Motivated Reasoning – How To Dissipate Cognitive Dissonance

At dinner the other night, Leeno brought-up the concept of Motivated Reasoning in the context of addressing feelings of cognitive dissonance. I had previously thought about the mechanism by which someone moves forward with an illogical assumption or belief in-spite of their level of intelligence or ability to collect information and draw objective conclusions.

An example would be the belief that you can have a cheat meal because you spent 20 minutes on the treadmill. If you want to avoid gaining weight, generally you need to exercise or burn off more calories than you eat. 20 minutes on a treadmill will burning off about 150 calories which isn’t enough for a meal.

Motivated reasoning comes into play when we are seeking evidence to support or refute our preexisting beliefs. In fact, holding a particular point of view will very often determine where we look and what we are open to accept as “truth”. It can make us very subjective, judgmental and wrong. The decisions it can lead us to can shorten the length and lower the quality of life.

We seek out view points or evidence that supports our way of thinking because we tend to dislike being wrong or having to face and consider evidence that isn’t compatible. Other than being motivated to avoid the pain associated with the feelings of discomfort associated with opposing points of view, we are also motivated to experience pleasure, pleasure that tends to accompany being “right” about things – remember, the human brain is constantly searching for patterns that match past experience, and with every match there is a release of reward chemicals.

It is for these reason why intelligent people will hold onto ideas / beliefs that are false and run against their better judgment. To combat this tendency, it is important to maintain an open mind when faced with any information, particularly that which confirms what we believe. Given that we seek-out information that supports our point of view and that this information will cause the release of reward chemicals, it is almost impossible to remain spontaneously objective.

This creates a dangerous situation in that an individual can easily be manipulated by those who put forward information that goes along with their existing belief – blinded by the chemical high, their ability to process facts is severely diminished. A group of people can be wiped into a frenzy if they share a belief and someone is able to massage this belief.

When faced with evidence that goes along with your point of view, take a moment to consider it with the same scrutiny you would consider any information. Remain focused and aware of the fact that those sharing the information have the same tendency to lose objectivity when faced with information that confirms their belief. What appears to be evidence may simply be opinion shared by one person to another.

Working At It For Years – Disease Or Health

We are born as perfect as we will ever be. With rare exception, we have our greatest potential the instant we arrive into the world. From there, our environment begins to chip away at our possibilities and over time we suffer from the outcome of our decisions or the decisions that were made on our behalf. With each breath, we either maintain our potential or it is reduced slightly.

I have trained a couple of people who had suffered heart attacks and then subsequently made the decision to correct as many of their bad habits as they could. They eat better, exercise more, reduce their stress and stop over indulging in alcohol. They, like many people who have suffered a heart attack, make reference to their heart attack as both an ending point and a place of new beginnings; “my health was fine up until that day” is something that I have heard which reflects their understanding of what was going on. But it doesn’t reflect what actually happened. Their health had been suffering for years BEFORE the heart attack and the heart attack was only the latest in a series of escalating symptoms; even if it was the first symptom that registered that there was a problem.

You have been making yourself sick for years – everyone has been. At best, you are doing everything you can to achieve your potential – eating appropriate amounts of whole food, getting an appropriate amount of sleep and exercise, etc…. but in a world as polluted as ours, the chances of you not consuming toxins is very low. The clean life that you may be living likely isn’t as pure as is needed to reach the highest level of health. In all probability you aren’t getting enough exercise, eating the right amounts of food or getting sufficient rest to recover your vitality and enhance your constitution for health.

This doesn’t mean that you are going to die of a heart attack at 50 or cancer at 55. But it does mean that you are damaging you body and diminishing your ability to recover from this damage with each non-ideal choice you make. It also means that if you do end-up with a disease, there is a very good chance that you have been working at it for the last 20-50 years and not just during the few weeks preceding the diagnosis.

The human body has a remarkable ability to recover. There is ample redundancy so a lot of stuff can break down before their is critical malfunction. But there are limits and one needs to be mindful of them as they move through life. With each less than ideal decision that is made, you move one step closer to the cumulative consequences of these choices.

Offering A Service vs. Running A Business

You need money if you are going to live in this society. To this end, we trade a certain amount of our free time in the pursuit of money. Most of us do jobs working for someone else. We do some specific skill for an agreed to sum of money. The job is ours so long as we don’t screw it up too much too often. It’s a fair arrangement as you risk very little and have the opportunity to earn an income.

But at some point you may want more. Maybe you can work harder and get some over time. Maybe you can get a raise. Maybe you can get a promotion. These are all fine approaches to earning more income when you work from someone else. If you are an effective worker you will gain the success you work towards. You may not have an option but to work for someone else – public service roles, executive role in large or established companies – or you may choose to let someone else carry the risk while you continue to gain experience.

Sometimes what you are looking for cannot be achieved through more of the same. I love training people and did well when I worked a lot. But it is exponentially draining the more you do it. Even when someone else was carrying the risk, it was too much for me because those carrying the risk were collecting their share of the money – I don’t have a beef with this at all as they were creating the possibility for me to train. I just can’t do it for a living anymore.

It has been 9 months since my father died and I have adjusted a lot of things in that period of time. It’s now time to get back to building and running a successful business. The great thing is that we have a product – an acoustic panel – and there is a market that we have not begun to capitalize on.

Ben, one of my mentors, mentioned that as I move forward with this endeavor, unanticipated challenges are going to pop-up, certain things are going to be a lot easier than I expect, certain things will be a lot tougher than I am capable of considering at this point in time and that, after a few years of sustained hard effort, I’ll likely wonder what the heck I was thinking when I started. But he pushed forward the notion that IF you are in a position to reflect and consider the journey a crazy one, you’ve hit a milestone – if you have time to think, you’ve actually accomplished something. The unknown isn’t scary for very long because it becomes a challenge once you know what it is.

I’m grateful for both the opportunity to have worked with so many people, to still have the skills I acquired during my time as a trainer / coach and to now have the chance to run a business that doesn’t have me working for someone else. It’s exciting to be moving in a different direction feeling more alive and more clear about what I need to do in order to be happy.

It’s About Changing State

In talking to more than a 1000 people over the last 10 years a few facts about nutrition have become clear.

First off, the education system is doing a good job at teaching people what they should be eating. I’ll fill-in some blanks about how the remarkably adaptive way the body operates, but I’ve yet to talk to someone who doesn’t know that eating more vegetables, less sugar, fewer processed products and drinking more water and less pop is a more effective way to eat. People know what they should be eating in order to improve their health and functioning so they suffer from obesity and reduced vitality for reasons other than education.

Next, many people comment that it is hard to eat correctly. On one level this is true, given that living things benefit from eating unprocessed food that rots quickly. Shopping twice a week is a necessity if you are going to eat real food because you will not have the “luxury” of buying food that doesn’t spoil because it is loaded with preservatives. And you need to prepare that food which is going to take time – peeling vegetables, cutting meat and removing bones or fat/skin and then cooking the meal requires time. But this only seems like it takes more time when compared with opening a box and heating something in a microwave or ordering a meal and waiting for it to arrive.

The other comment I hear consistently after an optimal nutrition conversation is that eating for health and vitality is boring. My thoughts about this one is that this is the biggest reason why people do not live optimal lives with an abundance of energy, clarity of thought and emotional contentment. Good quality food doesn’t provide the instant state-changing experience that the high sugar, high fat, high chemical food-like stuff delivers. Good quality food doesn’t do very much to your immediate state; it really shouldn’t because there isn’t anything in it that will have a quick impact on the brain or body. Real food impacts the body slowly, over time and in many ways by doing nothing at all.

People like or become addicted to food-like stuff because it has a very quick impact on the brain – it changes their state almost immediately and in a predictable way. Feeling sad? Eat some sugar, get a release of dopamine and feel better. Feeling some pain somewhere? Eat some ice cream and get a release of opioids to numb the pain. Eat fat and sugar together and feel good immediately. The happy / feel-good chemicals will be released and you will get a little high from it.

You don’t get this state change from eating salad, beef, chicken or fish. Eating these things may not even make you feel full. They have been shown to be better for you, but their immediate impact is low and almost perceivable, and given the distance from the consequences of a poor diet the instant reward is what many choose.

But as time passes, and the consequences begin to take hold on a person – addiction, obesity, disease, loss of energy, loss of circulation, impaired thinking, etc…. the state change is all that remains in terms of any conceivable positives. But then it’s too late to do very much about it. A 40 year sugar habit is tough to break. Dropping 100 lbs is close to impossible and only successfully undertaken by the most remarkable of individuals. Once cancer takes hold, the body has a very tough time fighting it without medical intervention. Clogged blood vessels don’t suddenly clear-up simply because the person stops eating crappy food. Make no mistake about it, the consequences arrive and they usually stay forever.

Real food does very little to our immediate state and it does very little to our bodies; which is what one should look for in their food because the body has a remarkable way of repairing itself.

Being Your Past Again – Don’t Create New Behaviors

“You have a tendency to act emotionally at times like this. Just don’t do anything until you know what you feel. To me there’s nothing going on but maybe there is. If it doesn’t hurt to wait, wait. What is actually occurring will become obvious quickly.”

I was on the phone with my brother having asked him for advice, and that is close to what he said.

I thanked him, hung-up and felt better.

One of the many things I admire about my brother is his ability to not respond emotionally to anything. Des and I have chatted in length about it and he’s very clear that it is a skill he has worked hard at and one that is still working to perfect as there are times when he finds himself beginning to feel stuff that isn’t based on the immediate reality.

It’s based on the past, and in particular, an old way of responding to a stimuli or situation that is similar. Some of these things will trigger reflexive responses that are years old and learned from a single event. As is the case with relatively young people, unfamiliar events may only have happened when we were incapable determining a logical response. Rage, anger and destruction based on fear may have been the conditioned response to stimuli and the unconscious expression of this behavior is what flows our when faced with a situation that seems to match.

This way of being is unworkable and Des knows that I have a tendency to act without much rational thought when faced with these moments.

At the time, I wasn’t sure what to do, which is why I called him. I felt a particular way, but couldn’t find a reason for it. By taking the time to think the thing through, it became very apparent what was going on and I was able to see a past action being triggered. It wasn’t right or wrong, it was just outdated and unworkable. Taking the time to realize what was happening created a clearing and the possibility for logical action.

The up-side is that the new logical behavior will begin to become the new response to that particular stimuli. Which is what you need to happen in order to learn and advance your life. Without creating new behaviors, we’ll continue to be exactly what we were in the past.

Their Lies Will Kill You, Your Lie IS

You have been lied to and the quality of your life is lower because of it. So is your life expectancy. As is your vitality and in many ways your constitution for health is also diminished. Some of the lies were not malicious at the time, but they are now, and you really should start to pay attention to them and how they impact your spending habits.

What am I talking about?

The crappy food you eat, the reason you give for eating it and commercialization of “Food” and “Health”.

You eat a lot of really low quality food. It’s loaded with sugar, it has a lot of the fat processed out of it and it last forever on the shelf because almost everything else that made it food has been removed. It’s created and perfected in a lab, then manufactured and distributed to the masses in much the same way a smart phone finds its way into your life. And you buy this food, week after week, feed it to yourself and your children, and move forward telling yourself that it isn’t harmful because Health Canada wouldn’t allow big companies to sell poison and because big companies wouldn’t sell something dangerous to their customers.

Before you pull your head out of the sand, you may want to eat a few mouth fulls because it’s a lot healthier than what you have been eating.

Food in this country is, for the most part, about profit. It is about creating more wealth through increased market share and decreased production costs. The people who sell you the food had nothing to do with its production. Most food sellers work for corporations, not farmers. They are part of the massive industry that maximizes profit by selling the most food possible at the cheapest possible rate. It is in the interest of profit to create foods that people will eat, that won’t spoil and that can be shipped anywhere in the world cheaply.

Health Canada doesn’t care about food being harmful, they care about it being safe and big corporations will sell you anything you’ll buy that they are allowed to sell – tobacco, highly addictive pain killers, and untested chemical creations that “enhance” flavor and sell-ability. So long as the products don’t make you sick immediately and there is enough time between consumption and illness, Health Canada won’t get involved. They’ll rightfully shutdown a meat plant and recall tons of beef because of E. coli that sickened 17 people, but they’ll give high sugar foods a green light because the illnesses they cause take years to develop and are in many ways the result of personal choices.

It’s daft. Vexingly stupid actually. Obesity crushes the life out of people and the stats tell a sad tale about wasted potential. Sugar causes heart disease and fat gain. It causes cardiovascular disease because the inflammation associated with sugar consumption destroys the blood vessels. Omega 3 fatty acids, when taken in the right amount, improve health; yet they are being removed from food because of an antiquated notion that cholesterol is the cause of heart disease.

But the food is “safe” and it is keeping you from dying from starvation; although you likely suffer from a strange kind of malnutrition never before seen in the history of our species. I encourage you to notice how you feel after eating a boxed meal, a bowl of cereal, or a meal replacement bar. Notice how much different you feel when you eat a fresh salad. Pay attention to the different levels of enjoyment you get from the “food” and the food. Notice which one creates more cravings and be aware just who benefits from this need to eat more.

You’ve felt it for a long time, that what makes up most of your diet isn’t food at all. It’s a Frankenstein creation of things that seem real but would never spontaneously exist in nature. And when you eat it, it’s shortening your life. To believe otherwise is to continue to lie to yourself.

“No, You’re Not Entitled To Your Opinion”

“No, you’re not entitled to your opinion” by Patrick Stokes is a very interesting read that tackles the notion that people are entitled to their opinion. He isn’t saying that you are not free to hold whatever opinion you like, he’s just saying that when you don’t know what you are talking about or cheery-pick the evidence to bolster your opinion, you should probably keep your mouth shut. To do anything other than that is intellectually dishonest at best and dangerous at worst.

He is speaking about the anti-vaccination movement and to some of the untrained people who spearhead the movement. The article is well thought-out, presents a clear point of view and is supported by enough evidence to make this POV compelling enough to consider.

His point is clearly demonstrated in the comments. One of the anti-vaccination advocates makes a statement to the effect of “you bring your evidence and I’ll bring my evidence and we can debate the issue.” This is a little frightening given the abundance of research that has been done on vaccination over the years how there is no link to autism – Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 study linking MMR to autism and bowel disease has been shown to be fraudulent and it has also been show that he has a conflict of interest when publishing the releasing the study.

The numbers don’t lie, vaccinations are safe and societies that have the highest uptake of vaccinations have the lowest incidents of the diseases that they target. And make no mistake about it, the measles, mumps, rubella, small pox, diphtheria, pertussis and lockjaw are serious and potentially fatal. Reducing the incidence rates for these diseases is not a bad thing regardless of the growing number of immunized people who don’t want their own children immunized from them.

When someone is spouting off about things they don’t know anything about without being clear that they don’t know anything about it, they have forfeit their right to have an opinion and should stop talking about the topic.

I am pro vaccination and pro science, and I believe the world is better off preventable diseases that cause suffering.