In order to feel happy in our lives, our beliefs and behaviors have to coincide with one another because when they don’t, we experience internal conflict.
For example, if you truly want to be an entrepreneur, an artist or a writer, but you work a 9-5 job in a cubicle, then you’ll experience an uncomfortable feeling of inconsistency inside you.
In psychology, they call this inconsistency we feel between our thoughts and our behavior “cognitive dissonance.”
But the thing is we don’t always experience cognitive dissonance because our mind has a mechanism to go against this inconsistency, which isn’t always a good thing.
In the book “The Winner Effect,” neuroscientist Ian Robertson says,
“The human mind is motivated to reduce incompatibility between what it thinks and feels on the one hand, and how it behaves on the other. Where it detects such inconsistency, it often rationalizes by changing the thought and associated feeling to be consistent with the behavior.”
Let me explain.
Carol Dweck, a researcher at Stanford, did a study where she wanted to find out what would happen if you gave children a material or monetary reward for doing school work.
It’s important to point out that before the study, the children enjoyed doing their school work.
But what Dweck found was that as a result of giving children monetary rewards, they would actually experience a loss of motivation and enjoyment when doing their school work.
Why is this? Well cognitive dissonance played a role.
The children were doing something that they enjoyed at first, but because they were paid to do it, they found it to be inconsistent with their beliefs.
Growing up, you hear all the time how hard and boring work is supposed to be, but you do it anyways because you have to make money.
So in order to create consistency and rationalize their behavior, the children will think to themselves, “Why am I doing this? They are paying me, so it must be because I shouldn’t be enjoying it.”
By paying kids money as an incentive to do school work, they assume that what they are doing probably isn’t supposed to be enjoyable, which results in a lack of motivation and enjoyment.
This idea also works in other major areas of our lives, such as our love life: “I just married this person, so that must mean I really love this person,” when that might not be true.
In relationships, some people may constantly feel jealous and worried in their relationship. As a result, we experience cognitive dissonance.
People will reason to themselves that this must be what love is: “I feel jealous when my partner stays out late at night, so that must mean I’m in love with this person.”
But this is not true love.
This is your brain trying to rationalize your behavior so that you don’t experience cognitive dissonance.
Understand that cognitive dissonance is a good thing because it lets us know when something isn’t going right in our life.
But you have to earn to realize when your brain is trying to rationalize inconsistencies because even though this brain mechanism may make you feel better or happier, it doesn’t always have your best interest in mind.