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Cognitive Dissonance

cognitive dissonance hat      I just made up a new answer for people who take me to task for my sometimes-inconsistent opinions: “I have a love/hate relationship with cognitive dissonance.”

Or as the saying goes, “Cognitive dissonance: you can’t live with it, and you can’t live without it.”

The notion of cognitive dissonance is a handy one, because it explains a lot. (It is also the only concept I recall from my Introduction to Psychology class all those years ago.) The phrase “cognitive dissonance” refers to the mental tension one experiences when one attempts to hold two contradictory ideas in one’s head simultaneously. And, let’s face it, in our society there are plenty of times when we cling tenaciously to convictions that clearly contradict each other. For example…

  • “It’s all in God’s hands” versus “It’s all up to me.”
  • “It’s important to be humble and self-effacing” versus “It’s important to assert oneself and to get ahead.”
  • “I long for the simpler life and will give up material success in order to achieve it” versus “I long for material success and will embrace busyness and complexity in order to achieve it.”
  • “I have 400 friends on Facebook” versus “I have no close relationships.”
  • “It’s good for my kids to relax and play” versus “It’s good for my kids to be involved in lots of extra-curricular activities.”
  • “I am not defined by what I do” versus “I’d be lost if I ever got laid off.”

Each one of us has our own cognitive dissonance list. Right now, for example, I’m in the middle of planning for an important fundraising event at work. As a person of faith I believe fully that God will move in the details to make the outcome exactly what it ought be. But as a relatively neurotic and overly self-reliant person I also believe fully that the success or failure of the event rests 100% on my shoulders and if I drop the ball the whole endeavor will collapse in a heap. No pressure, of course. In reality, both statements have elements of truth: I need to work hard, and I also need to pray hard. That second part is the part I too often overlook.

If you find yourself stressing out over some of these kinds of thoughts from time to time, it can be useful to stop and realize that cognitive dissonance is a very real psychological by-product of a very real internal conflict. Maybe the stress you’re experiencing stems from trying to balance two ideas in your mind that are in conflict with one another. You may not be able to resolve the conflict — that’s why it creates dissonance, after all — but at least understanding why the conflict exists might help you gain some clarity. News flash for each of us: we’re all more or less normal.

Or are we? “I’m normal” versus “I’m abnormal.” Hmmm…there’s a concept sure to create plenty of cognitive dissonance in the best of us!

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Posted by on April 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Why Do We People of Faith Stress Out Sometimes?

Calendar year 2013 is over, and as fundraisers we’re still catching our breath…maybe hoping the mail that shows up in the next few days will bring a few more checks with those 2013 postmarks we’re hoping for. And as we reflect on the year just past — can we talk? — we have to ask, “If we trust God so much, why do we stress out so often?” I suspect the reason the Bible tells us not to stress out (“Be anxious for nothing,” says Paul…Why worry about food and clothing, asks Jesus) is because worry is a natural part of the human condition. I think, therefore I obsess! It’s another classic case of Christian cognitive dissonance: we believe it’s all up to God but we behave as if it’s all up to us.

As fundraisers we live in this tension: how much is God, how much is me? (A pastor friend of mine used to call this “living between ‘already’ and ‘not yet'” — between what God has already done and what He has yet to do.) Yes, we trust God. Yes, we make our plans, work to our best ability and take both our failures and our successes too personally.

So how’s your balance between faith and freak-out? Any resolutions in 2014 to find that elusive balance between the serene walk of faith and the roller coaster ride of excessive self-reliance?

Happy New Year, fellow pilgrims!

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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