Holding To Different Standards

October 27, 2010 — 16 Comments

A general rule to follow: you’ll be a lot happier if you never hold cognitive dissonance against someone. Say you share a cause or an unpopular opinion with someone and they abandon it with flimsy justification. Unless you enjoy disappointment, remember that this didn’t happen on purpose. In fact, to them, switching feels right, like they are doing the more honest thing. It’s not personal, it’s biological.

Cognitive dissonance is easier to fall prey to if you don’t know yourself, if you aren’t regularly taking stock of yourself. To Demosthenes, at the end of virtue was constancy, and at its beginning was reflection. Reflection often means self-criticism, taking blame or generally coming to terms with reality of the world that surrounds us. So what did you expect? You can’t fault people for not developing a personality trait that ultimately tends to make difficult situations more unpleasant.

So sometimes the alternative is just too taxing to bear. Maybe they helped create the problem, maybe their livelihood depends on looking the other way. Whatever the reason, it’s OK! Remember: you decided it (reflection, taking stock, intellectual honesty) was worth doing because it was real. But you’ll get nowhere anticipating—thinking you’re entitled to—other people agreeing to that tradeoff. Nowhere, that is, but angry, let down or alone.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

16 responses to Holding To Different Standards

  1. I think I have a big problem with this. I expect everyone to hold themselves to the same standards that I do. I get quite frustrated with it a lot.

  2. If someone abandons it with flimsy justification I think it’s unlikely that one feels real cognitive dissonance.
    In that case it simply doesn’t threaten your world view.

    Cognitive dissonance happens when you don’t have arguments against the position of the other person but you aren’t willing to accept their position.
    I felt that emotion three times strongly in my life.
    The first was a discussion about superempowered bioterrorism and how you can buy your gene sequencer these days for 10,000$ on ebay. The second was about whether all the news is basically spin.
    The third was someone telling me it’s Monday when the last day in my memory was a Thursday (and he was right).

    You might very well be comfortable enough with most ideas that you encounter to haven’t felt strong cognitive dissonance in years. A book never triggered it for me as it easy to make a pause to think about an argument. In a discussion with another person you however have to defend your position and could be unable to defend it intelligently.

  3. But by calling their justification flimsy, aren’t you rationalizing and ridding yourself of any cognitive dissonance?

    • I doubt it, b/c CD looks at rationalizes previous actions or decisions you’ve made. Disagreeing with someone because you view their stance as weak shouldn’t produce an internal struggle to maintain your identity.

  4. Cognitive dissonance involves rationalizing a decision AFTER its made in order to stay consistent with your previous actions/opinions.

  5. Cognitive Dissonance refers to rationalizing a decision in order to stay internally consistent. The key being that the individual is not rational when he/she made the decision, but rather rationalizes after the choice was made/action was taken

    • Right, and it’s unfair to expect people who are not you to catch and avoid this process. Not being internally consistent in favor of being globally and ethically and morally and intellectually consistent is incredibly difficult. We all fuck it up.

  6. One of my greatest weaknesses is my lack of attention to detail, which is something that many have made me aware of. Often when I make a decision that inconveniences me or somebody else I rationalize the outcome as being consistent with my ‘worldview’; that is, we learn from our mistakes and so any mistake is justified. But often times I don’t learn from them and make the same mistakes over and over. One of the best solutions, then, is to fix the internal weakness while checking it to the world around me while paying more attention to detail. An antidote to CD.

  7. I think it is very important to develop an open mind so that you don’t experience cognitive dissonance. Sometimes it can be difficult when you are brought up with certain belief systems as a child that shapes your thinking. Internal conflicts are the main reason why we don’t make an important decision sometimes. It happens to me a lot but I feel like have become more open minded nowadays and can deal with it better.

    Ryan I had a question. Have you personally felt a lot of inner conflict to the point where you can’t make a important decision in your career or relationship because of other’s opinions? Just curious.

    Thanks for the post Ryan.

    • Can’t make a decision because of someone’s opinion? Probably not a pure opinion, but often times people’s interpretation of events or situations is significantly influenced by their perception of themselves. That can limit the people who work for or with them. Not sure if that is what you’re asking though.

  8. Sounds like someone got in a fight w/their girlfriend…

  9. Brilliant…brilliant…love it.
    Thanks Ryan, this helped me huuuuuuuge. I was grappling with a dilemma and then I stumble upon your post…and suddenly it’s clear as the light of day! Thanks a huge ton. *hugs*

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