Mixed Salad of Thoughts

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Cognitive Dissonance Part II

Cognitive Dissonance...the more, now that it's later:

I've been thinking over this theory because it not only makes so much sense to me, but it explains certain things that I think about a lot.

To begin with, I feel I need to explain a bit about what I think, and how I think...

I've always been able to do exceptionally well on aptitude and intelligence tests, to cram for exams and to know and remember a multitude of facts that most people would forget completely, but am often at a loss to remember what I ate for lunch or the names of good friends when trying to recall them. Information and trivia get stuck in my mind while things that I cannot categorize do not. I am in no way trying to assert my intellectual superiority over anyone here, I've actually always felt that this has just been "given" to me, and I've never had to work at it and have felt really weird about that. I never thought it was fair that I could remember things and perform well in things so easily while other people were truly working HARD and diligently and following the rules, as I slacked and accomplished the same results. Even though I was on the easier side of the equation, it always made me feel bad for not working harder.

But this is where the "HOW" of my thinking comes into play, and also where Cognitive Dissonance has a role in that play.

I've believed for quite some time now that the reason I do better than others in a large number of things does not have anything to do with how HARD I work, but rather with my ability to creatively solve problems so that the work is not as hard. I used to say that I learned all the paths in my college campus by which had the fewest stairs, which had the shortest path, where all the pop machines and bathrooms were and which had the most time spent indoors as a means of being "lazy"....Hold on, hold on, we're not to the Cognitive Dissonance part yet...My point is that I analyzed all the options to find the option that provided the best or most enjoyable experience. If it was cold out, I spent more time indoors, if I was carrying a project I avoided stairs, and so on.

I've said it before: I analyze everything. I just do. I don't know why. If it's part of my life, I analyze it. Whether it's the best papertowel for the money, or what career I should choose, I've analyzed it. And in doing so, I believe I've come up with better answers. Maybe not better for others, but better for me. This analysis extends to include my beliefs. What I believe and how that relates to what I DO is part of my "regular maintenance" thinking-->Hence all the previous "ranting" posts on feminism, vegetarianism and my religion.

So the ideas and theories behind cognitive dissonance hold that we try to come up with new encompassing theories or beliefs when we hold two opposing beliefs to be true at the same time and are unable to hold them without some internal conflict or some resolution. It seems to me as if everything I have come to believe has come about through this struggle, and the balancing acts and resolutions that ensue.

I believe that this process has been part of what has built the creative problem solving skills that allows me to acquire knowledge and education so much more easily and efficiently than other people do. I think the average person finds a straight path in their mind between a starting point and the destination point and my mind instead balances out all the information surrounding each point and determines the best, or most interesting, or most efficient, or most inclusive path of all of them in order to reach the destination point. I think this ability to connect sometimes seemingly unrelated things allows me to creatively solve problems better than the next guy and remember details that otherwise are lost in most people's minds.

I've read that the synapses (sp?)in our mind act as the points along the path that allows a thought to be processed and that as we age the paths that are unused are (and I'm using a bit of poetic license here) "overgrown" and lost. I've also read that older people who do puzzles, riddles, and games help keep their minds active and creatively thinking are less likely to experience dementia and some of the effects of memory loss. These games and puzzles are the sort of activity that a creative problem solver enjoys as the key is usually thinking in a "different or unexpected" way to come up with a non-obvious solution. Those with less ability and desire to think creatively would likely enjoy less and be less able to solve puzzles and games. It makes me think that those who question and analyze their lives and go through the struggles of cognitive dissonance are more likely to develop stronger, more adept and agile minds.

It's interesting to me that the people who don't struggle, who are accepting and unquestioningly resolute in their beliefs are in some way KEEPING themselves from expanding their minds from being able to see other side/situation/solutions. And yet, for the most part, they probably consider themselves happier than the Questioner.

So today I am thankful for my struggles and my doubts, for my questions and my self-evaluation, because with their help I'll probably be able to be out-and-about while others are trying to remember where they left their dentures.

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