Victus Spiritus


Motivation for Behavior Change, Cognitive Dissonance

21 Jul 2009

DissonanceThe Old and New


Well it looks like my marketing guru, Seth Godin just released a book dedicated towards shedding light on our instinctive reaction to resist positive change. He calls it the lizard brain, and it's something Linchpins have learned to overcome. The good news is, so can we!

What's Cognitive Dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance is deeply connected to our motivation and enthusiasm. Dissonance is characterized by an uneasy feeling which is brought on by contemplating contradictory ideas. A simple example, when our behavior doesn't match our true intentions,  or a conflict of our nature, and our demeanor. Wikipedia has an excellent explanation for cognitive dissonance:

Dissonance normally occurs when a person perceives a logical inconsistency among his or her cognitions. This happens when one idea implies the opposite of another. For example, a belief in animal rights could be interpreted as inconsistent with eating meat or wearing fur. Noticing the contradiction would lead to dissonance, which could be experienced as anxietyguiltshameangerembarrassmentstress, and other negative emotional states. When people's ideas are consistent with each other, they are in a state of harmony, or consonance. If cognitions are unrelated, they are categorized as irrelevant to each other and do not lead to dissonance.

What's cognitive dissonance have to do with life path seeking?

There are many psychological levels which cognitive dissonance can be altering or eroding our motivation to build a life doing work we love. While we may actively express interest in many different life changing events:

We find that after a time nothing has changed in our day to day activities. There is a discrepancy between what we want out of life, and how we are living. This causes a powerful form of dissonance and reflexively we begin to rationalize why we aren't pursuing our dream lifestyle. The excuses are many and challenging to uproot:

We'll even go so far as to delude ourselves into thinking a poor decision was a good one after the fact, in order to reduce cognitive dissonance.

What do I suggest?

To hell with the games our mind play on us, they are vestigial neurological speed bumps. We have the will to push past neurological friction. I say embrace the dissonance you experience, it's a sure signal that something is wrong and in need of correction. There's no long term satisfaction in self denial or delusion. Pursue your passions with every drop of energy you can muster, to build a life that you believe best matches your nature.

Our first mistake is assuming an impact bias, that our lives will be too hard for us to possibly cope or tasks will be too monumental for us to complete them. The vast majority of limits we place on ourselves, are but convenient irrational psychological constructs, that temporarily sooth internal conflict. As my wise friend Ben C. once told me, "it's like putting a band aid on a shotgun wound, f'ing worthless".