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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.

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How to deal with toxic thoughts

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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.

About resilience. What I learned from my orchid

orchidSome time ago I accidentally broke the growing stem of one of my orchids. I felt so sad because I thought that it had been trying so hard to grow and all that energy would now go to waste because an outside factor made its purpose disappear.

I started thinking about how this parallels with our existence. Sometimes you do all the right things : set a goal, make a plan, follow through and suddenly you find that because of something unforeseen you have to stop. Even sadder, right? You can say that this is the risk we are taking when starting something new – there’s always a possibility of failure even when we give 100%+.

What happened to my orchid later on? Well, surprise, surprise, the broken stem started growing again. True, it was a bit smaller in diameter and I thought it did not stand much chance. However in a few weeks it grew tall and strong and flower buds appeared. How amazingly beautiful!

Coming back to the parallel I first made, this was the best lesson possible. Sure, failure happens, we get sidetracked at times, but as long as we commit and know in our heart and mind that the goal we had set is what is right, then we will find a way to accomplish it. It is not failure when you learn and grow stronger!

Even if motivation seems hard to come by, look around you and you will find inspiration in the most unlikely of places (like your flower shelf).