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Published on June 29, 2020

What is Cognitive Dissonance (And How to Dodge it)

What is Cognitive Dissonance (And How to Dodge it)

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.[1] 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.

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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.

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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.

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3. Rationalize

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?

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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.[2] 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.

Bottom Line

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!

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Featured photo credit: Laurenz Kleinheider via unsplash.com

Reference

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on July 29, 2020

How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership

How to Build Strategic Thinking Skills for Effective Leadership

Have you been thinking of how you can be a more strategic leader during these uncertain times? Has the pandemic thrown a wrench at all your carefully laid out plans and initiatives?

You’re not alone. The truth is, we all want some stability in our careers and teams during this disruptive pandemic.

However, this now requires a bit more effort than before and making the leap from merely surviving to thriving means buckling down to some serious strategic thinking and maintaining a determined mindset.

Is There a Way to Thrive Despite These Disruptions?

Essentially – yes, although you need to be willing to put in the work. Every leader wants to develop strategic thinking skills so that they can enhance overall team performance and boost their company’s success, but what exactly does it mean to be strategic in the context of the times we live in?

If you happen to be in a leadership position in your organization right now, you are most probably navigating precarious waters given the disruptions caused by the pandemic. There’s a lot more pressure than before because your actions and decisions will have a much greater impact these days not just on you, but also to the people who are part of your team.

Companies often bring me in to coach executives on strategic thinking and planning. And while pre-pandemic I would usually start by highlighting the advantages of strategic thinking, nowadays, I always begin these Zoom coaching sessions by driving home the point that this pandemic has now made strategic thinking not just an option but an absolute must.

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Assessing and making plans through the lens of a good strategy might require significant work at first. Nevertheless, you can take comfort in the fact that the rewards will far outweigh the effort, as you’ll soon see after following the 8 strategic steps I have outlined below.

8 Steps to Strategic Thinking

As events unfold during these strange times, you’re bound to feel wrong-footed every now and then. Being a leader during this pandemic means preparing for more change not just for you, but for your whole team as well.

As states and cities go through a cycle of lockdowns and reopening, employees will experience the full gamut of human emotions in dizzying speed, and you will often be called on to provide insight and stability to your team and workplace.

Strategic thinking is all about anticipation and preparation. Rather than expending your energy merely helping your company put out fires and survive, you can put the time to better use by charting out a solid plan that can protect and help you and your company thrive.

Take the following steps to build solid initiatives and roll out successful projects:

Step 1: Step Back, Then Set the Scope

One of the things that leaders get wrong during their first attempt at strategic thinking is expecting that it is just another item on a checklist. The truth is, you need to take a good, long look at the bigger picture before anything else. This means decisively prioritizing and stepping away from tasks that can be delegated to others. Free up your schedule so you can focus on this crucial task at hand.

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Then, proceed with setting the scope and the strategic goals of the project or initiative you plan to build or execute. Ask yourself the bigger question of why you need to embark on a particular project and when would be the right time to do so.

You need to set a timeline as well, anywhere from 6 months to 5 years. Keep in mind that your projections will deteriorate the further out you go as you make longer-term plans.

For this reason, add extra resources, flexibility, and resilience if you have a longer timeline. You should also be making the goals less specific if you’re charting it out for the longer term.

Step 2: Make a List of Experts

Make and keep a list of credible people who can contribute solid insight and feedback to your initiative. This could range from key stakeholders to industry experts, mentors, and even colleagues who previously planned and rolled out similar projects.

Reach out to the people on this list regularly while you work through the steps to bring diverse insight into your planning process. This way, you will be able to approach any problem from every angle.

Bringing key stakeholders into this initial process will also display your willingness to listen and empathize with their issues. In return, this will build trust and potentially pave the way for smoother buy-in down the line.

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Step 3: Anticipate the Future

After identifying your goals and gathering feedback, it’s time to consider what the future would look like if everything goes as you intuitively anticipate. Then, lay out the kind and amount of resources (money, time, social capital) that might be needed to keep this anticipated future running.

Step 4: Brainstorm on Potential Internal and External Problems

Next, think of how the future would look if you encountered unexpected problems internal and external to the business activity that seriously jeopardize your expected vision of the future. Write out what kind of potential problems you might encounter, including low-probability ones.

Assess the likelihood that you will run into each problem. To gauge, multiply the likelihood by the number of resources needed to address the problem. Try to convert the resources into money if possible so that you can have a single unit of measurement.

Then, think of what steps you can take to address these internal and external problems before they even happen. Write out how much you expect these steps might cost. Lastly, add up all the extra resources that may be needed because of the different possible problems and all the steps you committed to taking to address them in advance.

Step 5: Identify Potential Opportunities, Internal and External

Imagine how your expected plan would look if unexpected opportunities came up. Most of these will be external but consider internal ones as well. Then, gauge the likelihood of each scenario and the number of resources you would need to take advantage of each opportunity. Convert the resources into money if possible.

Then, think of what steps you can take in advance to take advantage of unexpected opportunities and write out how much you expect these steps might cost. Finally, add up all the extra resources that may be needed because of the different unexpected opportunities and all the steps you committed to taking to address them in advance.

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Step 6: Check for Cognitive Biases

Check for potential cognitive biases that are relevant to you personally or to the organization as a whole, and adjust the resources and plans to address such errors.[1] Make sure to at least check for loss aversion, status quo bias, confirmation bias, attentional bias, overconfidence, optimism bias, pessimism bias, and halo and horns effects.

Step 7: Account for Unknown Unknowns (Black Swans)

To have a more effective strategy, account for black swans as well. These are unknown unknowns -unpredictable events that have potentially severe consequences.

To account for these black swans, add 40 percent to the resources you anticipate. Also, consider ways to make your plans more flexible and secure than you intuitively feel is needed.

Step 8: Communicate and Take the Next Steps

Communicate the plan to your stakeholders, and give them a heads up about the additional resources needed. Then, take the next steps to address the unanticipated problems and take advantage of the opportunities you identified by improving your plans, as well as allocating and reserving resources.

Finally, take note that there will be cases when you’ll need to go back and forth these steps to make improvements, (a fix here, an improvement there) so be comfortable with revisiting your strategy and reaching out to your list of experts.

Conclusion

A great way to deal with feelings of uncertainty during this pandemic is to anticipate obstacles with a good plan – and a sure road to that is practicing strategic thinking.

In the coming months and years, you’ll need to continue navigating uncharted territory so that you can lead your team to safe waters. Regularly doing these 8 steps to strategic thinking will ensure that you can prepare for and adapt  to the coming changes with increasing clarity, perspective, and efficiency.[2]

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