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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!

More on Cognitive Dissonance

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 November 2, 2020

How to Use Your Unconscious Mind to Get What You Want

How to Use Your Unconscious Mind to Get What You Want

I get my best ideas when I’m not trying—when I’m zoning out in the shower or taking my dog for a walk. Suddenly, something I’ve been racking my brain to figure out seems to just come to me. It may seem like magic, but it’s actually just my unconscious mind coming through for the win.

What Is Conscious Thought?

Let’s start by explaining what the unconscious mind is not. I want you to think about what your dream house would look like if money were no object. Then, think about where you were the first time you can remember feeling joy.

That voice in your head that was talking you through those two tasks is your conscious mind. Simply put, any thought process that you are aware of (conscious of) is part of your conscious mind. I’m using my conscious mind as I sit here and write this article.

One of the major brain centers for conscious thought is in your prefrontal cortex. This is on the outside of your brain behind your forehead. Some of the downsides of conscious thought are that it’s energetically taxing and finite. What I mean is, your conscious mind can only think one thing at a time, and it burns through a lot of glucose to do so.

Try to figure out the square root of 2400 while creating a grocery list. You can skip back and forth between those two tasks, but your conscious mind can’t wrestle with both simultaneously.

Also, think of a time when you were utilizing your conscious mind for an extended period. Maybe you were in classes all day or busy with a tough work task late into the night. You were probably exhausted after such intensive and extended conscious thought.

What Is the Unconscious Mind?

That’s why the unconscious mind is such a valuable resource. It isn’t energy taxing, and it is virtually limitless. Your unconscious mind could be trying to figure out thousands of problems right now.

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The downside is that you aren’t conscious of any of it until you are—until your unconscious thoughts make it into your consciousness.

That’s why it behooves us to figure out how to create the right environment for our unconscious minds to flourish.

System 1 and System 2 Thinking

Daniel Kahneman’s seminal book Thinking, Fast and Slow gives us another way to think about the difference between the unconscious and conscious minds. Kahneman describes two different modes of thought called System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is quick, emotional, and intuitive, while System 2 is slow, methodical, and logical. System 1 works in tandem with System 2.

For example, if you see someone looking at you, your System 1 might assume they are upset with you. Then, your System 2 takes over to process information and discern what might actually be going on at that moment.

Kahneman warns us that System 1 and System 2 are metaphors for how the mind works.[1] It would be an oversimplification to try to explain specific regions where System 1 and System 2 thinking takes place. However, System 1 and 2 is a powerful way of thinking about different modes of thinking. Kahneman calls System 1 automatic thinking and System 2 effortful.

The idea of focus is key here. In a famous experiment, participants were told to watch a video and count how many times people in the video passed a ball to each other. This required their System 2 thinking. However, the intense focus required for this experiment caused most people to miss the fact that while the people in the video were passing the ball, a person in a gorilla suit slowly made his way through the shot.

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How to Make Your Unconscious Mind Work For You

Focusing too intensely can cause us to miss details and solutions better suited to our unconscious mind. That’s why we sometimes have to stop and chill out, instead of forcing solutions.

Here are five ways to make your unconscious mind work for you.

1. Manage Stress

Your unconscious mind is not a big fan of you being stressed out, overworked, or overwhelmed. Managing stress is important if you want to be able to come up with those effortless “aha!” ideas.

Imagine that you’re under a strict work deadline. Your anxiety is compounded by the fact that you’re worried about losing your job and that your entire family relies on your income. This is an incredible amount of pressure that makes it tough for your unconscious mind to break through with that effortless creativity.

Think back to the video where the person in the gorilla suit sneaks through all the people passing the ball around. Most people are so focused on the task at hand that they don’t see the most interesting part of the video. Stress and pressure can lead to a kind of tunnel vision that works the same way. Our attention becomes so narrowly focused that we aren’t able to zoom out and connect the dots between broader patterns and ideas.

That’s why it’s crucial to find ways to manage stress. I recently spoke with humor engineer Drew Tarvin who explained the 4 R’s of managing stress.[2]

First, try to reduce stress by eliminating stressors from your life. This might mean finding a less stressful job or leaving earlier for work.

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Next, reframe the stresses that you can’t eliminate. Reframing isn’t pretending that your stress doesn’t exist; it’s trying to think differently and change your perspective about stressors that do exist. This might mean looking at the bright side or trying to see the bigger picture. If I don’t want to quit my stressful job, I can try to reframe by thinking more about the money I make or the times I feel fulfilled at work.

The third step is to relieve stress. This means finding ways to relax throughout the day. You might try meditating or watching funny cat videos on YouTube to clear your head and relieve your stress.

Finally, refresh. Find ways to take more extensive breaks where you completely de-stress. Pre-COVID, this might have meant taking a vacation to a beach somewhere. But now, you’ll have to get more creative as you find ways to put your phone down, forget about work, and come back completely refreshed.

2. Take Breaks

Part of stress management is taking breaks. But taking breaks is also an important part of tapping into your unconscious mind.

When I’m trying to figure out how to structure an article or put together ideas for a larger project, I schedule in time to completely put the project down. This allows my unconscious mind the freedom to come up with some truly novel solutions, and unlike conscious thought, it feels effortless.

This is that experience of the light bulb suddenly going on while you’re showering or driving to work. When you aren’t focused on anything in particular, your unconscious mind has the quiet it needs to bubble up to become conscious thought.

So, take breaks. One strategy is what’s called the Pomodoro Technique, which is when you stop to take a five-minute break after every 25 minutes of work. This allows you to recharge. Plus, by systematically easing your intense focus, you are giving your unconscious mind opportunities to come up with some truly novel ideas.

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3. Get Creative

The unconscious mind is great at effortlessly seeing patterns and finding interesting solutions, but for this to happen, it needs some inspiration. That means creating and consuming as much creativity as you can.

Pick up an artistic or creative hobby. Paint, write, build, or dance. It’s also helpful to consume creativity. Go to museums, read poetry, and walk in nature. Taking in creativity with your conscious mind will give your unconscious mind all the inspiration it needs to be able to do its thing.

4. Don’t Force It

The most crucial takeaway about the unconscious mind is that you can’t force it. You can struggle and strain all you want when you’re using your conscious mind, but the unconscious mind can only bubble to the surface when you aren’t trying so hard.

Think back to that phenomenon of having an aha moment while you’re showering or walking your dog. The unconscious mind is better able to break through when you aren’t focused so intensely on whatever it is you’re trying to solve.

So, relax and give yourself some time and space. That’s when your unconscious mind is most likely to breakthrough.

5. Play

Finally, don’t forget about the power of play. Play is inherently fun, and a playful mode of thinking allows your unconscious mind more of a chance to innovate. If you turn your task into a game, you’ll be more relaxed, have more fun, and collaborate better with your colleagues. That means you’ll be more likely to riff and get to a more creative “unconscious mind” solution.

You can also add play throughout your day to tap into this freer, less constrained kind of thinking. Turn your commute into a game, play hide and seek with your children, or join a local bowling league. This will help you get reacquainted with your childlike sense of joy, wonder, and curiosity—all key ingredients to nurturing and fostering your unconscious mind.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with and utilizing your unconscious mind is very different from doing so with your conscious mind. Tapping your unconscious mind is a technique that, when done right, can help you get what you want by untapping your potential.

Featured photo credit: Katerina Jerabkova via unsplash.com

Reference

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