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A Psychological Life Hack: How to stop Cognitive Dissonance from ruining your life

Written by on May 23, 2016

  • Understanding Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort we experience when our actions don’t align with our beliefs and values.

It’s crucial to note that cognitive dissonance isn’t a mental health condition, but a psychological phenomenon observed in everyday life. American psychologist Leon Festinger introduced this concept in the 1950s, explaining that it arises when we hold contradictory beliefs simultaneously.

What is Cognitive Dissonance?

Cognitive dissonance occurs when two thoughts clash, either supporting each other (consonance) or conflicting (dissonance). For instance, someone who believes in the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic but refuses to wear a mask experiences dissonance. This inconsistency leads to discomfort, especially when we hold multiple conflicting beliefs close to our hearts.

Signs of Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is an internal feeling, making it challenging to identify outward signs. However, people are naturally inclined to avoid or resolve it due to the discomfort it brings. They employ three strategies:

  1. Avoidance: This involves steering clear of situations or people that trigger dissonance and distractions.
  2. Delegitimizing: People might discredit the source of dissonance, labeling it as untrustworthy or biased.
  3. Limiting impact: Individuals reduce the importance of dissonance by convincing themselves that their behavior is justified.

Examples of Cognitive Dissonance

Common examples include smoking despite knowing its health risks, being an animal lover but consuming meat, or believing in gender equality while expecting a partner to handle most household chores.

Causes of Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance can result from forced compliance, limited choices, effort invested in an action, or even addiction, which can make it challenging to align behavior with one’s values.

Effects of Cognitive Dissonance

Experiencing cognitive dissonance can lead to stress and unhappiness, along with feelings of powerlessness or guilt when left unresolved. Avoiding dissonance through defense mechanisms can be detrimental to oneself and others. However, it can also serve as a catalyst for personal growth and social change.

How to Resolve Cognitive Dissonance

The most effective way to resolve cognitive dissonance is to ensure our actions align with our beliefs or vice versa. This can be achieved by changing behavior, thoughts, or perceptions of our actions.

Seeking Help

While not a mental health condition, cognitive dissonance can be distressing. Seeking support from a doctor or therapist is advisable if it leads to addiction, work or relationship problems, stress, anxiety, or overwhelming guilt.


Cognitive dissonance is a natural part of the human experience, arising when our actions and beliefs clash. Recognizing it and addressing the underlying discomfort can lead to personal growth and a more fulfilling life. If cognitive dissonance becomes a persistent issue, seeking professional help is a valuable option.

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