Have you ever found yourself trying to justify something that you know is wrong? Think about a time when you knew a friend was acting selfishly, but kept quiet about it. Or maybe you've been in an argument with someone and made excuses for why they did something wrong despite knowing better.
These are all examples of cognitive dissonance—the feeling that occurs when our thoughts, feelings or beliefs don't match up with reality. In this article, we'll explore the nature of cognitive dissonance and how to counteract it in order to become a more rational thinker.
What is cognitive dissonance?
Cognitive dissonance is the feeling of discomfort that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time. It can be caused by a situation where you have to choose between two things that you value, like your job and your health.
For example, you want to lose weight, but you also want to eat ice cream every day. The more you think about it, the more uncomfortable it becomes—so eventually you’ll probably decide not to eat ice cream anymore or find some way around both goals (like only eating one bite). This happens because you want to feel good about yourself. When you have two conflicting goals, it’s hard to feel good about yourself because they contradict each other. So when you make a decision—even if it’s one that hurts—you can feel more confident in your choice and move on with your life.
Cognitive dissonance may not appear harmful in many cases. However, it can lead to a huge amount of problems within yourself and with others. It can sow the seeds for self-deception, denial, double standards and hypocritical behaviour. Cognitive dissonance can also lead you to make bad decisions. It makes it hard to think clearly because your brain is trying to resolve two conflicting goals. It can cause us to act against our own interests, often without realising it.
Causes of cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is thought to be the result of a person trying to reduce the conflict between two conflicting ideas. When cognitive dissonance occurs, a person may change their beliefs and behaviours so they fit together better or they might try to eliminate one of the conflicting ideas. It can be caused by a person's own actions, the actions of others, their beliefs or the beliefs of others.
Cognitive dissonance can be caused by peer pressure. People may feel a certain way because their peers do, even if they don’t believe the same things as their friends or family members. If a person has to choose between two different options, they might feel uncomfortable with the decision because they don’t know which one is right or wrong. They may also experience cognitive dissonance when they try to rationalise or justify their behaviour or beliefs, even though there is evidence contradicting them.
It can also be caused by an environment, such as when a person tries to rationalise a situation or make it fit into their beliefs. For example, a smoker might believe that smoking is unhealthy and bad for them but still continue to smoke because they enjoy the company of others who smoke. There is a myriad of reasons why people use cognitive dissonance in their daily lives. However, the reasons commonly revolve around justifying an unpopular or inconvenient position.
How to avoid cognitive dissonance.
The best way to avoid cognitive dissonance is to be aware of your own biases, including those of the people around you. Being self-aware can help prevent you from making decisions based on flawed assumptions about yourself or others. It's easy to get defensive when someone challenges your beliefs. But if you can accept that there are many ways to view any situation, then you may be able to find common ground with others and avoid feeling threatened. The following solutions will help you to recognise and mitigate the effects of cognitive dissonance.
Listen to those who disagree with you.
Before you can combat cognitive dissonance with others, you must first listen to them. You may be very passionate about your belief and see it as fact, but that doesn't mean that everyone else does too. Listening means understanding where someone is coming from by asking questions and trying to see things from their perspective instead of immediately assuming they are wrong based on the conclusions they've reached. Listening also means finding common ground wherever possible to allow others to respect your point of view.
Be willing to admit when you're wrong.
When someone points out that you're wrong, and it's clear that they're right, be willing to say "I was wrong." When you make a mistake and can't see how obvious it was, or if there is any way that you could have avoided making a mistake in the first place (even though others might insist otherwise), consider the possibility that maybe you should've seen it coming. But regardless of whether or not this is true for your situation specifically, admitting when something isn't working out for us as well as we'd like is an admirable trait.
Being willing to admit when we're wrong shows everyone around us—including ourselves—that we are constantly learning new things and improving ourselves over time. No matter what stage of life we find ourselves in, we need people around us who will keep reminding us when they see something happening differently than expected; who help us learn from our mistakes so that next time something similar comes up again later down the road; who remind all of us about how important it is for everyone involved to listen before speaking up because sometimes words do hurt more than just themselves but also those around them.
Don't be afraid to ask questions.
When you're in the middle of an argument, it's natural to feel defensive. You might be tempted to tell yourself that you're right and the other person is wrong. But this attitude can create more problems for your relationship than it solves. Instead, try asking questions that clarify what you don't understand or challenge some of the assumptions behind what they're saying. This way, you'll both get a better sense as to why each of you thinks and feels differently about a situation. And hopefully, by learning how others see things differently than we do we can come out feeling more open-minded ourselves.
Draw a line between facts and opinions.
Drawing a line between facts and opinions can be difficult, but it's an essential part of discerning whether or not something is true. A fact is anything that is objectively true. An opinion is anything that isn't objectively true. The importance of being able to tell the difference between facts and opinions cannot be overstated. When someone holds an opinion that contradicts yours, you must be able to explain why your view is more valid than theirs in order for them to understand where you're coming from. This is why it's so important to know the difference between facts and opinions. If you're not sure whether something is a fact or an opinion, ask yourself: "How do I know this is true?" If there's no objective evidence for your claim, then it's probably just an opinion.
Don't let it get out of hand.
Cognitive dissonance can be a serious problem for you and others. You may notice that it causes problems when you or someone close to you faces a conflict between two beliefs, thoughts, or values that they hold. When this happens, cognitive dissonance occurs in the person’s mind as they try to resolve the conflict by choosing one belief over another.
If you or someone close to you is experiencing cognitive dissonance, try to help them resolve the conflict by asking questions that encourage them to think about their options and make their own decisions. You can also work to resolve your own cognitive dissonance, but you should always make sure that your decisions are based on facts and logic rather than on emotions. If you find yourself faced with a situation where there are no good choices or options available, try to accept this as fact instead of blaming others for causing the problem. Remember, cognitive dissonance can feel very hard to detect and change, but it can be managed.
Cognitive dissonance is a powerful force that can affect both you and others. By avoiding it, you prevent yourself from getting stuck in a stressful situation, and you improve the lives of your loved ones. Remember these tips for how to combat cognitive dissonance: listen to those who disagree with you; be willing to admit when you're wrong; encourage others to speak up when they see something that doesn't make sense; don't be afraid to ask questions; draw a line between facts and opinions.
By employing these strategies consistently, even in small ways throughout life's daily interactions with people around us, we can all help one another avoid unnecessary suffering caused by this phenomenon.