Release Extra Weight and Break Free from Habits by Understanding Cognitive Dissonance

Many people these days are talking about the movie The Secret and how the mind affects the body. If you’ve been struggling with weight loss or unproductive eating habits, understanding the mind body connection might be the key to help you release the struggle and attain your goals. Not everyone realizes that The Secret is backed by research and psychological theory that has been taught in psychology classes for close to 50 years. Even medical science (i.e. the placebo response) lends support to this powerful concept.

One psychological theory that lends some support to the idea that your thinking creates your reality is the concept of cognitive dissonance. There’s a great definition of cognitive dissonance at Wikipedia. In part cognitive dissonance is “a psychological term which describes the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time, or from engaging in behavior that conflicts with one’s beliefs….The theory of cognitive dissonance states that contradicting cognitions serve as a driving force that compels the mind to acquire or invent new thoughts or beliefs, or to modify existing beliefs, so as to reduce the amount of dissonance (conflict) between cognitions.”

In essence, cognitive dissonance speaks to the fact that you cannot hold two opposing beliefs for too long or have beliefs that oppose your outer reality without creating inner conflict and discomfort. So, you will create an inner reality to match your outer reality and vice versa all in the name of feeling comfortable.

Here’s an example of how cognitive dissonance might play itself out for you and your weight and eating struggles. Let’s say you have a thought such as: “I am fat.” In order to validate that thought you have to look for other people thinner than you to prove that you are fat. You will probably focus on any and all extra fat on your body as proof that you are fat. You will even look in the mirror and see a fat image. All of this can happen regardless of the size and shape of your body. Even anorexics look in the mirror and see a fat person. If you have created an identity based on the idea that you are fat, (i.e. call yourself Fatty Patty or Large Marge or think of yourself as the “big one” in the group) you will take the steps necessary to maintain a body with extra fat. This can include actions like overeating, refusing to exercise, making poor food choices and more.

Some of you may be insisting but I AM fat. I weigh 300 lbs or I wear a size XXL. The question then becomes, how many years did you call yourself fat before you created the body you have today? In my 16 years of working with people who struggle with weight and addictions I find that many people I talk to remember calling themselves fat or hearing others call them fat at a very young age yet when they look back at pictures, they realize they were not fat at all. Is it possible that 20 or 30 years of calling yourself fat could create a fat body? I think it’s certainly worth considering.

If you are skeptical, I have a challenge for you. For the next 24 hours, repeat the following sentence to yourself: “I don’t feel very good, I think I’m coming down with a cold.” My guess is that you are not willing to do this because on some level you realize it is possible to create illness simply by thinking about it. So, isn’t it possible that you could create other changes in your body as a result of your thoughts?

There are many ways to change your inner world so you can create a new outer world. Examples include positive affirmations, visualization, meditation and hypnosis. Consistent use of positive affirmations is a great way to begin changing your inner world and it’s fairly easy to do. In fact, you can purchase positive affirmation CD’s that you can play in your car while you drive or put on your mp3 player and listen while you do other things. Visualization, meditation and hypnosis take more time and concentrated effort but reap rich and lasting benefits. It’s not enough to try these things once or twice, true and lasting inner change is a process of repetition where you continually repeat these new ways of thinking until they gradually replace your old ways of thinking. Sometimes the results will seem rapid and automatic, other times it will seem like no matter how hard you try you’re just not getting anywhere. When you see others who have instant results from using affirmations or visualization often times it’s because a previous foundation has been established that made it possible for the change to take place quickly. Everyone changes at a different rate so it’s important to stick with the process and to maintain a state of faith or positive expectancy and to remember, you didn’t get to your current state of mind and body overnight and automatically and you can’t expect to change your current state of mind and body instantly.

Since we’re on the topic of cognitive dissonance, I think it’s only fair to mention here that sometimes you feel worse, not better when you first start working to change your inner world. When you think about cognitive dissonance it makes perfect sense. You are shaking up the system and in the process you will have to uproot and surrender some deeply and dearly held beliefs because you cannot believe two opposing thoughts at the same time. One of them has to go. Is there resistance sometimes? You bet! That’s why the key to success is repetition.

In a sense, training your brain isn’t miles different from training a dog or raising a child. Some of you might get offended by that notion but when you really think about it, many of our automatic negative responses are truly senseless and unconscious and often so automatic and instinctual that we don’t even think about them, we just follow them blindly. Here are some of the ways that training your mind is similar to training a dog or raising a child.

* You will have to repeat the same lessons over and over again in order to get results.
* You will meet resistance.
* If you take the upper hand in the interaction and always remember you are in charge, eventually you will see results.
* You might get frustrated and want to quit along the way.
* You might feel as though nothing is working.

However, just like you probably wouldn’t give up trying to train your dog or teach your children, you also shouldn’t give up on yourself. Repetition, patience and persistence will reap results in time.

If you decide to purchase a positive affirmation and/or hypnosis CD, remember to use the power of repetition in your favor. I encourage you to play your affirmation CD while using repeat mode on your CD or Mp3 player. Doing so will accomplish a couple of important things. One, after repeated listening, you begin to memorize the words and you will think about them even when you aren’t listening to the CD. Two, the words on the CD will become your own. As your inner thoughts change you will have to change your outer world to match it. Remember, part of the reason you have adopted your current habits, both mental and physical is because of repetition. There is no reason why you can’t use the same process to create new habits. You have nothing to lose by trying except some extra weight.