In the last post, I discussed the phenomena of cognitive dissonance. Which is a psychological conflict resulting from incongruous or conflicting beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously? As Homo Sapiens we experience this all the time because we are designed by evolution to be belief-making machines. It is a part of the survival mechanisms built deep within our brains. Now in the world, we live in with the continuous flow of information that is often times inaccurate, wrong, or just plain outright lies. The opportunity for cognitive dissonance to arise is even greater.
Why would you be interested in managing the dissonance within your mind? I believe there are three reasons. The first one is to see the truth in our lives with as much clarity as we can. Secondly, cognitive dissonance is part of the suffering we all experience from time to time. As a human being, at some point in our lives, we will suffer. If we want to end our suffering and be at peace, then we should confront and manage our cognitive dissonances. Lastly, if you want to actually be “open-minded” and approach life from a contemplative point of view, you must see the bias and disconnect that exists within you. Here are three ways you can confront and manage cognitive dissonance.
Question Your Beliefs
“If you understand everything, you must be misinformed.”
Have you recently or for the matter have you ever questioned why you believe the things you believe? I just don’t mean topics that may be up for debate, I mean everything you believe. Because when it comes to human matters, almost everything that we all get so worked up is just stuff we, homo sapiens, made up over the centuries. Imagine if there were no humans, would your belief still hold true? Additionally, it cannot be overstated how important those first six years of our lives are. Many of the imprints made during those six years we live, may stay with us for the rest of our years. It can also not be overstated how important a factor the environment we live in plays in our thoughts and behavior formation. This is also true for the people we associate with the most. You may have heard the saying you are the five people combined that you surround yourself with the most. Why is that? In your brain are neurons which are known as mirror neurons. You will begin to mimic the language and behaviors of the environment you are in after just a short while. We are incredibly adaptive creatures, and part of the reason is the mirror neurons. We do this unconsciously. In fact, about 90% of our lives are lived on an unconscious level. That might be a generous figure. It is probably closer to 95%. We all live most of our lives in a waking sleep. Take some time and sit down and write out some of your core beliefs and put them to the test. A scientific test if you will and apply reason and logic. Do they hold up under this kind of scrutiny? While writing down these beliefs and questioning them, write down the pros and cons of holding each particular belief. If you have some beliefs that have more marks in the con column then perhaps it is time to change that belief. Taking action and engaging in this exercise will cause you discomfort in some instances. That is the dissonance staring at you right in the face causing your brain to seek comfort. It is time to work through the discomfort. We should all be skeptics when it comes to what we believe and what we don’t believe.
Examine and uncover your conditioning
”Be aware of our conditioning! Drop and dissolve inner blockage.”
- Bruce Lee
This exercise ties into directly questioning your beliefs but goes deeper. We are all conditioned in some form or another. You would have to be raised in a bubble which is completely separate from all influences and environments to not experience conditioning. Even if you were raised in a bubble you would still be subject to conditioning, for the bubble would be your conditioner. It would be the teacher. If you wish to overcome any cognitive dissonances, it is important to then examine your inner conditioning. For this is where the dissonance arises. What we believe is based upon the past whether it is true or not……. The culture along with the people who raise us which for most are our parents who determine much of the conditioning we have. The culture you currently reside in also has a huge impact on the conditioning and belief system. If you were living 500 years ago your beliefs would be radically different than they are now. Some of the beliefs that we now view as ridiculous were considered truth at that time. Move ahead five hundred years into the future at those who will be alive. They may well look upon some of our current beliefs and think that it was ridiculous to believe them. Future generations will view us as primitive perhaps even barbaric.
Become The Witness
My witness is the empty sky.
- Jack Kerouac
I have read and heard many gurus over the years say that one should become the observer of your thoughts and lives. I was exposed to this idea the first time I read Ram Dass’ book “Be Here Now.” He mentions it numerous times in this book. Why is becoming the witness so important? When you do, you begin to see how irrational and nonsensical our thoughts can at times be? When you become the witness, you begin to not get so caught up in them and identify with them. It helps us to get so much emotional attachment to them. We can identify the unhelpful judgmental ones much easier. It doesn't mean that there are less of them at least for me, but I have become more aware when they are present.
What is the best method for becoming the witness? Breath Meditation is in my estimation is the best method to become an observer. When you’re meditating and solely focusing on your breath it gives you the best opportunity to witness the never-ending flow of thoughts and how quickly they change and move.
Another method would be to do a specific type of journaling. A self-journal that you open and write in at least six times a day. This actually comes for the Tibetans’. The practice is to write on a small enough journal that you can carry with you at all times. What you can do is, in the morning start with a gratitude journal and then write down things you will do today to help you follow a mindful/contemplative lifestyle and then at six different times during the day you get your journal out, and make an entry on how you’re doing both negatively and positively. Next, you write down an action that you need to take to either comply or stay on course. Finally, in the evening or before you go to bed, you review your day and write down the three worst things that happened today and the three best things. This is a challenging practice that requires a lot of self-discipline. If I’m honest with myself I need to get better at completing each day’s practice for when I do, I notice, although not right away my life and more importantly my worldview improves. There is a website (www.sixtimesbook.com) which explains in greater detail the practice and the opportunity to purchase a booklet from Amazon which provides a daily template.