When we are in harmony with ourselves, our thoughts and actions work together and are in alignment. If our thoughts tell us that we are a good friend and our actions involve calling and going out with our friends regularly, we feel at peace with who we are. However, this isn’t always the case. What happens if:
You think of yourself as a good father but you are continually missing your son’s baseball games and dinner with the family to work late.
You think you treat your employees well, but you never give raises, make them work weekends, and take credit for their accomplishments.
You see yourself as an active and in shape individual but you spend 10 hours a day behind a desk and you can’t remember the last time you walked further than to your car in the parking lot.
When thoughts and beliefs don’t match actions, it causes something psychologists term cognitive dissonance. What it boils down to is that you get a feeling of discomfort when you must hold two conflicting believes (or display a behavior that conflicts with a belief). When this inconsistency happens, something must change in order to relieve this icky feeling. However, if we don’t recognize what’s going on, the results can easily turn ugly.
So what happens when we experience the cognitive dissonance that is a result of a
thought/behavior clash? There are a few possibilities.
People Will Stop Believing What We Say Most people will believe it when you say you’re a good dad…the first few times. But when they continually see evidence of you skipping games and putting work first, they’ll eventually stop. They’ll not only stop believing what you say about your parenting skills, but they’ll likely stop believing other things you say as well. We can all see what a slippery slope this is!
We Become Experts at Rationalization
We’ve all rationalized at some point in our life, but those whose actions and thoughts don’t mesh become experts at it. ‘I’m still a good dad if I at least make it to the championship game’ might be one example, or ‘To be a good dad I have to be a good provider so staying at the office is more important than having dinner with my family’. This eases the tension just enough for us to continue on our fractured path, but it certainly doesn’t solve any problems.
We Start to Experience Anxiety
Unless someone is a narcissist or a psychopath, they’ll start to experience anxiety when too much cognitive dissonance occurs. They probably won’t know where this anxiety is coming from or what to do about it, and it’s quite likely that it could lead to depression, addictive behaviors to numb the feelings, or anxiety disorders.
If your thoughts and actions don’t match, it’s a sign that you need to look more deeply into your core beliefs and what’s truly important to you. Do you have a hierarchy in place that helps guide decisions based on what you believe in?
In the above example, if the father had put thought into defining his a value hierarchy and in that hierarchy he placed family as a more important value than work, he could easily make the right decisions. When he is faced with working late or being with his son, he could easily see that being a good father is more important to him than climbing the corporate ladder and he would choose the game. Or, if in being completely honest with himself he finds that he truly does value work over family (no judgment when it comes to defining your personal values!), then in the above scenario, knowing his hierarchy would allow him to choose work without the negative side effects of dissonance.
If you need help creating a value hierarchy or believe you are experiencing cognitive
dissonance, please feel free to reach out. I’d love to help!
Trish Cody has over 18 years of experience consulting with some of the world’s top Fortune 500 Companies. Today, as an ICF and iPEC Certified Coach and Energy Leadership Master Practitioner, Trish works with clients to uncover their core values and beliefs, clearly see how they are showing up in their behaviors and impacting their success, and to shift their thinking to naturally attract positivity and success. For more information, visit www.TrishCody.com.