Can’t Make Up Your Mind?

Do you feel you need more clarity while making decisions? Or do you feel guilty about doing one task but enjoy doing the opposite?

Imagine this: You want to live a healthy life, exercise, and be distraction-free. However, you spend most of your day sitting at your desk, scrolling Instagram, binge-watching Netflix series. All of this does not provide you comfort because deep down inside, you know that you are trying to live a healthy life and that your actions are not in tune with your values.

This inner conflict is called Cognitive Dissonance. It describes the struggle of our mind when we have two different belief systems that don’t quite match up.

Duryodhan Says, “I know what Dharma (right) is, but I have little inclination towards it. I know what Adharma (wrong) is, but I can hardly refrain myself from it.”

What is Cognitive Dissonance?

Our brain likes things to be consistent and in harmony. However, Cognitive Dissonance makes us experience a clash of thoughts. It feels like those puzzles with two pieces that won’t match. This makes us feel confused and even uncomfortable at times.

Let’s go back to our previous example of wanting to exercise but also wishing to scroll Instagram or binge-watch a Netflix series. You feel torn between the two decisions because they both have their own appeal. This creates a sense of unease – in other terms, cognitive dissonance at work.

Is this a New Phenomenon?

Although the term was coined by Leon Festinger in 1957, the phenomenon dates back to ancient times. Cognitive Dissonance is so common that most of us are likely to experience it more than once in our lifetime.

In the ancient epic Mahabharata, there is a conversation between Lord Krishna and Duryodhana. Lord Krishna asks Duryodhana, “You are a prince of the famous Kuru vansh (lineage). You come from a good family and are brought up well; why do you do such horrendous things?”

In response, Duryodhana says:

जानामि धर्मं न च मे प्रवृत्तिः जानाम्यधर्मं न च मे निवृत्तिः।

“I know what Dharma (right) is, but I have little inclination towards it. I know what Adharma (wrong) is, but I can hardly refrain myself from it.”

A classic example of cognitive dissonance? Humans have long had a desire to be consistent. We want our thoughts, beliefs, and actions to align with each other. When there’s a mismatch, our brain says, “Wait, something isn’t right here!”

How Cognitive Dissonance Affects Us?

Cognitive Dissonance leads to some interesting behaviors. Some of us downplay one of our inhibition to reduce the discomfort. We might say to ourselves that exercise is better than scrolling Instagram. However, deep down inside, we still want both.

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Some of us seek information supporting one side of the conflicting thought. This is called selective exposure, where we continuously surround ourselves with ideas that align with our existing beliefs to reduce the discomfort of cognitive dissonance. Imagine this: Your brain convinces you that you are watching educational and informational content on YouTube or Instagram; thus, it is more important than daily exercise. You often come up with lines such as “a powerful brain is much better than a powerful body.”

The most significant setback of Cognitive Dissonance is that it leaves us feeling guilty or regretful for the rest of the day. Imagine this: You’re working from home, and you have a set of tasks to complete by the end of the day. You plan to finish the work in time, but instead, you spend all the time binge-watching your favorite TV series. You start feeling guilty. This guilt arises from the clash between what you wanted (enjoy the TV series) and what you believe should have been done (finishing your office work)

How can we deal with cognitive dissonance?

First, find what are your actual values and beliefs. Based on your beliefs, create a classification between what is right and what is wrong.

Second, embrace discomfort. Following “what is right” at times can be discomforting, but in the long term, it calms your mind. You must suffer either of the two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.

Third, find a middle ground. It is okay to deviate from the original path at times. This way, you can satisfy both desires to some extent.

Yes, Cognitive Dissonance can make us feel confused and uncomfortable. However, we must address the inner conflict to find balance and harmony within ourselves.

So, next time you find yourself torn between two choices or beliefs, remember that it’s just your brain’s way of trying to find balance. Embrace the challenge, explore your thoughts, and seek harmony in the fascinating world of your mind!

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