Cognitive dissonance theory states that people often hold on to inconsistent beliefs. It provides an explanation for why a person’s behavior can conflict with beliefs.
For instance, a person can know that smoking impacts their health. Yet, their behavior does not change, and subtle justifications begin. In my case, I know that a healthy diet and exercise are essential for a healthy body. But, I often act in opposition to this belief.
Leon Festinger may be best known for investigating the theory of cognitive dissonance. A study on a cult provided great insights into the idea. He observed a cult that believed the earth would end after a massive flood. After the flood failed to come, there were still diehard believers who gave up homes and jobs. Those diehard believers remained in the cult and seemed to grow more committed.
It’s a vivid picture of cognitive dissonance when beliefs go against reality.
To address our areas of cognitive dissonance, let’s look at ways to get untangled,
1. Find the beliefs forming your identity.
We must consider what beliefs are crucial to our identity. When considering habits, our identity is core to our choices which are a byproduct of our beliefs.
Let’s take inventory of beliefs. Take a moment to look at some of the following:
I’m sure there are others. (Feel free to comment about other beliefs to consider.) But, those cover the significant areas. Do your thoughts line up with the reality of your actions?
The last political cycle brought a lot of intriguing results. I saw many friends and acquaintances identify with a political party or ideology. In some cases, it was minor changes, while others seemed to change their entire identity.
There has been some study of cognitive dissonance within certain groups recently. A recent example is the Qanon movement. The prophecies or Q drops often led to failed outcomes. Yet, many are still involved and remain committed to the cause.
The only assumption I can make is cognitive dissonance. Finding a way to convince the mind that there are still reasons to hold on to the ideology.
Are you holding on to disproved beliefs?
This brings us to the second way to get untangled.
2. Look at areas where beliefs conflict with actions and why.
Now, let’s take a moment and look through our inventory. Are there beliefs that conflict with your behavior?
Often the behaviors I have to talk myself into are areas of cognitive dissonance. It’s ordering two burgers, fries, and a shake when I know I don’t need it.
But, this goes deeper. When I’m doing something with friends. Do I second guess it but may still go through with it to fit in.
Peer pressure has a way of pushing us away from our values which often causes conflict.
It will likely be straightforward to find where the conflict is in a belief. But, a more challenging question is why.
Although I know ordering two burgers goes against my belief in a healthy diet and exercise, why do I allow it? One explanation could be social influences. It’s easier to justify the decision if I am around a group that’s doing the same.
There is a possibility that my ideals are disconnected from my actualized identity. For example, I believe a healthy person would eat a healthy diet and exercise. But, I don’t view myself as a healthy person. I suppose it’s more a limiting belief, although the ideas are in opposition.
Getting to the why might be most challenging because it requires self-awareness.
3. Amplify beliefs that align with who you want to become.
Finally, I think it’s important to amplify beliefs that move us closer to who we want to be. Unfortunately, I tend to gravitate toward comfortability. It’s easy to do, and it perpetuates cognitive dissonance.
Often, I know the type of person my beliefs would lead me to be. Yet, I’d act in opposition at times without justification. As I focus on beliefs that align with who I want to be. I can create decision points that reinforce those beliefs.
While I’m no psychologist, it seems the best way to fight cognitive dissonance is to be true to oneself.
What ways do you suggest to consider to address this topic?
Clear, James. Atomic Habits. Random House, 2021.
“Cognitive Dissonance and Ways to Resolve It.” Verywell Mind, 2 July 2020, www.verywellmind.com/what-is-cognitive-dissonance-2795012.
Festinger, Leon. A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford University Press, 1962.
Psychology Today Staff. “Cognitive Dissonance.” Psychology Today, www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/cognitive-dissonance. Accessed 2 Nov. 2021.
Raypole, Crystal. “5 Everyday Examples of Cognitive Dissonance.” Healthline, 19 Feb. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/cognitive-dissonance-examples.
Vyse, Stuart. “When QAnon Prophecy Fails | Skeptical Inquirer.” Skeptical Inquirer, Skeptical Inquirer, 15 Feb. 2021, skepticalinquirer.org/exclusive/when-qanon-prophecy-fails.