“When Cognitive Dissonance Resists Effective Change”


What are the reasons we make the same old mistakes in life and continued to be clueless as to the reasons why? Theories range from  being creatures of habit, lack of motivation, poor insight, just to mention a few.  Regardless, the common ground seems to be cognitive dissonance. This occurs when people experience conflicting needs or wants about themselves and those around them. One example is being torn between wanting to make a healthy choice and finding it easier to take the line of least resistance by choosing a behavior may be self defeating.

When this happens, feelings of emotional and physical discomfort can occur. In order to relieve these uncomfortable feelings, there is a propensity toward reinforcing  beliefs that may not be in our best interests.  However, choosing one conflicting attitude over another will not only reduce the discomfort.  It also will restore a sense of balance. Once made, the choice will become fixated.  The reason is that the brain instinctively adjusts one’s attitude through reinforcement in order to support whatever choice is made. The brain will instinctually reject alternate information that could offer a healthier way of thinking.

One way to reduce cognitive dissonance is to increase the  attractiveness of the healthy choice while decreasing the attractiveness of the unhealthy alternative.  Once firming making the choice, our minds will  filter out conflicting data in order to support the chosen  belief.  Recognizing those conflicting beliefs may help in making better choices.  However, in the real world, this is easier said than done. The propensity to justify one’s chosen beliefs are often too great.

Does this mean all is lost?  No, sometimes reducing cognitive dissonance can be as easy as reframing your thinking.

Remember, if you’re conflicted about a choice, you’re experiencing cognitive dissonance.  As conflict or tension arise, be aware of not reacting impulsively. Take time to pause and think through your situation and your feelings. Write down the pros and cons of each choice. Include your feelings about each choice and their origin. This may unrealistic to implement.  However, think about how much time you waste stubbornly holding on to choices that don’t do you much good.

Know that you have a tendency to over react in certain situations. This insight  may make you aware of beliefs that don’t bring you the results you had hoped for.  The moment you become aware pause and take a deep breath.  This will slow the process down and give you a moment to think through your behavior and adjust your beliefs.

Know whether your thinking is being driven by emotions or by the facts before you.  A greater self awareness, warts and all,  can help you see more clearly the choices you’re faced with.

This awareness will help you focus your attention on the here and now when faced with a choice to be made, There will always be that pull to draw you into the same old way of thinking. In spite of this reality, you need to be at least open to a possibility that there may be  another choice that could  be even more valid. The goal is to reach more consistency in your thoughts and values with your behaviors. This will result in achieving a personal ownership rather than being owned by other people, places and things.

Readers are invited to write, anonymously if they wish, about ways they are successful or unsuccessful, in harnessing gratitude in their lives. Readers can forward their thoughts and feelings by e-mailing me at lifesourcecenter@aol.com or mailing me at lifesourcecenter, 710 Main Street, Plantsville Connecticut, 06479.