Each one of us is attached to a multitude of narratives about who we are and how we should operate. Over time as we observe the choices we make our inner voice starts to connect the patterns of our actions to our identity. Additionally, notions of who we want ourselves to be develop and connect to our self-image as well. We then merge the two. Constructing our sense of self. Our true identity and our idealistic identity blur and overlap into one. Thus, creating the bundle of stories composing our being. Our identities are the stories we tell ourselves.
What happens when our actions are inconsistent with our identity? Obviously we catch our self-deception and we don’t repeat our errors, right? Wrong. When our actions do not align with our self-image a neuronal discomfort emerges as a result of the inconsistency. The mind is uncomfortable. To relieve the tension it confabulates other narratives as to why you acted opposite to your self-image. This mechanism is called cognitive dissonance. A common example is, someone who believes they should be exercising more often, yet they don’t. This sets off the internal dialogue on a storytelling journey of the various imaginary reasons you cannot exercise today. “I had a long day, I should rest” or “I don’t have time today, I have x and y to do”. (Feel free to substitute in your own examples in place of exercise and the excuses that follow. I’m sure some are already bubbling to the surface of your mind.) Instead of accepting that one made a decision opposed to their values, they begin to cover it up.
This self-deception provides relief for not acting in accordance with your ideals and expectations. It allows you to advance from the decision you made that contradicts your standards without discomfort. This mechanism is detrimental to changing negative behaviors. Considering, if one is unbothered by a behavior there is no reason to change it. We must attempt to be aware of when we are deluding ourselves. Illuminating the self-deception stimulates the motivation to change for the better.
Taking full responsibility for mediocre choices you make will make you uncomfortable. This discomfort is positive. The continued acceptance of poor choices builds unease. Until you no longer want to accept your circumstances. Hence, the distress felt is a catalyst to positive change.
Cognitive dissonance leads us astray in a variety of ways. It deceives us thoroughly that we don’t even know we are being deceived. It makes us feel better for committing to poor decisions. But we cannot let it fool us further. Do not accept the comfort of cognitive dissonance. Pay attention to your inner dialogue as it attempts to relieve you of distress through its deception. One cannot change a behavior that they consolidate with narratives which allows you to bypass the unease you should feel when committing negative behaviors. Therefore, detect when your mind attempts to delude you. Feel the negative emotions and thoughts that arise when your behavior isn’t aligned with how you want to be. They are your mind’s way of revealing to you your problems. To be cognitively dissonant is to deny yourself the opportunity for positive growth