Resistance, Ambition and Cognitive Dissonance

Resistance is a bitch.

I know everyone and his dog have written about this subject (among others Seth Godin and Niall Doherty) but given the current state of my mind I feel I have to address it nonetheless.

Resistance is not our friend. It prevents us from doing things we know we need to do, things that are good for us, will move us in the direction we want to head in, will make us happier. WHY? Generally the finger is pointed at fear – fear of failure, fear of success, and every fear in between. This answer has never felt right for me. In repeatedly asking myself ‘why?’ I have come to the unsavoury conclusion that my resistance is due to laziness. Far less glamorous than fear but there you go.

Laziness has always been a problem for me. I’d like to link it to my ever-present demand for meaning (“given the innate meaningless of everything, why bother?”) but unfortunately I think it’s really just plain old laziness.

“Lost time is never found again” – John Hill Aughey

Is laziness inversely correlated to ambition? Does a high level of laziness reflect a low level of ambition? Ambition is defined as “the desire for personal achievement”, which “provides the motivation and determination necessary to achieve a particular end or condition”. Although at face value that conclusion seems to make sense, again it doesn’t feel like it applies to me; I consider myself to be quite an ambitious person.

“Shun idleness. It is a rust that attaches itself to the most brilliant metals” – Voltaire

A psychological phenomenon that I happen to be intimately acquainted with, cognitive dissonance (“a discomfort caused by holding conflicting cognitions (e.g., ideas, beliefs, values, emotions) simultaneously”) seems to play an important role in the paralyzing symptom of resistance laziness. When I first read about it as a first year psychology undergraduate I felt intense recognition and immense relief that there was a name for this tormenting state that can range from a niggling itch to paralyzing mental stand-offs. This is what you get when you combine laziness with ambition. But what about the motivation that is meant to be an inherent part of ambition? Doesn’t that come with the package? What happened to mine?

It’s there. Lying dormant beneath layers of paralyzing dissonance. The motivation isn’t lacking, what’s missing is the action. And the action is lacking because no decision has been taken. I haven’t chosen either my laziness or my ambition so I vacillate between the two, squirming with dissonance and wondering why my behaviour is evidencing such a tragic lack of willpower when I always thought I had so much potential.

“A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken a new action. If there’s no action, you haven’t truly decided” – Farnoosh Brock

Next time you feel resistance laziness ask yourself what you are avoiding making a decision about. DECIDE. Then ACT. Because despite what all the self-help books say, motivation is not the most important thing in making changes in your life. If you really make a decision and own it, the motivation arises naturally – without any dissonance or self-help jargon.


3 thoughts on “Resistance, Ambition and Cognitive Dissonance

  1. Indeed, but what holds back the decision? I agree that kind of the problem of thought is that it stops short at motivation, yet I think there’s a tendency to boil a decision down to “Well, do you have the gumption for it or not?” when there are other matters at stake. To me, it really ends up being a question of values, and thereby another subtle type of cognitive dissonance can ensue. To look at these questions of values though require some nasty honesty about ourselves that we (myself horribly included) don’t like. For instance, in a matter of motivation over say a work of charity, the question of value between our comfort and the good deed is forced, but we don’t like admitting that a lack of decision really a higher valuing of one of the two (or etc.) choices. Even in times where the decision is simply to take a big step in which we might be afraid, the question of value (though more subtle) between security/comfort or whatever actions is forced. It’s tricky to look into our reflections this way, and unfortunately we all have dirty mirrors.

    But sorry for my monologue hah. This is your blog after all!


    1. :) Interesting points and a great way of looking at decision-making. I suppose it depends on the type of decision you are trying to make, but perhaps different people have varying approaches – for you it is a question of value (higher internal locus), for someone else a question of desire (lower internal locus), for someone else a question of whether they feel they should (external locus). Perhaps there are levels of understanding/reasoning when it comes to decisions, which vary according to a person’s character (to what extent they are logical and head-based, versus intuition and heart/gut-based)?
      Coming back to your point about values and dirty mirrors, I absolutely agree; that can give rise to whole new levels of dissonance!
      Thanks for the thought-provoking comments!


      1. Oh sure! I wasn’t trying to insinuate that such is the way decisions are made, but instead that those questions of value lurk behind our decision-making process. Especially when it comes to instances where someone rather “wants to decide” to do something (i.e. has the motivation), but still doesn’t act.

        But yes, most of us are far too unaware of our own (honest) values anyway to decide so exactly. I know I am in the least.


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