Using Cognitive Dissonance to Trigger Reality Change

I realized, that in my previous post, I went on and on about cognitive dissonance without making the point I started out to make. (That never happens to me)

I'll see if I can put my thoughts, which seem profound in my head, on paper and have them make any kind of sense. I've been thinking about universal laws; as defined by the 'new thought movement'. More specifically the 'Law of Attraction' and how the way we deal with cognitive dissonance helps explain the law of attraction.

Let's accept, for sake of this discussion, the idea that our reality is a result of our thoughts. Also meaning that two people can be having the same experience but each person's reality is different. One person's reality might be that they think of themselves as a victim (so their reality turns out quite dismal) and the other person's reality may be that they think of themselves as living a charmed life (so everything always turns out roses). Then because of these two opposite 'subjective realities' of victim vs charmed life; a physical reality begins to shape and both realities exist side by side; having been born from the same exact experience.

I know I'm simplifying and I know there are many hard questions not answered by this simplistic point of view. I'm not attempting to answer all questions in one writing. I'm just not that good. What I am attempting to do is answer how cognitive dissonance; more specifically how we choose to deal with cognitive dissonance, and the law of attraction are intertwined.

In my previous post I mentioned that people will use one, or more, of these three strategies to reduce or minimize dissonance:

  • Focus on more supportive beliefs that outweigh the dissonant belief or behavior
  • Reduce the importance of the conflicting belief
  • Change the conflicting belief so that it is consistent with other beliefs or behaviors

These strategies all boil down to the act of accumulating, or accepting, the things into our reality that fit our beliefs while at the same time rejecting those things that don't. As we do this, either on an unconscious or conscience level, we form our reality. Our reality then supports and validates our beliefs; our beliefs become more and more solid and other people's thoughts and experiences don't shake our belief. Because our belief is now our reality. Our reality is only what we accept into it. 

If we think we are going to fail and if we think we have a lousy job. If that's our belief then we will only accept the things into our reality that support and validate that belief therefore 'attracting' more like experiences that will continue to validate our belief. Eventually we create the reality that our life sucks and our experience is proof of it.

Maybe this formula will explain how I think about it:
(Cognitive Dissonance) >> Discomfort/Anxiety >> Strategies to reduce cognitive dissonance >> Accepting only experiences that validate our belief >> Proof of our belief >> More experiences and information that prove our belief (Law of Attraction) >> Reality.

Am I making any sense to anyone out there?

Occasionally we bump up against someone or something that seems very real and important but it goes against our belief and our reality and it causes cognitive dissonance. Sometimes it's obvious that it's time to tackle this dissonance rather than just minimize it.

If we want to change our reality then we need to examine our beliefs and be willing to blow them apart; totally deconstruct our entire belief system to see which belief(s) are the cause of the dissonance. This is a difficult process. It can mean turning our backs on things we have held dear to us all of our lives; however, I believe that if beliefs we have always held near and dear to us are worth keeping they will fit into our new paradigm, our new reality, and as we reconstruct our belief system the tenants that matter most to us will survive IF they support the reality we now want.

If we want to change our reality we need to take the formula above and break the cycle; change it up a bit. It's difficult to do because on an unconscious level we are following the strategies above; so we need to be very conscious in how we approach this effort.

Cognitive Dissonance >> Discomfort/Anxiety >> Identify the conflicting belief >> Open up to the possibility that your belief may be wrong >> Non-objectively gather information that disproves your belief (deconstruct) >> Put it all back together again; allowing only the information that validates, and supports, your desired belief (reconstruct) >> Proof of desired belief >> Reality (Law of Attraction).

For me this makes sense. I guess it fits my current reality and my current belief system. Somewhere along the line someone will say something or I'll read or experience something that cause cognitive dissonance and I will start the whole thing over again.

Life is learning...


  1. The temptation is, of course, to believe that we can change our circumstances if we change our attitude and outlook toward those circumstances. I don't know that I believe that; in most cases, the circumstance in which we find ourselves is objective rather than subjective. I don't care how upbeat and positive you are, or how completely willing you are to cognitively identify a situation as beneficial; if you're a Jew on a cattle car heading to Auschwitz, your positivity doesn't mean crap. The circumstance is objective; your view of it is subjective--and whether your cognition is positive or negative doesn't affect that circumstance at all.

  2. I agree with you Laurie. The thing I don't like about the whole "Law of Attraction" theory, especially as subscribed to in the books like the 'Secret'. Is that somehow people start judging and criticizing themselves and others for all the perceived 'bad' things happening in their lives; thinking if only he/she/I could change their/my attitude this whole thing would disappear.

    When I eluded to 'simplistic point of view' in my post above. I was thinking exactly what you stated. There are times when 'shit' happens and bad things happen to good people and the innocent child is violated. These are difficult questions and I don't feel I have the answers for them.

    However, in your example above; don't you think your attitude does mean something? Sure it's not going to change the physical reality you are in but it may affect the way you enter into the situation. You chose a very sensitive and definitive example and I appreciate, and agree with, what you're saying.

    Fortunately I have never faced the horrible realities that many before us have. I hear of injustices and horrific things happening all over the world and my heart breaks. I feel we shouldn't sit on our hands and allow things to just be as they are. We need to promote change and actively work to bring about fairness. In our own lives and in the world around us.

    I know people who have taken their subjective reality and their 'higher' mind so seriously that they move through their physical reality with no real affect on anyone or anything. They might as well shut their eyes and cover their ears and spin circles that's how much good all their 'higher' thinking has done anyone.

    However; at least in small ways, and in my personal life, I find if I pay attention to the 'dissonance' arising at times; not ignoring it or pushing it away by 'thinking only positive thoughts', I will affect change. I think if I open myself up to possibilities and I see 'this' or 'that' as an opportunity; trying not to get caught up in my own mindset by simply minimizing the dissonance so that I 'feel' better about what is happening then I will move forward. Does that make sense? It makes total sense in my head. :)

    Maybe the difference between 'positive thinking' that affects change and 'positive thinking' that affects no change is the point in the 'formula' where you choose to either minimize the dissonance or expand the dissonance.

  3. Hmmmm ... this was a very insightful read, Jill. I'm sure it was very defining for you to come to this personal place of understanding of cognitive dissonance and your own comfort with who you really are. I feel like the word for this journey is more about being congruent-- true to yourself. For me, I have felt that more than any other aspect of me is that I am who I am, doing what I do because of who I am. "To thine [mine]own self be true." I feel like for a long time, I showed my "surface self" -- not allowing anyone to go any deeper into me than I was willing to display. It was easier. I remember a psychology class in college that delved into the concept of personal awareness through the theory of "Johari's window." This was a new "visual" concept that caused me to reflect on the fact that there was quite a bit of me that I kept hidden ---closed by whatever "curtain" I chose to protect me from what others might see and judge. Now, I'm not saying that I totally prescribe to the whole johari-jibberish, but ... it did open up for me a little "dialogue with myself." Later on in my life, I figured that the me that I was, was actually not too bad. Not bad. It was okay to be vulnerable to a point (again, carefully letting out a little of me and allowing in a little outside perception as I "tested" my lowered defenses). The thing that I have found is that the more I release my vulnerability, the stronger I have become. I don't worry so much about what people think. I am who I am, I think what I think and I say what I say. The more I have allowed myself to "be", the more I allow others to "be", too. We are who we are, we do what we do and we say what we say. The more open I have become, the more outstretched and welcoming my reach. I am more comfortable with the "public me" and less worried about what the "private me" used to fret about. I am becoming more congruent. The "who I am" on the outside and the "who I am" on the inside are becoming more closely -- One Person -- Me.
    I am glad you are you, Jill. Love you (thanks for the "tank" you have provided for thinking ;) )
    Loves, Maureen

  4. Thanks for the comment Maureen. Your point on 'being congruent' is well taken and also very true. My thought is that it is when we are living, or trying to live, the congruent life that dissonance happens. Then depending on how we choose to deal with the dissonance determines the outcome or the reality we manifest.

    For example: I am going along in my happiness singing a lovely tune; thinking that everyone has created their own reality and life is fair, then I bump into the reality that there is a lot of misunderstanding about women and abuse.

    If I choose to rid myself of the anxiety this causes me by thinking to myself that this is just the reality; and these women somehow manifested this life for themselves; therefore, it is fair. Then I don't affect any change. On the other hand if I take the anxiety and the concern this dissonance has created for me and I expand it by reaching out to women without judging their situation and begin speaking out for them; then I will affect change.

    By expanding rather than minimizing the dissonance I begin to live a more authentic and congruent life.

    I'm curious about "Johari's window" I'm going to look into it.

  5. When I was about five, I finally caught on to the fact that I could never understand what other people were thinking. It drove me crazy - I kept looking at the people in my life and trying to figure what was in their minds. It struck me as very sad that I was only limited to one point of view.

    I didn't hear the term cognitive dissonance until I was an adult but once I understood what it meant, boy did that particular term hit home.