On Cognitive Dissonace

Cognitive dissonance is the scientific term for the angst we experience when a contradiction arises between our thoughts, values or beliefs and our actions or outside conditions. Personally, I enjoy acknowledging this emotion and using it as fuel for development. If something feels wrong in the way I do things or in the way I am perceiving events directed at myself, it’s time for a change.

There is something romantic about constantly feeling out of sorts and out of place with the world. While this can be the perfect excuse for discussions about the meaning of life over a glass of wine with friends it is also very counterproductive. My advice: don’t indulge in this powerless mental state, get to the root of it and then turn it around.

Cognition is what makes us human. We also love comfort and tend to get stuck in our comfort zones. And this is what makes getting over cognitive dissonance so difficult. So how to do it?

I recently turned 30, which also brought up a lot of soul searching and rummaging about where I am, where I wanted to be when I was younger and where I see myself during the next 5, 10, 15 etc. years. Because things are never perfect (and nor will they ever be), dissonance appeared. I visualized it as contrasting colors overlapping, turning a somewhat murky shade.

What I realized is that there is a fine line between focusing on something for the short term and letting it take over your being. There will always be lifestyle changes that we have to make and we will sometimes (maybe more often than not) be tired or jaded. So instead of letting the colors mix randomly, I chose to influence their brush strokes and match the nuances.

When you have long term goals and ideals, when you don’t let yourself forget you “why”, you’ll be ok. There are unlimited resources coming from this commitment to be true to yourself. For example, if I am at peace with myself and I know that I am constantly working in line with my “why”, I can tackle the day to day disruptions and not let them overcome me. I can see the colors match beautifully again.

There is no way to avoid cognitive dissonance so use it to your advantage. Reconnect with yourself, change, and adjust what you can, while not forgetting to enjoy life and count your blessings.


How to deal with toxic thoughts


Since I can remember I have been a perfectionist and type A personality. This has some advantages, however it has the overwhelming disadvantage that the person from whom I demand most is myself. As a consequence I found my mind flooded with toxic thoughts. In this post I will focus on how to avoid or at least control them.

I believe there are three types of thoughts: productive, cleansing and toxic.

The productive thoughts are those that result in some type of action and generate momentum. For example “I will take actions A and B for result C”, “I feel good doing this, I will do it more”.

Cleansing thoughts are my favorite because they occur when we daydream, when we allow ourselves the luxury of pondering. They are the mind’s spa day.

And finally, toxic thoughts are more common than we would like, they are the ones that stop actions, generate or exacerbate negative feelings and cloud our judgment.

Before you can stop a toxic thought you need to acknowledge it for what it is. I have found that most of the times they refer to generalized statements which do not hold in reality. These sound like “I always fail”, “I am not good enough”, “People will laugh at me” etc. Another characteristic is that they tend to go around in circles: there is an outside trigger (like a new situation, a pending decision, an argument with someone), we issue the statement in our mind, then we try and find validation in the past or in our imagination only to magnify and repeat the same thing.

So how do we break the circle?

⁃ First of all, stop trying to validate the thought and start finding proof against it. This will happen fast enough especially if we are dealing with a generalization.

⁃ Focus on the present, what you are actually doing, where you are, what you have and be grateful for these things.

⁃ Write the opposite of what you are thinking down on a piece of paper and turn in into an affirmation.

⁃ If you are afraid of something, picture the worst thing that could happen and then make a plan of how you would handle it.

⁃ Remember, that everyone has these thoughts at some point in their lives, the trick is to control them.

To sum up, I recommend you look inside your mind and identify the toxic thought which comes up most often and prove it wrong. You can use what I listed or your own method. The next time a new one appears you will already know what to do.

Depending on the situation you are in and the type of thoughts you are having, there are also more advanced techniques that can be used. If you are interested in this topic, please leave a comment on this post.

How to clear your mind – a daily practice

Photo credits: Corina Negriuc

When I make decisions, I don’t like questioning them on and on. When I go about daily life, I want to live in the moment as much as possible, without drifting away on a thought or getting caught up on emotions. This is why having a clear mind is one of the most important things for me. It is like a basic need.

What does it mean? Imagine you are driving on a road for the first time, you have some idea about the destination, distance and time it will take you to get there, but you have no navigation system and you need to pay attention to road signs and maybe ask for directions as well. Now compare doing this on a sunny spring day versus doing it in pouring rain.

I do think that emotions are and should be a part of our lives. However, there are good emotions and bad emotions (some even toxic), depending on the influence they have on us. How we feel should be a consequence of what we do, not the other way around.

For example, if you make a decision in anger, disappointment or in another negative state of mind, it is bound to be flawed, clouded. The same is true for acting under the influence of excitement, butterflies in the stomach or wearing pink spectacles.

People feel. People also enjoy daydreaming. It was proven and makes sense that some daydreaming is healthy and actually contributes to generating ideas.*

For the reasons above I have made a daily practice out of taking 15-30 minutes to do nothing, think about whatever comes up, explore what I feel. When I come across an idea, I write it down. When dark thoughts emerge, I acknowledge them and accept them. I’ll welcome any overly optimistic view, but treat with skepticism. Won’t these thoughts come up all the time? Yes, but then I set them aside for latter and “ignore” them temporarily.

After getting enough sleep, taking the time described above is the most powerful tool for keeping a clear mind. It works 95% of the time. If there are serious issues to be dealt with, involving other people, then by all means don’t dismiss them as “negative thinking”. Telling the difference between toxic thoughts and actual problems is a skill worth developing as well. But this deserves its own post…

*) here are the links to a couple of articles on the importance of daydreaming:

why daydreaming is good for us

the benefits of daydreaming

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