This is exactly what happens inside your brain when you realize you are drinking more than you should. In psychology this phenomenon has a fancy name—cognitive dissonance, defined as the mental stress or discomfort that is experienced by someone who holds two contradictory values, ideas, or beliefs at the same time.
How to Reduce Cognitive Dissonance
According to Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance, people try to seek consistency in their thoughts, beliefs, and opinions. So when there are conflicts between cognitions, people will take steps to reduce the dissonance and feelings of discomfort. They can go about doing this a few different ways.There are three key strategies to reduce or minimize cognitive dissonance:
Focus on more supportive beliefs that outweigh the dissonant belief or behavior.
For example, people who learn that greenhouse emissions result in global warming might experience feelings of dissonance if they drive a gas-guzzling vehicle. In order to reduce this dissonance, they might seek out new information that disputes the connection between greenhouse gasses and global warming. This new information might serve to reduce the discomfort and dissonance that the person experiences.
Reduce the importance of conflicting belief.
For example, a man who cares about his health might be disturbed to learn that sitting for long periods of time during the day are linked to a shortened lifespan. Since he has to work all day in an office and spends a great deal of time sitting, it is difficult to change his behavior in order to reduce his feelings of dissonance. In order to deal with the feelings of discomfort, he might instead find some way to justify his behavior by believing that his other healthy behaviors make up for his largely sedentary lifestyle.
Change the conflicting belief so that it is consistent with other beliefs or behaviors.
Changing the conflicting cognition 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.
Why is Cognitive Dissonance Important?
Cognitive dissonance plays a role in many value judgments, decisions, and evaluations. Becoming aware of how conflicting beliefs impact the decision-making process is a great way to improve your ability to make faster and more accurate choices.