence, it is easier to get rid of. You are naturally more inclined towards the other belief and so, you can stick to it.
Another scenario is if your emotions go against your actions, but your actions are deep-rooted that you cannot even think about changing them. In this case, you have to convince yourself to change your perspective so that your thoughts coincide with your actions.
2. Alter Your Actions
Let’s say the dissonance you’re experiencing is due to the difference in your actions versus what’s in your mind. If your feelings are way too strong to get rid of, you will have to change your actions to get in line with the cognition.
In the case of a smoker, if their conscience fails to allow them to continue smoking due to the long list of harmful effects, the only way the dissonance can be tackled is by giving up smoking.
Similarly, let’s assume that you drive a diesel car but you learned that it’s harmful to the environment. Your love for the environment is big, so it makes it harder for you to continue to drive a vehicle that isn’t eco-friendly. You’ll have to shift to an e-vehicle or minimize the use of your diesel car to get to a peaceful state.
Sometimes, you can neither give up your actions nor change your emotions. One solution in such a scenario is to rationalize with the help of additional thoughts.
You can use the support of supplementary beliefs to connect your opposing actions and thoughts. This connection will satisfy your conscience and get rid of the sense of guilt. A lot of people use this technique in their daily life to justify what they’re doing.
For example, most people know that carbonated drinks are harmful. The high sugar content can put them at risk of several diseases. However, instead of giving them up, these people validate their consumption by balancing out the unhealthy components with healthy foods that they may be eating.
You may convince yourself to drink one fizzy drink every day along with 100g of fresh vegetables to combat the negative effects.
This rationalization may not actually work in real life, but it does the job to soothe the cognitive dissonance that keeps the person worried.
4. Accept It
There is always a possibility that none of the aforementioned methods are applicable in your scenario. You might not be able to change your emotions or actions. It can be hard to justify either, too.
For example, you love desserts. You also know that overconsumption of desserts will have adverse health effects. But you cannot give up desserts, you cannot convince yourself that they are healthy, and you also know that no matter how much you exercise, the risk of diabetes will remain.
So how do you ease your mind in a case like this?
The last resort is to simply accept it. Just admit that you’ll always eat desserts despite the long list of negative effects. Once your mind comes to terms with your actions despite knowing the opposite, the discomfort and uneasiness will eradicate even if the real-life issues remain.
5. Utilize the Theory of Constructed Emotions
The theory of constructed emotions thoroughly explains how humans build emotions. You can learn all about it to gain control over your emotions.
You can use the basic concept of this theory to alter your thoughts. Once you can control how your brain perceives feelings, the chances of cognitive dissonance will minimize.
As per this theory, your brain understands emotions and feelings based on a fair few factors. One of these is physical health, which includes heartbeat, breathing, etc. The natural environment, which includes the air pressure, temperature, humidity, etc. also plays a role.
This information is connected to your past emotions and experiences to help the brain decipher what you’re experiencing.
So, if you understand this theory in-depth, you can learn to control your cognition with the help of your surroundings.
Cognitive dissonance isn’t necessarily bad. It encourages you to improve your actions or alter your beliefs. Hence, it plays a major role in helping you grow as a person.
It becomes unhealthy when this state of mind takes over. As long as you’re trying to keep things even, you don’t have to worry about it. Try to maintain control over your emotions and actions that lead from them.
Your mental and physical health will not suffer from long-term consequences as long as you continue to combat the inconsistency. Let your mind go with the flow while you simultaneously use the aforementioned tips in your everyday life!
More on Cognitive Dissonance
Featured photo credit: Laurenz Kleinheider via unsplash.com