Because the important moments in life just don’t fit in a status update! I started this blog when I was training for my first ½ Ironman, (70.3 miles) to record what I hoped would be growth and progress but ended up being a huge learning experience. Although fitness is one of the key ingredients to a happy life, it certainly isn't the only ingredient. My blog has evolved to document growth, progress and setbacks in other areas too. From my surprise proposal in Rome and wedding in the fall of 2013, to Mom's devastating stage IV cancer diagnosis and death 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant. Who knows what shape it will take, but thanks for being along for the ride.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance

50min. swim
3 mile run

Cognitive Dissonance is the discomfort we feel when we know we should be doing something (or shouldn't be doing it!), but we don't do it (or do it!) anyway, even in spite of the knowledge that what we are doing is wrong, unhealthy or immoral. Cognitive dissonance is the inconsistancy between beliefs and behaviors and it causes an "an uncomfortable psychological tension" when we experience it. So, we will do just about anything to reduce or get rid of it! How do we do this?

Well, in order to reduce cognitive dissonance, we have two options: we either change our beliefs to fit our actual behavior, or change our actual behavior. Which one is easier???? You guessed it! Excuses! Rationalization!  Usually, we take the easy way out...coming up with new beliefs for why we can't or don't need to change!
I'll start (or, stop!) tomorrow. 
Reducing cognitive dissonance, and the lengths we go to to avoid it, helps explain why we continue to keep many of our irrational, destructive and unhealthy behaviors. Just about any you can think of! And, we all do it to some just about every area of our lives.

But this blog is supposed to be about my training. I have been doing marathons since 2002. In those 8 years, have I ever consistently got up early to run before work? No! Even though I knew it would be good...that it would help me get in more mileage, that it would help me avoid missing workouts because I was too tired, or had evening plans. Still, I never did it. Why? Because I'm not a morning person! I told myself that, I believed it and voilĂ ! In a flash, my cognitive dissonance was gone. I felt better, and I didn't have to set that 4:30AM alarm. It was true simply because I told myself it was true.

But, it was a bold-faced lie! I've been getting up early all week! To do something that I'm not good at and is really hard. And it has felt incredible! And I find myself asking: why didn't I figure this out sooner? In what other areas of my life am I hiding the truth? It can be easier to spot in other people, but turning the lens in on ourselves is hard. Because we see what we want to see, and we trust ourselves. But we shouldn't, because we're good liars. We have no shame. We will go to any lengths to reduce it, even going so far as to attack or put down others who are doing or have something we desire:

A classical example of cognitive dissonance is expressed in the fable The Fox and the Grapes by Aesop (ca. 620–564 BCE). In the story, a fox sees some high-hanging grapes and wishes to eat them. When the fox is unable to think of a way to reach them, he surmises that the grapes are probably not worth eating, as they must not be ripe or that they are sour. This example follows a pattern: one desires something, finds it unattainable, and reduces one's dissonance by criticizing it.
{I grabbed the above section from Wikipedia - read more about it here. }
We get in our own way. In terms of fitness and weightloss, people have a myriad of sayings that are so obviously an attempt at lessening that dissonance which in turn, prevents change! We rob ourselves of something we want, by believing our lies. I'm too busy. You can eat whatever you want (read: you have an innate immunity to calories; we probably eat the same - you just magically don't gain weight), exercise is boring, etc. And I've said them too! But I believe the key to change is examining that, and calling bullshit on ourselves when our behaviors aren't serving us. Because no one is going to do it for us. And even if they do, we will find an excuse to rationalize it and avoid change.


  1. The beginning of the learning curve is brutal. Congrats on your first couple weeks of swimming! I've been really bad about my running recently. My rationalization? My headphones broke. I have my standard ipod headphones still, but they sound bad and they fall out of my ears, so Ii've decided to stop running until I sort this problem out. that's some pretty quality rationalizin'.

    I really like this post, Megan. Keep it up

  2. Is it that our bodies 'feel' better because of the effort or is it the cognitive gratification of accomplishment regardless of discomfort? Most ballet dancers are in a state of constant pain dancing on broken bones, pull/strained muscles, and a miriad of blisters yet the performance becomes transcendental. It seems the state of being 'outside' of one's self is a very powerful motivation akin to something spiritual. Perhaps those that are able to push themselves past self-imposed limitations truly reap benefits greater than physical health. You rock, by the way. Keep it up. It gets easier.