Why Contrarian Thinking and Cognitive Dissonance Create Opportunity.

The previous two posts loosely followed Canada Day and the 4th of July Independence day themes to suggest that real individual, personal, independence is internal, not dependent on the way our countries came to be independent nations.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance











It was a useful peg to transition from writing about perseverance and commitment to this weeks topic which is looking at life from a different perspective..

I have written about Chris Brogan`s series of OMFG daily emails before. They are great reminders to think critically. Recently there was a series on creativity in which the terms cognitive resonance and cognitive dissonance appeared. Being contrarian by nature, I appreciate the condition of cognitive dissonance and tend to treat cognitive resonance warily. Both can be good or bad as conditions under which to operate, positive or negative, creative or destructive. The trick is to know when each is more likely to help you along your journey through life.

Wikipedia has an entry for cognitive dissonance if you want to learn more about it, but simply put it is an absence of order in something that offends our natural desire for order. Think how one picture hanging askew in a perfectly aligned display, stands out, you notice it immediately.  Or it could be a contradiction of the way we see things.  It is generally considered a bad condition or state to be in or influenced by.

Cognitive resonance by contrast is considered beneficial and a more desirable state. A more natural and comfortable condition because humans like order and patterns that fit.

As a new comer in what was to me a foreign land, I observed a disproportionate amount of dissonance to resonance compared to a long-term North American resident. Apart from different word usage and meanings, there are many things here that do not fit the patterns I had become accustomed to in Africa. Unfenced properties, the rabid fear of private gun ownership and draconian powers of the police over private, law-abiding citizens in certain cases, being a few examples.

Just as I accepted most, but certainly not all, patterns on my former continent as normal, others desirable and some essential, so do the majority of North Americans relate to the patterns that influence life here.

But a foreigner will ask “why?” Why should it be like that? Why this or why that?

During military training, we were taught to look for things that did not fit a pattern. Light reflecting off metal or glass in remote bush, a splash of red, blue or black in a green and brown landscape. Most importantly, anything with a straight edge, apart from horizons and surf lines, there are very few straight lines in natural patterns.

A lifetime later, enhanced by years of observing crops and animals, looking for things that do not fit the pattern for healthy leaves and alert animals, that training still helps me see things that do not fit, quickly.

Why is this important? And what does it have to do with a successful, happy and healthy life?

It’s about awareness. Awareness of opportunities helps us become successful. Awareness of dangers and threats both physical and financial keeps us healthy and happier.

Awareness comes from practice and deliberately looking at things from a different perspective.

If you want to practice and improve your ability to see things from more than one angle, you need to imagine you are like I was, a foreigner in your country. Look for patterns that do not fit your preconceived ideas or the patterns you were familiar with as a child. Challenge yourself to explain the reason why that pattern is considered normal.

Being dependent on resonance and insecure with dissonance will keep you in the herd, safe, comfortable and insulated from adventure and opportunity.

Look for dissonance and find opportunities.

That’s how most of the great discoveries have been made.

How do you handle dissonance? Leave a comment.



Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / Freedigitalphotos.net

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  9 comments for “Why Contrarian Thinking and Cognitive Dissonance Create Opportunity.

  1. July 8, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Thank you for the article. I am glad I came across your site. Seems we share many common interests.. The Mind and the Horse. Ever notice how those fortunate to establish a relationship with horse seem to have a better understanding about True Self?

  2. July 9, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Absolutely right Chuck, and thank you for stopping by to leave a comment.

    Some of the most balanced people I have met – mentally, spiritually, emotionally as well as physically got that way from hours spent on the backs of, or at least with, horses. The fact that some of them appear contrarian and a touch eccentric to others just adds to their charm.

  3. July 9, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Our youngest wrote his Life Plan to be a trainer when he was 13. And he followed the plan to a tee.
    It is interesting to see how balanced he is in so many life situations at 34.
    Very few have spent as much time with horses than he has.
    Even today, 10 mounts a day, 7 day weekly.
    Our family joke was he never had time to “get in trobule”

  4. July 9, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Join us sometime (not tonight, Anniversary) Wednesdays’ 9:30 PM Eastern over 6 years of Live Talk Show, focusing on Building SELF and Businesses, regardless the venue
    1-724-444-744 Show ID 13372#
    Love to have your input.

    • July 10, 2014 at 1:42 pm

      Thank you Chuck, I will.

  5. Roberta
    July 9, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    I don’t know that I have a reasoned way to handle dissonance. It is just that life is some times messy and I have to learn how to deal with it. It is more that I am forced to look at things from mnay different stances to make sense of the world – if that makes sense.

    • July 10, 2014 at 1:42 pm

      Yes it does make sense Roberta, because I doubt if there is a “reasoned” way to handle dissonance, if there was it would not be dissonance. The important bit is to be able to look at those odd things from a different stance and not become paralysed by fear and indecision because situations do not fit our pre-conceived patterns.

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