We all strive for mental congruity and balance between our thoughts and our actions. It causes discomfort when the things we do and the things we think are not in balance.
Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term for the mental conflict that we have when our beliefs and our behaviors diverge. We have a strong belief about something but our actions don’t seem to follow along.
Because of the uncomfortable feelings that accompany this cognitive dissonance, we often try to change one side so that we are balanced. So we change our behavior to match or our thoughts or we change our thoughts to match our behavior.
The principle of cognitive consistency is the inner drive we all have to keep our actions and thoughts aligned.
There are three ways to reduce the cognitive dissonance to regain cognitive consistency. We can change our behavior or thoughts so that they are in harmony. We can find new information to challenge our conflicting thoughts. We can justify our behaviors with a new perspective.
If we want to save money but find ourselves getting further and further in debt, we may experience cognitive dissonance. We can change the behavior so that we stop spending more than we make and better budget our income and expenses. We can acquire new information to justify the things we buy that we can’t afford. We can convince ourselves that it is more important to have nice things now for our family, rather than save for our retirement in the future.
While many of us resort to finding ways to justify a behavior we know isn’t a good one, we can start to change those behaviors. When we do we remove that cognitive dissonance and the discomfort around this conflict.
But making those changes tends to be more difficult than changing our thoughts and beliefs. But if we do this over and over again we start to get further and further from our goals because we constantly avoid the challenging behavior changes necessary for improvement.
Therefore, the systems and habits approach to improvement relies less on the mental models we have and more on the actual steps that we take. By putting the focus on doing rather than thinking we can start to change those behaviors that are at odds with what we know is right for us.
We can start to take small steps in the right direction and change our ingrained habits so that we slowly shift our behaviors to align with our beliefs and thoughts. We don’t compromise, we improve; and improvement is the key to obtaining cognitive consistency that will help you, rather than simply reduce the discomfort you feel.