Cognitive Dissonance – Be Prepared for Your Mind’s Weapons
Have you ever noticed that when you’re trying to break free from an old pattern or go outside your comfort zone that you make progress up until a certain point only to find yourself falling back into your old ways? If so, you’ve likely experienced the effects of Cognitive Dissonance.
The more you can understand the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance, the better position you’ll be in to break free from your limiting beliefs once and for all.
Our mind’s database (the collection of our experiences throughout our lifetime) consists of our smaller, conscious explicit mind and our large subconscious implicit mind. While our explicit mind is our smart, rational mind, our implicit mind is not smart per se. Instead, the implicit mind organizes information based on associations that may or may not be rational (Dan Siegel, 2012).
While our implicit mind is not the rational part of our mind, it is the more powerful part. I like to use the metaphor of a computer when referring to our implicit mind. When you program a computer, the computer doesn’t stop you and say, “Hey, are you sure about that last command?” Instead, it dutifully produces an output that reflects the programming word for word, whether it’s beneficial to you or not.
The implicit mind is the same way. Once your core beliefs get in place from the way you’ve grown up, the implicit mind is off and running creating a life for you that fits that programming regardless of whether or not it’s destructive or beneficial to you. Because the implicit mind is not rational, it can’t make an evaluative judgment on the quality of the programming – it just blindly follows it.
Another key feature of the implicit mind is that it wants the world to be predictable. It wants it to make sense. So, for example, if I had the belief that “I’m not a good math student,” the implicit mind is actually happier if I get a 65 on a test rather than a 95. With a 95, I would experience cognitive dissonance which yields a feeling of angst. The 95 wouldn’t make sense in light of my implicit mind’s programming, and it would consequently feel distressed (even though my conscious mind may be thrilled).
My implicit mind might first try to invalidate the 95 by claiming that the teacher must have given everyone an A or that my high grade must have been a fluke. The real sneaky thing about the implicit mind is that it would then likely go about its business of sabotaging my next math grade (subtlety or not so subtlety). The sabotage could take the form of me not paying attention in math class or putting less effort into my homework.
Before I knew it, the score on my next math test would likely be closer to the 65 than 95 – and my implicit mind would be relieved. The feeling of cognitive dissonance would disappear (even while my conscious mind might be disappointed).
One of the most important things to understand about cognitive dissonance is that all the feeling of cognitive dissonance means is that you’re doing something that’s different from the way your implicit mind is programmed. It says nothing about whether or not what you’re doing is more constructive or not. As far as the implicit mind is concerned: Different is Bad, Same is Good, regardless of the consequences.
When your implicit mind registers that you’re doing something that goes counter to your subconscious programming and experiences cognitive dissonance, you then need to be prepared for several powerful weapons it has at its disposal to get you “back in line.”
As you start going farther and farther outside your comfort zone, the implicit mind might “permit” you to make some changes. However, if it gets wind that you’re actually making major lasting changes in your life, it will sound the alarm and turn the volume up on Fear, Doubt, Guilt, and Insecurity. These powerful feelings or “weapons” are unfortunately very effective at getting people to fall “back in line” – to resume their old dysfunctional programming.
I encourage you to be prepared for these intense feelings and remind yourself that the fear, doubt, guilt or insecurity you may be feeling doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong or something that wouldn’t be beneficial to you, it merely means that you’re doing something that’s different from the way your implicit mind is programmed. Another powerful strategy to help you break free from the programming of your implicit mind once and for all is to find a coach or mentor with whom you genuinely connect.
A coach can help you anticipate these feelings and hold your hand while keeping you accountable for continuing to take action in spite of the fear, doubt, guilt or insecurity you may be experiencing. With the right coach, the power you have to overcome your mind’s dysfunctional programming increases exponentially!
Siegel, D. (2012). The developing mind (2nd edition). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
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