Dealing with Cognitive Dissonances

Reader’s note: This is the last part of our 3-part series on cognitive dissonance. Through this series, we illustrate what cognitive dissonance is, where in our daily lives cognitive dissonances may arise, and how we can resolve them in ways that help us resolve our long-term interests.

In the first and second parts of this series, we have discussed what cognitive dissonance is, when it arises, and the unhelpful ways in which we resolve them. Essentially, the ideal when we are met with cognitive dissonance is to alter our actions so that they align with our long-term interests. But how? As mentioned in the second part, how we deal with cognitive dissonances can be unconscious. We may not be aware of how we’re resolving them. When this happens, how can we catch ourselves doing it?

The first thing to do is to be aware that a choice has been made. We can’t solve a problem without identifying the problem. Similarly, if we want to correct a choice we have made mentally, we have to first be aware of them.

So congratulations for reading the series. Learning about it helps one become aware of the act when one commits it. But, more importantly, catching ourselves in the act requires an ability to reflect upon our own thought processes, not avoiding it.

We tend to avoid them because reflecting genuinely upon our thoughts and actions can pose a threat to the self, especially when it is not something we can be proud of. The result is the feeling of anxiety, triggering a defense mechanism. Some call it the Freudian filter. This filter is what helps us avoid difficult experiences.

What after we’ve taken notice of our defense mechanism? This is what I do personally:

  1. Take a deep breath. Slow down your thoughts.
  2. Stay with the conflicting thoughts, or any accompanying emotions.
  3. If you hear yourself criticizing yourself, notice and listen to them, but do so non-judgmentally.
  4. Recall what your long-term interests are. Do you want to become a good friend, who is reasonable and a great person to be with? Do you want to achieve your career or academic goals?

As humans, we are imperfect. We wouldn’t expect anyone to avoid bad habits all the time. That’s too tall an order to demand of anyone. (It could even backfire!) But when the stars align and we have the will and courage to do so, try out the suggestions above.

Zi Hui is studying at the National University of Singapore. She has an enduring passion for the human condition, and for how knowledge of it can give clues to how one can best facilitate in life. She majors in Philosophy and Psychology.