For example, consider this conversation we had the other night. I had proposed the idea to her that cognitive dissonance is not like when life gives you lemons you make lemonade but rather: when life gives you lemons, look at what bad decision you made that brought them into your life. She replied that it is more like this (paraphrased and somewhat embellished): You spend a bunch of money on lemons, thinking they will be delicious. But to your chagrin, you discover they taste terrible. Rather than having to face the awful reality that you truly made a Bad Decision, you lie to yourself and pretend that all is peachy. Or lemony. That is cognitive dissonance.
That little bit was influenced by something she had shown me, from Wikipedia:
A powerful cause of dissonance is an idea in conflict with a fundamental element of the self-concept, such as "I am a good person" or "I made the right decision." The anxiety that comes with the possibility of having made a bad decision can lead to rationalization, the tendency to create additional reasons or justifications to support one's choices. A person who just spent too much money on a new car might decide that the new vehicle is much less likely to break down than his or her old car. This belief may or may not be true, but it would likely reduce dissonance and make the person feel better. Dissonance can also lead to confirmation bias, the denial of disconfirming evidence, and other ego defense mechanisms.
All of this has me thinking about the nature of bad decisions. Who judges decisions and on what are those judgments based? What goes into the making of a decision judged as being a bad one? These questions, of course, cannot be specifically answered except in the context of specific situations and decisions.
One thing that seems significant here is belief, what a person believes to be true about a situation. Beliefs are built on other beliefs. And decisions, good or bad, seem to be irreversible in that they are final at the time they are made. This being true, those decisions are effective until they are replaced with new decisions that change the outcome or maybe just the perception of the previous decision. Again, this is generally speaking and not referring specifically to any particular situation.
Applying it to the situation described above (the Wikipedia excerpt), let's say I am that person who paid too much for the car and in order to make myself feel better about it, I focus on how the new car is in better mechanical condition than the old car. I cannot undo the purchase of the car (the bad decision), will never get that money back. But not only can I appreciate that I feel safer in this new car, I can also focus on the real value of that money. So I "wasted" it; money is money and I can get more. Maybe I will have to spend a little less in some other areas for awhile, maybe even for a long while since I am now making those high monthly car payments. But rather than resent or berate myself for the decision to buy the car, I could instead focus on the enjoyment of that car, despite the cost of it. Or, if it bugs me that much, I could sell it and buy something I believed to be of a value appropriate to the amount of money spent.
But I am getting out of my element here, for money is something that I am not comfortable talking about. Maybe this is because of the way I fear money's influence on the decisions that I make, some of them very personal and others quite ordinary. One of my mother's favorite expressions was always: money isn't important unless you don't have any. I guess this holds true for me as well. Very true, in fact.
My financial situation right now is that I am not bringing in any money at all while my husband is carrying the full weight of our financial burden. This will not be the case for much longer, I hope, because my intention is to find a paid internship, now that I have my degree and am preparing to take the state licensing test.
Meanwhile, back to cognitive dissonance, I am experiencing a lot of it lately, which I suppose is a good reason to want to explore it further. Here is another quote from the same source I referenced above:
The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, or by justifying or rationalizing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.
Yes, I'd say reducing the "uncomfortable feeling" resulting from a situation where "one idea implies the opposite of another" is something I would definitely like to see happen in my life. This being true, I am making the decision to be grateful for the decisions I have made that have brought truly good things into my life. Some of these decisions were not easy to make; I knew people I cared about would object to them (or at least feel uncomfortable with them); but they turned out to be the "right" thing for me to do after all.