We’re well into the yearly “I’m going to lose weight” resolution. Let’s investigate what’s going on (or very soon will be going on) in the minds of all the annual dieters.
If you read the last post, Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation, you know that if one is focused on losing weight, extrinsic motivation is the impetus. What’s happening now?
The new diet is conflicting with the old self- image. Even the most willing participant in a diet is running into a psychological stumbling block called cognitive dissonance. That’s an uncomfortable feeling (frustration, upset, disappointment, anger, etc.) caused by holding conflicting ideas. The conscious mind is conflicting with the subconscious image. The actions are inconsistent with the beliefs. The mind believes that it should be maintaining the self-image. Even though one wishes to lose weight the mind is rebelling and the old eating habits are trying to make a comeback. There are some very successful techniques that the mind will use to reduce the dissonance caused by trying to change behavior to effect a change in attitude or image. The mind is eventually going to win.
People have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance.
If the underlying attitude is not changed, in conjunction with cognitive dissonance one may start Self-Handicapping. That’s the process by which people avoid effort in the hopes of keeping potential failure at bay. If the dieter gives up, the cognitive dissonance is gone and it feels much more comfortable to return to the status quo.
On the other hand, dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming and denying. Let’s call this Rationalization. Rationalization is a defense mechanism. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual states rationalization occurs “when the individual deals with emotional conflict… by concealing the true motivations for his or her own actions through the elaboration of reassuring or self-serving but incorrect explanations.”
We all know them: “I’m big boned”. “My weight problem is genetic”. “I have a thyroid problem”. “I have a slow metabolism”. “I just can’t help myself”. These rationalizations may not even be verbalized but these old justifications are very successful in conquering cognitive dissonance.
The real way to approach the annual New Year’s resolution is by first changing attitudes and beliefs. If this is done first, the new diet would be in sync with the new image and cognitive dissonance would occur by not sticking to the diet or fitness plan. If this first step is addressed the chances of success are greatly enhanced.