When I was only four years old, a psychologist by the name of Leon Festinger published a book he titled A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. His work in cognitive dissonance was observational and explanatory of human behaviors. He had no idea I would later find his theory so useful, nor did he predict I would come to apply it in an intentional way.
You’ve likely heard the term, but if you’re not familiar with it, here’s a very simple explanation from, appropriately enough, Simply Psychology –
“According to Festinger, we hold many cognitions about the world and ourselves; 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 (i.e. agreement).”
In other words, we very much want to believe our thoughts, which Festinger refers to as cognitions (a term I find much more explosive than reflective). We want them to match our behaviors. And we’ll do whatever it takes, make whatever adjustments are required, to alter our thoughts, our behaviors, or a bit of each, in order to feel like we are (or our world is) consistent and balanced.
Cognitive dissonance theory has focused mainly upon how our own thoughts and behaviors conflict, and how we adjust our thoughts to mitigate our behavior. Precious little attention has been paid to the application of cognitive dissonance theory to adjusting our thoughts to accommodate events and situations outside our control.
Introducing Applied Cognitive Dissonance (ACD)
My suggestion is radical, but it carries the possibility of deliverance for all who suffer ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. I offer this experiment for those who are both beleaguered and brave.
You are confronted with an extraordinarily negative event – this is totally relative – for some it will be a flat tire on the way to an important business meeting, for others it will be the death of an important person in your life. The ACD response to any negative event is, “This Is Great!”
This response will feel awkward, at best, and offensive in many cases. Nevertheless, the ACD response must be repeated over and over, as a mantra. Changing conflicting thoughts is one of the most effective ways of dealing with dissonance, but it is also one of the most difficult. Particularly in the case of deeply held values and beliefs, change can be exceedingly difficult.
If you’ll persist with the ACD response, you’ll notice a question arising: “Why?” (Some may experience the question as ‘WTF??’) In the face of this terrible dissonance, your mind wants to know why this is great. It certainly doesn’t seem to be. What could possibly be great about this tragedy?? This is where Cognitive Dissonance comes to your rescue. When you continue to think, “This Is Great!” ACD requires that your mind come up with reasons why.
To the rescue – our dear Andrew Boyd (AKA Brother Void). “Everything happens for a reason I make up,” says Brother Void.
Now you are free to invent any and every fantastical reason why this tragedy has befallen you. Certainly it is for the greater good. Obviously we cannot know the full implications of this event, but someday we will understand. Possible explanations that support these cognitions (Explosions! Fireworks!) may arise in your consciousness, and you must encourage all those that offer outcomes you prefer.
Applied Cognitive Dissonance can bring you to a position of strength and resolve in the face of challenging circumstance. Practicing ACD on a consistent basis can bring you tremendous peace of mind.
This Is Great! This Is Great!