Monday, November 30, 2009

more thoughts about cognitive dissonance

So, as I mentioned earlier, my daughter and I have had this ongoing dialogue about cognitive dissonance. She brought it up and I have kept it going since we have had some difficult moments with it. Mainly, the difficulty was me not really understanding it completely. And I admit I probably still don't get it, not quite. The idea intrigues me because it seems to explain some of the more perplexing mysteries of life. Like how people can see things so differently from each other and yet not be "wrong" in their perception.

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

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.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Blog Time

It seems about time for a blog entry. Today is supposedly "Black Friday," and I have no idea who came up with that term. But it certainly seems appropriate, for the idea of rushing out and shopping after one day, a single solitary day, of stores being closed for a national holiday, just seems ... well, let me put it this way: sadly American. We spend Thanksgiving Day feasting, gorging ourselves with food glorious food, and yet go on a "fast" from shopping that same day. Hardly anything is open on Thanksgiving, but the day after....

Okay, enough about that. I started this month with the intention to write a novel in thirty days. Yes, I laughed as I wrote that last sentence. It is embarrassing. But I did succeed at doing just that two years ago: NaNoWriMo 2007 Winner

Please forgive me, I needed that pat on the back. I feel sort of redeemed by this past success but still slightly embarrassed by what I did this year, which is start the project knowing it was the month I would also be faced with finishing my master's degree. If I had put my efforts into the novel this year, perhaps I wouldn't even have graduated. As it stands now, I am 40,546 words away from the 50,000 word finish line! The project ends in a few days and, needless to say, I am one of those people Chris Baty classifies as being in...

Group Three: The Go On Without Me's. For you, November turned out to be a very bad month to try and write a novel. Life went completely crazycakes, and you faced a never-ending series of demanding work or school projects, health emergencies, social obligations, and/or tech meltdowns. You managed to get a few good ideas down on paper, but never quite found your novel's rhythm. You're thinking of bowing out, and planning on giving it a try next year.

That's me. That's the group I'm in: Go On Without Me. But I got something I
know you didn't get: a watch. That's right. The president of the school I graduated from handed me a nifty watch after I walked across the stage to signify my achievement. It's a pretty watch, too. I am wearing it now. We all got watches. That was my prize whereas the NaNoWriMos won whatever they won this year. I don't care. (Oh, okay. Yes I do care. I hope they won cool stuff this year, too.)

But this isn't what I came here to talk about. No. The topic on my mind since early morning ... actually, since last night when my daughter and I were talking about it, is cognitive dissonance. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Cognitive dissonance. Say it out loud. Go ahead. See how it feels to say ...
cognitive dissonance. (Ha.) It means "the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, esp. as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change."

Is that ever
me! As much as I truly want to change particular attitudes and behaviors, the reality remains: I am what I am, and this is pretty much the person I have always been. The one who still gets stuck in the same behavioral patterns, putting myself into situations where I don't belong, where I need to remain neutral in order be effective. But who can be neutral? I mean really. Come on. Neutrality is for people without feelings or opinions. So, inevitably I insert myself wherever I go.

But this isn't what I really wanted to talk about here either. I want to cover the ground between the time I stopped working on the ill-fated month-long novel and now. I knew it was going downhill when I wrote these final words:

"Officially, as of now [sometime on November 12th], this project is HISTORY. I don't have the will to finish. NaNoFiniTo. It is a sense of RELIEF. Now I can look at all these characters (me) and see who 'they' really are: a bunch of psychopathic losers; now I can see where this is going and it isn't a pretty place. 'Nobody loves me and nobody cares,' Gloria whined to her dad. 'That's right, kiddo.' Brad looked at Gloria with a homicidal glint in his eye, pulled out ... a piece of paper and wrote ... THE END."

And that is how my story died. After that happened, I just started writing whatever was on my mind, putting it all
out there in the notebook I bought expressly for the novel wrtiting project. Life on life's terms. It seems to exist in a place of perpetual cognitive dissonance.

I'll come back and write more later, I hope.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


It has been awhile since I updated this blog. But since my "status" has changed (I am no longer a student), I figured what the heck. Here is a photo from my graduation ceremony on November 20th.