Cognitive Dissonance: Restoring Balance Internally


Striving for consistency within one’s self is quite a challenging quest.  Back in graduate school, I gravitated to Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance.  Cognitive dissonance refers to an emotional state that involves conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors.  This usually harvest a feeling of uneasiness that leads to an alteration of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors that eventually help reduce the discomfort and restore balance.

Figure 1.  Adapted from Premed HQ

Figure 1. Adapted from Premed HQ

As a public health practitioner, I have always known about the benefits of healthy eating and regular physical activities.  However, I never really practiced them regularly.  I would educate hundreds of individuals about the dangers of a unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and stress eating.  Nonetheless, I would be so engaged with running daily routines that I would miss exercising, and I would often engage in stress eating.

As health professionals, we erroneously think that we are exempt from being afflicted by the very ailments that we warn our patients and consumers about.  After years of not practicing what I know I ought to, I gained massive weight and felt horrible about the whole thing.  Thankfully, that type of dissonance caused me a lot of anguish, so I decided to do something about it.

For the past 7 months, I have been faithful to a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activities, and avoiding stress eating—thank God.  I find inspiration everywhere, which keeps me motivated.  I also discovered that downloading a free smartphone physical activity tracker app, Endomondo, helped me with increasing my daily physical activities.  I usually run 2 miles, 3-5 times a week, but with motivation from the app, I now run 3-5 miles or engage in cardio exercises 3-5 times a week for about an 45 minutes to an hour.

Coincidentally, Glynn et al., (2014) confirms that the use of a smartphone app may increase physical activity as opposed to physical activity without any extrinsic motivation.  Their study showed a difference of over 1000 steps per day or approximately half a mile with the use of a smartphone app, which is clinically meaningful; continued repetition may result in long-term health benefits such as reduced cardiovascular and diabetes risk (Glynn et al., 2014).

I have to confess that I find motivation from others who are determined to live healthy lifestyles e.g.  my friend and colleague, Juan C. Oves , my new found FB friends at Stretch Fitness, and many others .   You have to cling to concepts/ideas and individuals who inspires and help promote health in order to succeed in this life-long journey.  I will be the first to admit that this voyage is not an easy one, but with a lot of work, discipline, and determination; it can be done.   As I strive to maintain a healthy lifestyle, I invite you to share your stories of inspiration with me and others.  Good luck to all of us—we’ve got this!

Dr. Karlyn G. Emile


Festinger, L. (1962). A theory of cognitive dissonance (Vol. 2). Stanford university press.

Glynn, L. G., Hayes, P. S., Casey, M., Glynn, F., Alvarez-Iglesias, A., Newell, J., … & Murphy, A. W. (2014). Effectiveness of a smartphone application to promote physical activity in primary care: the SMART MOVE randomised controlled trial. British Journal of General Practice, 64(624), e384-e391.


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