How To Overcome Cognitive Dissonance: 18-Step Guide

This article has everything you need to know about how to overcome cognitive dissonance.

Leon Festinger, a psychologist, put forward the theory of cognitive dissonance in 1954. This theory suggests that when your beliefs conflict with your actions or you have two contradicting thoughts, it causes cognitive dissonance.

For instance, you may know that eating candy every day is unhealthy, but you still indulge in it. To resolve cognitive dissonance, you might ignore information that contradicts your beliefs, which could result in making poor decisions in the future.

To overcome cognitive dissonance, you can either change your actions or challenge your conflicting beliefs. It is also important to learn how to accept difficult decisions.

How To Overcome Cognitive Dissonance:

1. To effectively change your actions, it is essential to first identify your core values.

Often, external factors such as societal norms or pressure from the people in our lives can cause us to act in ways that contradict our beliefs, leading to cognitive dissonance. By gaining a clear understanding of our values, we can better comprehend the motives behind our actions.

To determine your values, consider asking yourself the following questions and prioritizing your responses in order of significance: What experiences have brought me the most joy in life? When have I felt a sense of pride in myself? What actions have led to feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment? What activities or experiences have left me feeling happy, proud, and fulfilled simultaneously?

2. Acknowledging your shortcomings and being truthful with yourself and others about not meeting your own expectations can be liberating and therapeutic.

It is the initial step towards resolving the issue. Recognize your mistake, forgive yourself, and pledge to start anew.

For example, you could express, “I have been struggling with guilt over consuming meat as I believe it’s unethical. However, I understand that change is challenging, and I won’t keep dwelling on it.”

3. In certain circumstances, seeking support may be necessary.

This assistance can be provided in two ways. You can request those close to you to respect your beliefs and not challenge your actions, or you can ask them to help you stay accountable depending on the situation.

However, it is essential to remember that you are solely responsible for your actions. For instance, you might request your family to refrain from offering you meat dishes and to avoid coaxing you to consume meat.

Alternatively, you may request a vegetarian friend to remind you of the reasons why you stopped eating meat whenever you feel enticed. Additionally, you could ask someone who cares about you to help hold you accountable by texting them when you feel tempted and requesting reminders to stay on track.

4. If possible, it’s important to take action on your beliefs to eliminate the mental conflict caused by cognitive dissonance.

If your inner turmoil stems from not aligning with your deeply held convictions, acting on them can be the most straightforward way to resolve it. However, if your values are challenging to achieve, it can be difficult.

You can start by taking a small step towards your ideals, as even incremental progress can help reduce the internal tension. For example, if you believe that eating meat is unethical, you could stop eating meat altogether.

If that seems challenging, try going vegetarian for one day a week and gradually increase the number of vegetarian days. It takes approximately 66 days for new behaviors to become habits, so it’s crucial to persevere.

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5. Sometimes it can be challenging to live in accordance with our beliefs, and there can be several reasons for this, such as societal pressures, personal desires, or conflicting principles.

It’s essential to examine why you find it difficult to act in line with your beliefs to determine the underlying factors causing this cognitive dissonance. If after careful reflection, you find that changing your beliefs is necessary, then it may be time to re-evaluate your values and priorities.

For instance, you may have a difficult time cutting down on meat consumption (1) because you genuinely enjoy it. In this case, you may want to reconsider your beliefs and make adjustments that are more in line with your values.

6. It’s common to experience cognitive dissonance when you’re hesitant to admit you were wrong.

However, it’s important to accept that it’s okay to change your mind, even if it means letting go of a belief you held dearly. Ignoring the possibility of being wrong will only cause harm in the long term.

When confronted with new information that challenges your beliefs, it’s better to work through them rather than ignore them. Remember that nobody is perfect and it’s not necessary to be right all the time. If changing your actions doesn’t help resolve the cognitive dissonance, you may want to consider changing your beliefs instead.

7. Determine the source of the internal conflict you’re experiencing.

Identify the specific beliefs that are being contradicted by your actions and behaviors. By doing this, you can gain a deeper understanding of the root of the problem and the underlying thoughts and feelings that are causing you distress.

This will allow you to more effectively address the issue and find a resolution. For instance, you might believe that you need to work harder to advance in your career, but you keep procrastinating and not putting in the effort required.

8. It’s important to determine why the behavior that is in conflict with your beliefs is important to you.

Sometimes, the beliefs causing the conflict may have been imposed on you by society or other external factors, making it harder for you to take action. Other times, your desire to engage in the conflicting behavior may outweigh the belief that it goes against.

For instance, in the example given, the difficulty in following a diet may stem from the belief that one needs to lose weight to be accepted by others, which is a belief shaped by society. On the other hand, it could be that the diet is hard to follow because it leaves you with low energy, restricts you from enjoying shared meals with friends and family, and requires you to give up your favorite foods.

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9. Gaining knowledge about both sides of a conflict can provide you with an understanding of your beliefs and behaviors.

This knowledge can either reinforce your existing beliefs or inspire you to make a change. For instance, if you are concerned about your weight, learning more about weight loss (2), optimal weight, and healthy living may provide you with the necessary knowledge.

It’s essential to avoid confirmation bias, where you selectively seek out evidence that supports your beliefs and disregard the rest. Confirmation bias can lead to poor decisions since you’re not considering all the facts.

For example, if you believe that a particular herbal supplement can cure a disease, reading only blogs about the supplement’s supposed benefits will confirm your beliefs, even if they are incorrect. Instead, it would be best to read scientific literature on the supplement to make an informed decision.

10. To challenge the belief that causes cognitive dissonance, you can write down the reasons why the behavior you want to stop is acceptable.

This will help you see the positive aspects of the conflicting behavior and reduce the value of the original belief. For instance, if you have been following a strict diet and find it hard to stick to it, you can write down the benefits of eating more than what your diet plan allows. These benefits can include having more energy, spending quality time with loved ones, and indulging in your favorite foods.

11. Think of your beliefs as balloons, and try to give more importance to the beliefs that support the behavior you want to keep.

You don’t have to eliminate the conflicting belief entirely; instead, you can identify it as less important than the belief that supports your behavior. This way, you can avoid feeling conflicted, as the belief that supports your behavior is more valuable than the one that doesn’t.

For example, you may embrace the body positivity movement and the idea of living life to the fullest, allowing you to enjoy food and time with friends without feeling guilty. You can still acknowledge that society may promote maintaining a low body weight, but you give more weight to your own values and beliefs. While some beliefs may never completely go away, you can prioritize the ones that align with your desired behavior.

12. It’s common to have disagreements with others, but if someone is regularly challenging your beliefs, it can lead to ongoing conflict.

It may be necessary for your own well-being to take a step back from that relationship. You have the right to hold your beliefs without being constantly pressured by someone else. For instance, if you have a friend who frequently criticizes your food choices or belittles you, you might consider limiting the time you spend with them.

13. If you are unable to resolve your cognitive dissonance on your own, it’s important to seek help from a therapist.

They can assist you in identifying the root cause of your cognitive dissonance and offer techniques to alleviate it. For instance, there may be underlying thoughts or emotions that you are suppressing, which a therapist can help you uncover and address. There are many ways to find a therapist, including searching online through websites or by asking for a referral from your healthcare provider.

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14. In situations where a decision is difficult to make, creating a pro and con list can be helpful.

This method allows you to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each option and make an informed decision based on the information you’ve gathered. It’s recommended to create multiple pro and con lists, especially if you’re having trouble deciding between options. For instance, you might be torn between going on a beach vacation or visiting Paris, both of which have their own unique pros and cons.

15. In order to overcome the cognitive dissonance of having to choose between two or more good options, it can be helpful to focus on the positives of the alternative you are choosing.

By doing this, you can strengthen your decision and reduce the conflict. Take the example of choosing between an island getaway and a trip to Paris.

If you decide to go to Paris because a friend will be there, you can rewrite your pro and con list to highlight the benefits of Paris. This might include the opportunity to spend time with your friend, as well as the chance to see world-famous landmarks and experience French culture. By focusing on these positives, you can feel more confident and at ease with your decision.

16. To make your chosen option more attractive than the one you didn’t choose, you can enhance the negative aspects of the alternative.

This way, the alternative you didn’t choose will seem less desirable, and you won’t have any regrets about your decision. This technique is known as “spreading” your alternatives.

By doing this, you are reaffirming the decision you made and reducing the likelihood of second-guessing yourself. For instance, you might add to the cons list for the island getaway that it is prone to unpredictable weather, there might be long travel times, and it could be costly.

17. Share with someone else the reasons behind the alternative you have chosen, as this can reinforce your decision in your own mind.

Support your choice by emphasizing the benefits of the alternative you have chosen, while firmly rejecting the other option(s). For instance, you might explain to your friend why you picked Paris as your vacation destination, highlighting the chance to create unforgettable memories with your friend, fulfill your long-standing desire to explore the city, and avoid the potential risks of a tropical storm.

18. After you make a decision, it’s important to avoid second-guessing yourself because it can bring back feelings of cognitive dissonance.

It can be challenging to accept your choices without regret, particularly if you tend to be anxious. However, life is full of tough decisions, and it can help to concentrate on the positives of your choice.

Rather than dwelling on your decisions, concentrate on the actions you’re taking. If you find yourself feeling uneasy or remorseful, repeat the pro and con list activity to reassure yourself that the choice you made is the correct one.

There’s no need to consider the option you didn’t choose since you can’t go back in time. Instead, concentrate on the next decision you need to make.

In summary, overcoming cognitive distortion can be achieved through several steps. First, recognize when you are experiencing cognitive dissonance, which is when your beliefs and actions conflict. Then, reframe your beliefs to support the behavior you want to keep, without necessarily eliminating the conflicting belief. It’s also essential to avoid people who frequently challenge beliefs you don’t want to change.

Another helpful strategy is to make a pro and con list for difficult decisions. Once you’ve made a decision, focus on the pros of the alternative you have chosen and enhance the cons of the option you did not select.

It’s crucial to avoid questioning the decision once it’s made to avoid reawakening cognitive dissonance. However, if you do feel discomfort or regret, work through the pro and con list again to remind yourself that the alternative you chose is the right one. Lastly, it’s essential to keep your focus on the actions you’re taking rather than ruminating on your decisions and move on to the next decision you have to make.

I want to thank you for taking the time to read my article about how to overcome cognitive dissonance. I sincerely hope its contents have been a good help to you.

Przemkas Mosky
Przemkas Mosky started Perfect 24 Hours in 2017. He is a Personal Productivity Specialist, blogger and entrepreneur. He also works as a coach assisting people to increase their motivation, social skills or leadership abilities. Read more here