Cognitive Dissonance

cognitive dissonance

There is a theory in psychology called cognitive dissonance where a conflict occurs within a person due to two or more modes of thought. Cognitive dissonance arises when behaviors don’t match beliefs. And this often leads to unwarranted stress. 

For example, I know that oreos are not good. Well, they are delicious, but they are not good for me. But I sometimes eat them anyway. And I eat a lot of them. And I feel terrible afterward. Both physically and mentally, but more so mentally. 

“Why did I just do that?” is the exact same question I think to myself every time I unnecessarily down a row. Maybe it’s because I have a hard time controlling the amount I can (or should) eat in one setting? Maybe it’s because I really don’t like them as much as I used to, but still dive right in because I think they will make me feel good? Which they don’t really. Or maybe it’s because I generally eat healthy and splurging usually knocks my diet way off track. But I still do it anyways. 

This example of cognitive dissonance is one I’ve been working on for some time. I know in my head that the oreos have this effect. In order to get rid of this dissonance, I need to implement some techniques to alter my behavior and put it more in line with my beliefs. So, I’ll have my wife hide them (hey, we have kids so can’t really throw them out, right?). Or I’ll exercise (which helps eliminate my cravings). Or I’ll practice techniques like mindfulness that also help me to kick the cravings once they arise. 

Changing Beliefs

In this example, I change my behavior to eliminate the stress from the cognitive dissonance. Another way to reduce cognitive dissonance and the associated stress, which is often easier than a behavior change and is the precursor to it, is to change or add a new belief. This can be accomplished through clinically validated techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy or cognitive restructuring, both which I’ve talked about on this platform. 

Keeping beliefs and actions consistent with each other is the key to reducing cognitive dissonance, and ultimately the stress that arises from it. When there is a disassociation between actions and beliefs, we become uncomfortable and stress can occur. Reducing cognitive dissonance can reduce stress and help us to live better lives. So make sure you are evaluating your thoughts and beliefs each day, and that your behaviors accurately reflect your thoughts. 

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