Cognitive dissonance is painful

Another abandoned and revived post from 2011…

Our major is difficult and our new undergraduate students are often not used to thinking.

Graduate school was a similar painful change, though in a different way…

But there’s definitely this battle between a self-concept that has reasonable self-esteem battling with facing difficult challenges and, in many of our students’ cases, being forced to go from black and white thinking to something more nuanced with shades of grey.  Learning that there’s not always a right answer but you have to make decisions anyway.

Ow ow ow ow… It can be painful while you’re getting used to it.

Then everything is ok.  Maybe some scar tissue.

One of the things we’ve done to help our students is to have sections in the syllabi of all our initial core courses explaining how they’re learning to think– learning how to ask questions, not just answer them, and how they may think they’re dumb, but that’s actually just their brains growing.  It seems to have helped.

Have you ever had problems with your self concept vs. new challenges?  How did you get through it?

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11 Responses to “Cognitive dissonance is painful”

  1. Mike Nitabach Says:

    A substantial bit of cognitive dissonance for me is between my conception of myself as a “good person” and my complicity in systems of oppression.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Do you do anything to dismantle systems of oppression while you participate in society?

    • Debbie M Says:

      Yeah, this is a huge one. And just in general knowing that there is a dark side to pretty much everything I do. I can’t do photosynthesis, so just living requires me to kill other life forms. I settle for doing slightly better than I was raised to do, and that’s still pretty terrible.

  2. Bee Says:

    Oof, my biggest was coming out of college having multiple relevant extracurriculars and having been told my thesis was one of the best the professor had ever seen and having gone to an alumni networking event and generally feeling like I’d done everything right and was super employable… and not getting a job for the better part of a year.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s really hard when there’s so much randomness and a lot of competition.

      My friend’s kid is only now starting to believe what we said about the randomness at top levels as he knows people who got into say, Princeton but not Brown (and vice versa, of course).

  3. delagar Says:

    “Learning that there’s not always a right answer but you have to make decisions anyway.” <– This.

  4. Debbie M Says:

    Religion. The short story is that I very gradually decided that if there were only one religion, I would be religious, but since there are many, my faith lies in the belief that they are all fake. Yet I know that many are comforted by them and that just abolishing religion (like in Communist Russia) is also terrible.

    I find other ways to meet the needs that many use religion to meet, except I don’t get to feel excited about an afterlife. This, our current life, our short-term organization of molecules that laws of physics will eventually disorganize again, this is what is magical/miraculous and what I most appreciate. Also, there’s no uber-parent to make everything okay in the end–we have to do it ourselves. There’s no one making sure we don’t have bigger challenges than we can handle–we have to help each other. But there are nonreligious ways to find community, to celebrate big accomplishments, to regularly remind ourselves to be decent, etc. I’ve been lucky to (so far!) be in a place where I’m allowed to be an atheist (I’d like a better term, though, like maybe rational humanitarian, that’s more about trying to be decent, in ways that actually work, than about nonbelief).

    • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

      I feel like this is a very sensible conclusion. I grew up with a religious background that was as much culture as it was belief system and that helped me take a different view of religion. No one religion can possibly be RIGHT so maybe we should just take the best of them that helps us be the best versions of ourselves and do our best to do better by our community than we received.

  5. minca Says:

    Hm, this relates to how I’m feeling about work. I find myself procrastinating on the less structured projects that are more effort to figure out the plan, and gravitating towards the structured projects that are easier for me because I know (generally) what to do and what can go wrong. The less structured projects can be more financially rewarding, but my brain is tired these days and would rather log off and go read (vs doing and teaching the jrs how to do the less structured work). I feel like I should do the less structured work because otherwise I’m lazy/taking the easy route (and perhaps letting my brain atrophy!).

  6. Debbie M Says:

    I recently realized that the draft is slavery. That messed with my brain.


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