Use Cognitive Dissonance to Push Out of the Comfort Zone
By Lonzo Smith
I teach a course at Georgia Military College called Perspectives. What I attempt to do is introduce students to the idea that there is weight in what they think and that every day is an opportunity for growth and change.
However, work is required — and often radically honest personal assessment using the concepts of cognitive dissonance and discomfort are required to experience growth.
Cognition is the mental process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and the senses. Dissonance is the lack of harmony. Discomfort is an uneasiness, hardship or pain.
When cognitive dissonance exists in our lives, we are experiencing inconsistency or conflict in our beliefs, attitudes, behaviors and perception. This produces discomfort.
Our natural response is to take action to reduce discomfort by focusing on more supportive beliefs, seeking and acquiring new information, and reducing the importance of the conflicting belief.
For example, if a person smokes, that person might know that smoking negatively affects overall health, but by focusing on more supportive beliefs, rationalizing that it’s just one unhealthy habit or negotiating that he or she will eat healthy as if it’s a tradeoff, that person reduces the discomfort in his or her mind.
I tend to think there is power in discomfort and that it brings about engagement and change. Often, we want to change, but we don’t want the discomfort that comes with the change, such as going back to school to have a more rewarding career or working out to get better abs.
I believe we run from discomfort because we have equated comfort with happiness. People can become so comfortable that they are miserable, and they accept the status quo of their lives because it is easier.
When we experience pain and tragedy, we put on a brave face and tell people we are fine, struggling to find that same level of comfort. Instead, we should lean in and stop trying to re-create comfort, equating that to happiness.
Pain is the catalyst for change. It is part of the effort and it is everywhere — at home, at work and in every relationship. It is in the struggle that we will find magic as we stretch our limits, improve ourselves, change our way of thinking and grow. Once we push forward through the discomfort and feel the reward of growth and change, once we experience the rush that discomfort provides, we learn that there is massive potential on the other side.
The next time you think you don’t have time or that you’re just too busy, stop and think about whether this thought is a bout of laziness in disguise, attempting to hold you down in the comfort zone and not enter the courage zone to make a change.
Lonzo Smith is the senior admissions counselor and adjunct faculty for Georgia Military College. GMC is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools-Commission on Colleges. For questions about Georgia Military College, call 706.993.1123 or visit its website at gmc.edu.