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What Happen When We Are Torn Between Beliefs and Reality

What Happen When We Are Torn Between Beliefs and Reality

Have you ever felt torn between two strong ideals? For instance, let’s say that you’re doing well on your diet, sticking to your goals and staying on a routine. But you really want a cannoli. You deserve that cannoli. It doesn’t fit into your diet so you shouldn’t have it; but you’re going to enjoy it anyway.

That internal conflict is called Cognitive Dissonance, and it is the catalyst for self-justification.

When we have conflicts in our minds, we seek consistency in our beliefs.

Cognitive Dissonance is an internal conflict where two opposing attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors struggle for precedence. This conflict can cause tension and discomfort which can only be alleviated by the alteration of one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors in order to restore balance.

The Principal of Cognitive Consistency was theorized by Leon Festinger (1975) stating that people seek balance and consistency in our beliefs and attitudes, and will strain to find balance in any given situation where two conflicting cognitions are causing a rift.[1]

From this theory spawned a new theory that would come to be known as the Cognitive Dissonance Theory; the powerful motive to maintain cognitive consistency can produce irrational and maladaptive behavior within individuals.

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Festinger believed that we hold many strong beliefs or cognition’s about ourselves and the world. When these ideals clash, it causes turmoil and imbalance; a state known as cognitive dissonance. Because this sensation is unpleasant, we are inclined to alleviate or eliminate the conflict to once again achieve dissonance.

In the 1950’s, Leon developed this theory during his time spent infiltrating a cult that believed the world would end on December 21st. Their leader warned them that on this day, extraterrestrial invaders would reign down and wipe out any sign of human life. Her noble followers gave up all of their money and belongings as one last attempt to achieve salvation before the end. December 21st came and went and alas, the world had not ended. The lesser devoted followers realized that they’d been conned and dismissed all ties with the cult. But those who had sacrificed everything and fully devoted themselves to the cause celebrated; believing that their devotion is what saved the world.

The devoted followers used cognitive dissonance as a coping mechanism; believing their actions had saved them instead of coming to terms with the fact that they mindlessly gave away all of their possessions at the request of a mentally unstable cult leader.

Our dissonance fluctuates depending on the values that we attach to our beliefs.

Our innate nature calls for balance, and as humans we are sensitive to inconsistencies between beliefs and actions. Two factors affect the severity of the dissonance: the number of dissonant beliefs, and the importance that is attached to each of the beliefs. This will determine which of the beliefs will be altered in order to restore balance.

Dissonance tends to increase depending on the importance of the subject at hand, how strong of a conflict occurs between the two dissonant thoughts, and our inability to rationalize and resolve the conflict.

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If a particular action has occurred that cannot be reversed, then we experience what is known as after-the-fact dissonance. Our beliefs on the matter have now been altered, and when faced with a similar situation in the future, we will act differently based on our dissonance. A good example of this would be culture shock. When visiting a foreign country, you are surrounded by those with different customs than you. At first you may feel conflicted, but then you assimilate to their culture. You will take this alteration of behavior home with you, and practice it in your everyday life.

The general strength of the dissonance can be aroused by a number of variables. If the cognition’s are personal,[2] provoking conflict abo ut how you perceive yourself, the dissonance will be more intense. Basically, as a rule, the more importance that is giving to an ideal, the more conflict will be experienced when that ideal is challenged.

A highly controversial and famous case of cognitive dissonance is Caitlyn Jenner’s decision to transcend into woman-hood.[3] Formerly Bruce Jenner, the pinnacle of male fitness and status felt that they were denying themselves of their true nature by remaining a man. Her physical identity strongly conflicted with her emotional, mental, and psychological identity.

To avoid questioning our beliefs, we may develop bias’s about them.

Because we are so devoted to our ideals and so sensitive to imbalance, it can be difficult for us to digest when faced with the reality that we could actually be wrong. To avoid this conflict, we may reject opposing ideas and arguments that challenge our beliefs so that we do not have to alter our way of thinking. This is how bias is born. To avoid bias, we must find a way to process the new information and adapt it to our pre-existing beliefs.

Unfortunately, dissonance is what we are going to encounter and experience throughout our lives.

Since avoidance is not an option, there are a few techniques that can help to reduce the dissonance so that we can move on with our lives.[4]

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1. Spreading Apart the Alternatives

When you make a decision, you cut yourself off from the opportunity of enjoying the benefits of the unchosen alternative, while committing yourself to accept the advantages and disadvantages of the one that you chose. You can alleviate the dissonance generated by this conflict by increasing the appeal of the chosen alternative, while decreasing the appeal of the unchosen.

For instance: you really loved two tops but you only had the money for one. Now you’re experiencing shoppers remorse and feel a bit torn. Well, that other shirt was yellow. And let’s be honest, yellow isn’t really your color. You’re better off.

2. Put in Effort to Make the Outcome Worth It

We tend to value items that we’ve had to work for more highly than items that were just given to us. Even if the experience was negative, we tend to alter our perception of the experience as positive because we are happy with the outcome.

For example: during finals week, you slept for maybe 3 hours in total, ate maybe 2 meals, and completely lost your sanity along the way. But you scored highly on all of your tests, making all of that excruciating effort worth it.

3. Change the Attitude

In order to restore balance between the two conflicting ideals, you need to alter your attitude towards one of the beliefs, behaviors, or attitude. This can be extremely difficult since our beliefs are deeply ingrained in us, but it is mandatory to restore balance.

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For instance: You’re a firm law abiding citizen. But you’re also very late for work. You know you should wait for the traffic signal, but no cars are coming so you make that illegal right turn to cut back on time. You altered your strong belief in adhering to all traffic laws in order to make it to work on time.

4. Get More Information

Summer is just around the bend, and you want to be nice and tanned when it’s dress and shorts season. The quickest way to achieve this is by visiting a tanning salon, but you also don’t want to cause any long-term damage to your skin. Well, some new studies have come out indicating that perhaps the use of sunscreen is more highly carcinogenic than exposure to UV light. This new information makes you feel justified in visiting the tanning salon. By emphasizing the new information, you don’t feel guilty while fake & baking.

5. Reduce the Importance

Preparing for the future is absolutely important. But we also know that we can’t always count on it. Life isn’t guaranteed, and we need to enjoy it while we’re able. An individual who is struggling with these two conflicting ideals (goodness knows I do) may choose to indulge in life’s pleasures such as rich foods and naughty recreational activities rather than hold out to avoid complications later down the line. By relishing in the importance to live each day as your last, you are reducing the importance of preparing for the future.

Featured photo credit: STOCKSNAP via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1] Simply Psychology: Cognitive Dissonance
[2] Changing Minds: Cognitive Dissonance
[3] NAUTILUS: Caitlyn Jenner and Our Cognitive Dissonance
[4] Very Well: What Is Cognitive Dissonance?

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Jenn Beach

Traveling vagabond, writer, & plant-based food enthusiast.

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Last Updated on October 30, 2019

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

Change is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle!

In this article, you will learn about a simple yet powerful model:

Stages of change model, that explains the science behind personal transformation.

You’ll discover how and why some changes stick whereas others don’t last, and how long it takes to build new habits.

What is the Stages of Change Model?

Developed by researchers J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and outlined in their book Changing For Good, the Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was formed as a result of the authors’ research with smokers.

Prochaska and DiClemente were originally interested in the question of why some smokers were able to quit on their own, whereas others required professional help. Their key conclusion was that smokers (or anyone else with a bad habit) quits only when they are ready to do so.

Here’s an illustration done by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

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    The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that change isn’t easy. People can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[2]

    The model has been applied in the treatment of smoking, alcoholism, and drugs. It is also a useful way of thinking about any bad habit. Social workers, therapists, and psychologists draw on the model to understand their patients’ behaviors, and to explain the change process to the patients themselves.

    The key advantages to the model is that it is simple to understand, is backed by extensive research, and can be applied in many situations.

    The Stages of Change Model is a well-established psychological model that outlines six stages of personal change:

    1. Precontemplation
    2. Contemplation
    3. Determination
    4. Action
    5. Maintenance
    6. Termination

    How are these stages relevant to changing habits?

    To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[3]

      Let’s look at the six stages of change,[4] together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice:

      Stage 1: Precontemplation

      At this stage, an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may because they are in denial about their problem, feel too overwhelmed to deal with it, or are too discouraged after multiple failed attempts to change.

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      For example, someone may be aware that they need to start exercising, but cannot find the motivation to do so. They might keep thinking about the last time they tried (and failed) to work out regularly. Only when they start to realize the advantages of making a change will they progress to the next stage.

      Stage 2: Contemplation

      At this stage, the individual starts to consider the advantages of changing. They start to acknowledge that altering their habits would probably benefit them, but they spend a lot of time thinking about the downside of doing so. This stage can last for a long time – possibly a year or more.

      You can think of this as the procrastinating stage. For example, an individual begins to seriously consider the benefits of regular exercise, but feels resistant when they think about the time and effort involved. When the person starts putting together a concrete plan for change, they move to the next stage.

      The key to moving from this stage to the next is the transformation of an abstract idea to a belief (e.g. from “Exercise is a good, sensible thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it.)[5]

      Stage 3: Preparation

      At this point, the person starts to put a plan in place. This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enrol on a nutrition course.

      Someone who drinks to excess may make an appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor; someone with a tendency to overwork themselves might start planning ways to devise a more realistic schedule.

      Stage 4: Action

      When they have decided on a plan, the individual must then put it into action. This stage typically lasts for several months. In our example, the person would begin attending the gym regularly and overhauling their diet.

      Stage 4 is the stage at which the person’s desire for change becomes noticeable to family and friends. However, in truth, the change process began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have suddenly changed their habits, it’s probably not so sudden after all! They will have progressed through Stages 1-3 first – you probably just didn’t know about it.

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      Stage 5: Maintenance

      After a few months in the Action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. For instance, someone who has adopted the habit of regular workouts and a better diet will be vigilant against old triggers (such as eating junk food during a stressful time at work) and make a conscious decision to protect their new habits.

      Unless someone actively engages with Stage 5, their new habits are liable to come unstuck. Someone who has stuck to their new habits for many months – perhaps a year or longer – may enter Stage 6.

      Maintenance can be challenging because it entails coming up with a new set of habits to lock change in place. For instance, someone who is maintaining their new gym-going habit may have to start improving their budgeting skills in order to continue to afford their gym membership.

      Stage 6: Termination

      Not many people reach this stage, which is characterized by a complete commitment to the new habit and a certainty that they will never go back to their old ways. For example, someone may find it hard to imagine giving up their gym routine, and feel ill at the thought of eating junk food on a regular basis.

      However, for the majority of people, it’s normal to stay in the Maintenance period indefinitely. This is because it takes a long time for a new habit to become so automatic and natural that it sticks forever, with little effort. To use another example, an ex-smoker will often find it hard to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette even a year or so after quitting. It can take years for them to truly reach the Termination stage, at which point they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

      How long does each stage take?

      You should be aware that some people remain in the same stage for months or even years at a time. Understanding this model will help you be more patient with yourself when making a change. If you try to force yourself to jump from Contemplation to Maintenance, you’ll just end up frustrated. On the other hand, if you take a moment to assess where you are in the change process, you can adapt your approach.

      So if you need to make changes quickly and you are finding it hard to progress to the next stage, it’s probably time to get some professional help or adopt a new approach to forming habits.

      The limitations of this model

      The model is best applied when you decide in advance precisely what you want to achieve, and know exactly how you will measure it (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or number of cigarettes smoked per day). Although the model has proven useful for many people, it does have limitations.

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      Require the ability to set a realistic goal

      For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing whereabouts in the process you are – you just have to be honest with yourself and use your own judgement. Second, it assumes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas in fact you might either need to adjust your goals or seek professional help.

      If your goal isn’t realistic, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the stages – you still won’t get results. You need to decide for yourself whether your aims are reasonable.[6]

      Difficult to judge your progress

      The model also assumes that you are able to objectively measure your own successes and failures, which may not always be the case.[7] For instance, let’s suppose that you are trying to get into the habit of counting calories as part of your weight-loss efforts. However, even though you may think that you are recording your intake properly, you might be over or under-estimating.

      Research shows that most people think they are getting enough exercise and eating well, but in actual fact aren’t as healthy as they believe. The model doesn’t take this possibility into account, meaning that you could believe yourself to be in the Action stage yet aren’t seeing results. Therefore, if you are serious about making changes, it may be best to get some expert advice so that you can be sure the changes you are making really will make a positive difference.

      Conclusion

      The Stages Of Change Model can be a wonderful way to understand change in both yourself and others.

      While there’re some limitations in it, the Stages of Change Model helps to visualize how you go through changes so you know what to expect when you’re trying to change a habit or make some great changes in life.

      Start by identifying one of your bad habits. Where are you in the process? What could you do next to move forwards?

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Psych Central: Stages Of Change
      [2] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [3] Empowering Change: Stages of Change
      [4] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [5] Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior
      [6] The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model
      [7] Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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