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When Confronted by Contrary Ideas in Mind, Modify Your Line of Thought to De-Stress

When Confronted by Contrary Ideas in Mind, Modify Your Line of Thought to De-Stress

S. Shanthi
You are at a party and having a glass of wine. However, you have always believed that drinking alcohol is not really the right thing to do. And, this creates an internal conflict in you. In order to reduce this psychological discomfort, you tell yourself, “It is okay to drink once in a while.” This is exactly what cognitive dissonance means. It is a state of tension that gets created due to a conflict in our attitudes, beliefs or behaviour. “In order to reduce tension, we tend to modify or alter our beliefs that in turn leads to consonance. As humans, we strive to achieve a state of harmony between our thoughts and behaviours. Whenever there is unrest, there is a psychological need to alleviate the distress and restore the balance,” says Sanjay Chugh, leading consultant psychiatrist. (Also read: Do you always feel good things can never happen to you? Break free from Pattern Thinking)

Cognitive dissonance was first investigated by social psychologist Leon Festinger, arising out of a participant observation study of a cult which believed that the earth was going to be destroyed by a flood, and what happened to its members, particularly the really committed ones who had given up their homes and jobs to work for the cult, when the flood did not happen.

He said that a powerful motive to maintain cognitive consistency can give rise to irrational and sometimes maladaptive behaviour. According to Festinger, we hold cognition about the world and ourselves and when they clash, a discrepancy is evoked, resulting in a state of tension known as cognitive dissonance. As the experience of dissonance is unpleasant, we are motivated to reduce or eliminate it, and achieve consonance.

According to cognitive dissonance theory, there is a tendency for individuals to seek consistency among their beliefs . When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance. Remaining in a state of dissonance can be extremely uncomfortable which is why people would often find different ways to work around it and find inner peace. Cognitive dissonance can be countered in three ways, as suggested says Dr. Chugh.

We should reduce the importance of our thought or the behaviour to reduce the distress . In the case of above mentioned example, since the behaviour (drinking a glass of wine) was not in line with the thought (alcohol is sinful), the person modified his thought (it is okay to drink once in a while) to create harmony. That is the only way you can avoid stress. Constant clash of thoughts can be very stressful.

Another way to do it is not to behave the way your conscience doesn’t allow you. First we could either change the thought, if we cannot we should change the behaviour (I will not drink any more). You behave in accordance to this changed thought which lowers the internal conflict. Unless you do this, your beliefs will not let you stress free.

Third way to do it is to acquire some information that will correlate with your behaviour . You acquire new information that could dissolve the dissonance (Wine isn’t alcohol; it’s made out of grapes). This way you will be eliminating any scope of experiencing the distress that may arise from the act of drinking.

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