Cognitive Dissonance When actions don't correspond with beliefs
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Identifying which attitudes and behaviors boost flourishing is easy, integrating them is the challenge. We happen upon an insight and feel good. But recognition doesn’t create change. Many things interrupt the work before change takes hold—ego protections, lack of self-discipline, lack of required knowledge and skill. Our brain—thoughts and emotions—also stand in the way, creating unhealthy interference, preventing implementation of desired behaviors. The chasm between who we are and who we think we are can run wide and deep. Until we grasp reality of self, we may never bridge the gap between who we are and who we desire to be.
Many nemeses interfere with a non-distorted self-view. Social learning, ego defenses, and contrived explanations alter self-perceptions. These little creepers infest and distort thinking. An undistorted view of self may not be pleasant, opening painful and unwelcomed realizations. Traveling into the vortex of personal imperfections seems to be a forgotten journey. We want to be wonderful, kind and funny. Most of my generation was raised on a staple diet of “you are special”—we never took note that if everyone was special, the specialness isn’t truly that special.
When we—in all our specialness—act contradictory to beliefs about ourselves, the contradiction creates discomfort. We may temporarily mitigate the discomfort by changing focus to relieve the contradiction. We ignore evidence revealing shortcomings, weaknesses or faults. The imperfections scare us. Perhaps a fear of ineptness; unless we are perfect life will overwhelm and run us over. Flat. So we neglect deeper personal examination, remain special, and appropriate for lives challenges. While this course may boost confidence, it fails to detect faulty habits that disrupt intentions, and destroy hopes.
We avoid conscious self-examination. Instead of a consciously directed life, we live an impulse directed life, which we then smooth over with justifications, avoidance and external projections. Our impulses are not ethically charged, nor are they always future directed; instead impulses play out biological and social programming. We are driven to act in self-interest and for self-protection. These drives are essential, allows genes to promulgate more effectively.
Without careful self-reflection, we slip into deceptions, believing our behaviors are justified in line with characteristics we desire; but in reality they lack compassion, fairness, or honesty. Change requires we acknowledge these automatic protections leading us off course. Only then can we realign our current trajectory to push us towards our cherished intentions. As we act in accordance with the person we wish to be, we relieve inner conflicts between stated values and external behaviors, freeing mental energy for more creative and responses to the world.