In high school, one of my teachers told a story about how she attempted to guilt her daughter into doing something. Her daughter’s response was “don’t try and make me feel guilty; guilt is a wasted emotion”. My teacher explained she was proud of her daughter in that moment and felt she had taught her well. In a way, that makes sense, why should we waste our time feeling guilty? We beat ourselves up for our choices and feel guilty, which accomplishes nothing other than making us feel bad. And to make matters worse, we will repeat the same cycle again, often the very next day!
Recently, I have been on a kick to have healthier habits, and by recently, I mean for years ?. We all know what getting healthy involves: eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep and moderation in all things. I know this, yet I go out with friends, I enjoy dinner parties and wine tastings, and I’ve even been known to take a walk with a cigar ?. Doing activities that you enjoy is a part of life; that is what I tell myself as I rationalize my actions and make a promise to do better the next day. And I usually do follow through and do better, at least until the evening comes.
In the world of psychology there is a term for this: “cognitive dissonance”. Simply put, it is defined as the perception of contradictory information, where the information is a person’s actions, feelings, ideas, beliefs, and values. If these are out of sync we become very uncomfortable. In fact, we often will try to rationalize our behavior to bring it back in line with our beliefs, so we feel better about our actions. Sound familiar? I think it’s fair to say we all suffer from cognitive dissonance.
There is dissonance between my desire to be healthy, and the actions I take to enjoy my life. To resolve this internal debate, I’m constantly working to find a balance that I am comfortable with. This is a continual battle of mine, but it’s a good one. I work out so that I can enjoy the social aspects of my life, and I cut back on certain vices so that I can be healthier. I’m not always perfect, but when I fail, I forgive myself and rebalance. The forgiveness is important; feeling guilty is a waste of time. It’s better to take action and rebalance—in other words, resolve the dissonance!
“You have to be reasonable with yourself and not feel guilty when things aren’t perfect.”– Jaclyn Smith
What are your internal conflicts and what actions will you take this weekend to rebalance?