Most of us feel more harmony in our lives when everything is consistent: our jobs, our homes, our habits, even our soft drinks. Consistency is the glue that holds everything in our lives together, thereby allowing us to cope with the world.
Think of all the people you admire. I'll bet, by and large, most of them are consistent, congruent people. What they believe, what they say, and what they do (even when no one is watching) flow together seamlessly. Typically, a high degree of such consistency in one's life is indicative of personal and intellectual strength. People are naturally more inclined--even subconsciously--to gravitate toward and follow individuals who are consistent in their behavior. The converse is also true: Inconsistency in one's personal and professional life is generally considered undesirable. The person whose beliefs, words, and deeds don't consistently match up is seen as hypocritical, two-faced, confused, or even mentally ill.
Leon Festinger formulated the cognitive dissonance theory in 1957 at Stanford University. He asserted, "When attitudes conflict with actions, attitudes or beliefs, we are uncomfortable and motivated to try to change." Festinger's theory sets the foundation for the Law of Dissonance.
The Law of Dissonance states that people will naturally act in a manner that is consistent with their cognitions (beliefs, attitudes, and values). Therefore, when people behave in a manner that is inconsistent with these cognitions, they find themselves in a state of discomfort. In such an uncomfortable state, they will naturally be inclined to adjust their behaviors or attitudes to regain mental and emotional consistency. When our beliefs, attitudes, and actions mesh, we live harmoniously. When they don't, we feel dissonance at some level--that is, we feel awkward, uncomfortable, unsettled, disturbed, upset, nervous, or confused. In order to eliminate or reduce such tension, we will do everything possible to change our attitudes and behavior, even if it means doing something we don't want to do.
Imagine that there is a big rubber band inside you. When dissonance is present, the rubber band begins to stretch. As long as the dissonance exists, the band stretches tighter and tighter. You've got to take action before it reaches a breaking point and snaps. The motivation to reduce the tension is what causes us to change; we will do everything in our power to get back in balance. We seek psycho-emotional stasis at all times, much like we experience the ever-present, driving need for food and water to satisfy our physical being.
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