It’s only natural to feel a little drained from time to time. However, if you’re always feeling tired, and there are no obvious physical reasons — such as lack of sleep or other health issues — you could be struggling with something called ‘cognitive dissonance.’
Cognitive dissonance refers to the discomfort that happens when you have two conflicting beliefs or when you believe one thing but act a different way. For example, if someone eats a lot of high-sugar foods (behaviour) and they know that it’s bad for their teeth (cognition), they may be experiencing a state of cognitive dissonance.
This can create varying degrees of discomfort and exhaustion. In this article, we’re going to explore why, and what you can do about it.
Why Does Cognitive Dissonance Happen?
There are various situations where cognitive dissonance can arise, and many of these might happen regularly, leaving you feeling depleted. Some common situations include:
Peer pressure is an all-too-common situation that most of us experience at some point.. You may behave a certain way, caving to societal, school, or work pressures — even though you might not agree with it. For example, someone may smoke cigarettes in social environments, despite the increased chance of cancer or other health issues. Quitting may bring a lot of discomforts, so they may tell themselves that the media exaggerates the health consequences of smoking. This type of situation creates varying degrees of cognitive dissonance.
Learning New Information
When you learn new information, it can alter your beliefs. At the same time, you might have behaved a certain way that contradicts this new belief. In many cases, most people will try to rationalize why they acted in a certain way or they may try to avoid acknowledging the new information altogether.
Making multiple decisions can lead to fatigue. When you have to choose between two similar decisions, this can lead to cognitive dissonance. It’s uncomfortable since both choices might have benefits. You might be left wondering if you made the right decision, which can feel uneasy.
How Cognitive Dissonance Feels
Generally, cognitive dissonance is associated with feelings of discomfort and unease. You might notice these feelings amplify if the contradictory belief is something you’ve placed importance on, such as those relating to your sense of self, or if there are multiple contradictory beliefs.
You might feel:
These feelings may further motivate you to find ways to reduce the discomfort, such as finding excuses or reasons for it, blaming others, hiding your behaviour, or seeking out information that only supports your belief (also known as confirmation bias).
Reducing Cognitive Dissonance
The good news is you can reduce this discomfort and take back control. Here’s how:
Change Your Behaviour
If you don’t believe it’s right to go along with your friends, then you can choose to take a different path. Or perhaps you don’t believe what your work is doing is right. You can choose what you do and match it to what you believe.
Change Your Belief
You can also always work on changing your beliefs so that they are more adaptive, and in some situations, flexible. For example, maybe you consider cake bad for you and your health. Yet, you constantly find yourself craving and eating it at gatherings or events. With a therapist or through self-help tools, you can work on altering your perception so that treats are okay when consumed in moderation.
Take time before you act or decide
Allow for time to pass before you take action or make a decision. You can tell yourself or others “maybe later” to allow yourself to sit with the decision. For example, overspending on items that you may not necessarily need may cause harm to your future self in the form of financial stress or retirement savings. Research further shows the longer time you spend contemplating a buying decision, the less dissonance is attached to it. Thus, if you take the time to truly think about items before you buy them and potentially overspend, the less likely you are going to get caught in any maladaptive thinking patterns.
Learn to Understand Yourself Better
While cognitive dissonance is frequently associated with negative emotions, it can help you grow and change, becoming a better version of yourself. It can also help you gain more awareness, allowing you to align your behaviours and values with one another.
At the same time, you don’t have to do this alone. At Bhatia Psychology Group, we can help you sort through any mismatches between your beliefs and behaviours and come up with healthy ways to reconcile them. You can feel less mentally drained and more energized to make your life what you want it to be. Contact our team today.