Everyone has experienced that feeling of sitting down on the couch after an exceptionally long day and thinking to yourself, “I’m exhausted, I’ll hit the gym tomorrow.”. This happens frequently, even though all day you told yourself that the minute you got home, you were going to change, grab water, and hit the gym. What happened once you got home? After sitting down and being faced with a decision, it was easy to justify being too tired to go to the gym even though you knew you were making the wrong choice. According to Leon Festinger, this is called cognitive dissonance; the behavior is not consistent with personal beliefs. When we say things to ourselves such as, “I’ll work out tomorrow” or “I ate well today” we are trying to minimize cognitive dissonance by coming up with justifications to support our behavior. If we can support our behavior, we no longer feel uncomfortable and we can accept our excuses.
Minimizing cognitive dissonance is very important for maintaining our self image. If we know that our behavior is not consistent with our beliefs, we begin to question our image. So we make up reasons in our heads to excuse our behavior and maintain our beliefs. This is important because people are formulating more excuses to not exercise and it is resulting in an increased risk of obesity. The United States has one of the highest percentages of obese adults in the world, not including just overweight adults. We are a species that likes sugar and we are very good at justifying our behavior to ourselves even when we know it is wrong.
Many people believe that in order for our population to get healthier, we need to change our food industry first. This will in turn create healthier lifestyles for people. This however, is not true. The food industry is created through popular demand. The citizens of the United States want their candy and chips. To help people develop healthier lives, they must become aware of their self-justification tactics. It is very common to not even realize that you are making up reasons in your head to justify your actions – we do it automatically. But once we are aware of this action, we can work to curb it. Through this understanding, people can begin to fight their internal excuses and begin living healthier lives. Through this, the demand for unhealthy foods will decrease and we can take a step toward having a healthier country!
Encouraging healthy lifestyles is very important. There are different programs in schools and colleges that offer rewards for healthy living and they are crucial. This along with a cognitive dissonance understanding can help the United States decrease the rate of obesity. Global obesity as a whole is decreasing and the U.S. can be a part of this trend! So next time you hear yourself justifying sitting on the couch, know that you can overcome these thoughts and that living a healthier lifestyle is easier than you think!