Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced when a person holds two or more contradictory beliefs about something.  It is triggered by a situation where an old belief conflicts with new evidence perceived by that person.  When confronted with the facts that contradict the person’s personal beliefs, the person will typically find a way to reduce their discomfort.  For example, you have a desire to stop drinking, and you have the desire to drink.  These are conflicting.  So, how do you resolve the discomfort?  You choose to drink (the old belief of this is how I handle my discomfort).

It is important to make room for both of these desires (to drink and to not drink), and to understand where they are coming from.  We want to get rid of the desire to drink so quickly that we just try and sooth the discomfort with drinking.  This obviously doesn’t get us closer to our goal of cutting back or quitting.  Cognitive dissonance creates anxiety because you are trying to let one of the thoughts win. “I want to drink.” “I don’t want to drink.” “I want to drink.” “I don’t want to drink.”  You are at a battle within yourself. And the increased anxiety increases the desire to drink. These conflicting thoughts become the problem.

Cognitive dissonance creates anxiety because you are trying to let one of the thoughts win.

How Do You Manage Cognitive Dissonance?

When you allow both desires to coexist with understanding, they are no longer a problem.  We recognize the competing desires and allow them to be.  This will not increase the anxiety making the desire to drink win out.  When both desires are allowed to be, you can unlearn the desire to drink just as easily as you learned to desire to drink.

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