Advertising
Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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?

Advertising

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

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster Productivity Can Be Improved By These 10 Actionable Steps 13 Common Life Problems And How To Fix Them 6 Ways to Finish Strong (When Your Momentum Is Low)

Trending in Brain

1 Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts 2 What Is Unconscious Bias (And How to Reduce It for Good) 3 What is Cognitive Dissonance (And How to Dodge it) 4 How Do Memory Vitamins Work? (And the Best Brain Supplements) 5 How Not to Let Cognitive Bias Control Us When Dealing with COVID-19

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Published on July 7, 2020

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Brain Training: 12 Fast, Fun Mental Workouts

Exercise isn’t just for your body. Just as important is keeping your mind strong by training your brain with fun mental workouts.

Think of your mental and physical fitness the same way: you don’t need to be an Olympian, but you do need to stay in shape if you want to live well. A few cognitive workouts per week can make a major difference in your life.

The Skinny on Mental Workouts

Physical fitness boosts your stamina and increases your muscular strength. The benefits of working up a mental sweat and brain training, however, might not be so obvious.

Research suggests that cognitive training has short- and long-term benefits, including:

1. Improved Memory

After eight weeks of cognitive training, 19 arithmetic students showed a larger and more active hippocampus than their peers.[1] The hippocampus is associated with learning and memory.

2. Reduced Stress Levels

Mastering new tasks more quickly makes the work of learning less stressful. A stronger memory can call information to mind with less effort.

3. Improved Work Performance

Learning quickly and remembering key details can lead to a better career. Employers are increasingly hiring for soft skills, such as trainability and attention to detail.

4. Delayed Cognitive Decline

As we age, we experience cognitive decline. A study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 10 one-hour sessions of cognitive training boosted reasoning and information processing speed in adults between the ages of 65 and 94.[2]

Advertising

Just like in physical exercise, what’s important isn’t the specific workout. To be sustainable, cognitive workouts need to be easy and fun. Otherwise, it’s too easy to throw in the towel.

Fun Brain Training Exercises for Everyone

The best about fun mental workouts? There’s no need to head to a gym. Feel free to mix and match the following activities for daily brain training:

1. Brainstorming

One of the simplest, easiest ways to engage your brain? Coming up with solutions to a challenge you’re facing.

If you aren’t good at solo ideation, ask a partner to join you. When I’m struggling to come up with topics to write about, I call up my editors to bat ideas around. Friends or co-workers are usually happy to help.

2. Dancing

Isn’t dancing a physical workout? Yes, but the coordination it requires is also great for training your brain. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

Studies suggest that dance boosts multiple cognitive skills.[3] Planning, memorizing, organizing, and creativity all seem to benefit from a few fancy steps.

3. Learning a New Language

Learning a new language takes time. But if you split it up into small, daily lessons, it’s easier than you might think.

With language learning, every lesson builds on the last. When I was learning Spanish, I used a tool called Guru for knowledge management.[4] Every time I’d learn a verb tense, I’d create a new card to give me a quick refresh before moving on.

Advertising

4. Developing a Hobby

Like languages, hobbies take time to develop. But that’s the fun of them: you get a little better—both at the hobby and in terms of brain function—each time you do them.

If you’re trying to train your brain and improve a certain cognitive skill, choose a hobby that aligns with it.

For example:

  • Attention to detail: Pick a hobby that requires you to work patiently with small features. Woodworking, model-building, sketching, and painting are all good choices.
  • Learning and memory: Choose an activity that requires you to remember lots of details. Your best bets are hobbies that require lots of categorization, such as collecting stamps or coins.
  • Motor function: For this brain function, physical activities can double as fun mental workouts. Sports like soccer and basketball build gross motor functions. Fine motor functions are better trained through activities like table tennis or even playing video games.
  • Problem-solving: Most hobbies require you to problem-solve in one way or another. The ones that test your problem-solving skills the most, however, take some investigation.

Geocaching is a good example: Using a combination of clues and GPS readings, geocaching involves finding and re-hiding containers. Typically done in a wooded area, geocaching is a fun way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

5. Board Games

Playing a board game might not be much of a physical workout, but it does make for a fun mental workout. With that said, not all board games work equally well for cognitive training.

Avoid “no brainer” board games, like Candy Land. Opt for strategy-focused ones, such as Risk or Settlers of Catan. Remember to ask other players for their input.

6. Card Games

Card games build cognitive skills in much the same way board games do. They have a few extra advantages, though, that make them worthy of special attention.

A deck of cards is inexpensive and can be played anywhere, from a kitchen to an airplane. More importantly, a deck of cards opens the door to dozens of different games. Challenge yourself to learn a few in an afternoon.

Advertising

7. Puzzles

Puzzles are great tools for building a specific cognitive skill: visuospatial function. Visuospatial function is important to train because it’s one of the first abilities to slip in people struggling with cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s.[5]

Choose a puzzle you’ll stick with. There’s no shame in starting with a 500-piece puzzle or choosing one that makes a childish image.

8. Playing Music

Listening to music is a great way to unwind. But playing music goes one step further. On top of entertaining you, it makes for a fun mental workout.

Again, choose an instrument you know you’ll stick with. If you’ve always wanted to learn the violin, don’t get a guitar because it’s less expensive or easier to pick up.

What if you can’t afford an instrument? Sing. Learning to control your voice is every bit as challenging as making a set of keys or strings sound good.

9. Meditating

Not all cognitive exercises are loud, in-your-face activities. Some of the most fun mental workouts, in fact, are quiet, solo activities. Meditating can help you focus, especially if you have pre-existing attention issues.

Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never meditated before. It’s easy:

  • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down.
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes, or for however long you have to meditate.
  • Close your eyes or turn off the lights.
  • Focus on your breathing. Do not try to control it.
  • If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to your breath.
  • When the timer goes off, wiggle your fingers and toes for a minute. Slowly bring yourself back to reality. Remember the sense of serenity you found.

10. Deep Conversation

There’s nothing more mentally stimulating than a good, long conversation. The key is depth: surface-level chatter doesn’t get the mind’s wheels spinning like a thoughtful, authentic conversation. This type of conversation helps in training your brain to think more deeply and reflect.

Advertising

Choose your partner carefully. You’re looking for someone who’ll challenge your ideas without being confrontational. Stress isn’t good for brain health, but there’s value in coming up with creative arguments.

11. Cooking

When you think about it, cooking requires an impressive array of cognitive skills. Developing a cook’s intuition requires a good memory. Making sure flavors are balanced takes attention to detail. When something goes wrong in the kitchen, problem-solving skills come into play. Motor control is required to stir, flip, and whisk.

If you’re going to cook, you might as well make enough for everyone. Invite them into the kitchen as well: coordinating with other chefs adds an extra layer of challenge to this fun mental workout.

12. Mentorship

Whether you’re the mentee or the mentor, mentorship is an incredible mental workout. Learning from someone you look up to combines the benefits of deep conversation with skill-building. Teaching someone else forces you to put yourself in their shoes, which requires empathy and problem-solving skills.

Put yourself in both situations. Being a student makes you a better teacher, and teaching others gives you insight into how you, yourself, learn.

Final Thoughts

Your mind is your most important possession, and training your brain is needed to maintain its health. Don’t let it get soft.

To keep those neurons firing at full speed, add a few fun mental workouts to your schedule. And if you’re still struggling to get your brain in gear, remember: there’s an app for that.

More Tips for Training Your Brain

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next