To maximize your potential in business and in life, it's crucial to deal with cognitive dissonance before it becomes a major problem
Most people like to believe that their self-perception is reality and that their varying beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors are always in alignment with one another. Unfortunately, real life is almost never that black and white. The fact is that almost everyone experiences some level of disconnect in their thoughts at different points in their lives. When that happens, cognitive dissonance can result, causing feelings of discomfort and confusion that can have a variety of negative effects on the person experiencing it.
In this post, we'll examine cognitive dissonance theory, its causes, and its potential negative impact on your life. We'll also offer some tips to help you to recognize the signs of cognitive dissonance and provide guidance that you can use to overcome this type of cognitive disconnect and remain true to yourself.
What is cognitive dissonance theory?
Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that people can experience negative consequences when their thought processes, beliefs, values, and actions are in conflict. It's important to note that this phenomenon differs from hypocrisy in one important way. While hypocrisy typically involves people doing things that run counter to their words, most people are aware of those inconsistencies in thought and action. Cognitive dissonance is not usually so obvious to the person experiencing it.
When we define cognitive dissonance, it's important to understand that it often involves a certain level of ambivalence and disconnect between two opposing ideas, beliefs, or attitudes. This often occurs on a subconscious level and can create psychological distress and discomfort as the mind tries to reconcile the conflict to restore psychological harmony. Strong levels of dissonance create more and more discomfort and a psychological need to resolve the disconnect.
Hypocrisy is typically something that only impacts others' perception of you, since most hypocrisy is accompanied by at least some measure of self-awareness. Cognitive dissonance, on the other hand, can impact your sense of identity and self by disrupting the natural harmony that the mind enjoys when thoughts, beliefs, and actions are all in proper alignment.
Cognitive dissonance examples
To fully understand this phenomenon, it can be helpful to consider some examples of cognitive dissonance. Below are some examples of situations that might lead to this type of psychological disconnect:
A person who believes in the value of eating right, but who finds themselves constantly consuming unhealthy food choices, might experience cognitive dissonance each time they make decisions that run counter to their own beliefs.
If you believe in the value of balancing your home and work lives but work at a company that requires you to prioritize your employment over your family, your mind may struggle to reconcile that conflict. This can lead to feelings of disconnect that manifest as guilt, job dissatisfaction, and even depression.
Disconnects can also arise when your company's values conflict with your own personal beliefs. For example, if you prioritize ethical conduct but your company plays fast and loose with the rules, your mind may struggle to find any sense of balance and harmony.
Whenever you encounter new information that conflicts with long standing beliefs, you're likely to experience this type of disconnect. In many instances, people will reject new information in these situations, to avoid the discomfort that cognitive dissonance can cause.
Being forced to comply with things that conflict with your values. This can occur when you're asked to perform tasks that you find distasteful, or required to accept some new norm that violates your beliefs.
Making any decision that requires rejecting another option. This typically results in some level of cognitive dissonance when the rejected option is perceived as being roughly equal to the accepted choice. Most people respond to this dissonance by creating new reasons to justify their final decision, or new arguments that explain why they did not choose the rejected option.
- Another example of cognitive dissonance might be seen in instances where an employee's job role is less than clear. If your job role included competing expectations, you would likely feel stress and some measure of confusion as your mind tried to make sense of the situation.
What can cause cognitive dissonance?
There are many things in life that can cause cognitive dissonance, as the world is a complex place filled with an endless array of competing ideas, values, and beliefs. Almost every day, human beings are challenged to make decisions that define their sense of self. That constant need to balance your cognition and values against competing ideas can leave the door open to this type of disconnect.
Cognitive dissonance can also be involved in situations where you might find yourself placing a higher value on something that you worked hard to obtain. That's often the mind's way of rationalizing the extra money or effort that it took to achieve that goal. It's noteworthy that this phenomenon can even occur if there are more valuable things in your life that you obtained with less effort.
The daily onslaught of information can easily cause cognitive dissonance. It's easy to find data and information that represents almost any point of view and many of those new pieces of information can conflict with existing beliefs.
The impact of cognitive dissonance
When you experience cognitive dissonance, it can have a variety of effects in your life. Obviously, the mental disconnect involved in this type of internal conflict can be unpleasant in the extreme. And when it's left unaddressed, the person suffering from this disconnect can experience a wide range of negative emotions like dissatisfaction with life, self-loathing, anger, frustration, and job burnout. As time goes on, unaddressed cognitive dissonance can have serious effects on mental wellbeing and psychological health.
The good news, however, is that cognitive dissonance can help to motivate you to make positive changes in your life - but only if you learn to recognize its symptoms before they become major problems. If you can recognize those signs and become motivated to make real change, you can learn to process the disconnect, understand its source, and begin to change your beliefs and actions to create a restored sense of mental harmony.
How to tell if you suffer from cognitive dissonance
Before you can properly address cognitive dissonance, you need to be able to recognize it when it begins to take root. To do that, you need to understand the various signs that could indicate that you're suffering from this phenomenon. Some of the more common signs of cognitive dissonance include:
A constant need to convince others that your opinion or belief is the only valid way of thinking about an issue
A reflexive defensiveness about your decisions and life choices
An unwillingness to engage with different ideas and opinions
Creeping feelings of anxiety, frustration, or anger when you think about certain ideas or actions that you've taken
An inability to receive any criticism of your way of thinking or behavior
Finding yourself attempting to justify your actions or opinions, even when no one is questioning them
Other people tell you that your actions or statements seem inconsistent with your character
Exposure to new ideas causes you to question your life choices
You find yourself feeling uncomfortable in situations where you're expected to talk about yourself
Any other time when you feel as though your beliefs and actions are out of balance with one another
How to reduce cognitive dissonance
Once you recognize that you might be suffering from some form of cognitive dissonance, you can commit to action that will help you to reduce that disconnect and restore mental harmony. Of course, the mind has certain defenses that will enable it to resolve many types of cognitive disconnect, but you can ensure a more constructive outcome by consciously engaging in that process. The following tips can help you to address the issue:
1. Practice mindfulness
One of the best ways to deal with cognitive dissonance is to practice mindfulness in your daily life. By focusing on remaining in the moment and being mindful of your own thoughts and beliefs, you can detect possible inconsistencies early enough to deal with them before they become real problems.
2. Take a step back and clarify your beliefs and values
When you identify potential dissonance in your thoughts, beliefs, or actions, it's important to take time to be as clear as possible about what you believe. What are your values and how do your current thoughts and actions fit within that framework? This process can help to create clarity in your cognition. It can also help when you occasionally challenge your beliefs and values, to ensure that you're on the right path.
3. Seek out information that could resolve the conflict
If there's a conflict in your thinking, seek new information to help you to identify any incorrect areas of belief. There's no shame in admitting that your thought processes can be improved. In fact, that type of self-awareness can be crucial for growth and development.
4. Create a plan to make real change
If you identify behaviors or thoughts that need to be changed, create a strategy to achieve that goal. Remember, the objective is to make sure that your various beliefs and actions are all in good alignment and that may require changes in your thinking, your actions at work, or your home life - and sometimes all three.
5. Get support if you need it
If you're struggling to resolve your cognitive dissonance, discuss the conflicting thoughts with someone you trust. Sometimes, getting an outside opinion can help you to find the clarity you need to move forward with change.
6. Take care of yourself
Since cognitive dissonance can affect you mentally, it can also play havoc with your physical wellbeing. Focus on your wellbeing to ensure that you maintain the best possible health as you work through this challenge.
Cognitive dissonance can be highly disruptive and can cause many challenges for those who suffer from its effects. Left unaddressed, these cognitive conflicts can hinder you from achieving your true potential in both your personal life and your professional endeavors. By learning to identify potential signs of cognitive dissonance and using simple strategies to overcome any mental disconnect, you can eventually restore your own mental balance and harmony.
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