Cognitive has a simple, straight forward meaning. It is defined within the fields of psychology and linguistics as being aware of current intellectuality such as knowing and thinking. When conscious judgments are being made within the brain, the process is described as cognitive as the functions that are taking place provide us with our perspective and understanding of our thoughts and senses at that current moment in time.
Ignoring the physical processes, the word cognitive simply focuses on the intellectual functions that occur within our brain. This also includes our intuition and memory, which is why it is proving so effective within psychology studies today. It focuses on how out thoughts become acquainted within our brains, how they are produced, and how our intellectual thoughts function within the brain.
History behind where the word cognitive derives from helps to understand what it is used for. ‘To come to know’ and ‘meaning to become acquainted’ are the basic meanings behind the word itself; making the definitions clean and clear. Everything that the brain comes to know and understand is of a cognitive process. Memory is an important factor of this, it requires the brain to make a clear imagine and thought that can be remembered whenever it is needed.
Without memory, thoughts, knowing, learning and judging, our brains would be going to waste, but cognitive studies allow new experiments and conclusions to be produced and published successfully. It is for these reasons that the word cognitive has become very important within science and medical studies, and as the understanding of science progresses it is our brains that need to keep up.
If you’ve ever told a lie and felt uncomfortable because you see yourself as scrupulously honest, then you’ve experienced cognitive dissonance. It occurs whenever your view of yourself clashes with your performance in any area—you see yourself as smart but can’t believe you made such stupid stock investments. Exactly how we choose to resolve the dissonance, and its discomfort, is a good reflection of our mental health. In fact, cognitive dissonance can be a great opportunity for growth. Better living through cognitive dissonance, cleaning up emotional pollution is how I feel about you is how I feel about me. Misinterpreting the message of cognitive dissonance ruins marriages, a fact that totally eludes marriage therapists and relationship authors who promote "getting your needs met."
Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort of self-image colliding with reality. Such collisions are inevitable, as self-image tends to be based on values – what is most important to you – while behavior is routinely directed at short-term comfort, pleasure, and utilitarian goals. The common cognitive dissonance in intimate relationships is “I am a loving and compassionate person. Yet I am not loving and compassionate to you at this moment.” The way we resolve cognitive dissonance helps determine health and well being. The following choice gives you the best chance of achieving a solid and authentic sense of self while improving your relationship.
I am a loving and compassionate person. Yet I am not loving and compassionate to you at this moment. Therefore, I must try harder to understand your perspective and sympathize with any discomfort or pain that underlies it. The choice below guarantees a precarious sense of self based on victim identity or self-righteousness, not to mention failure of all attempts at intimate relationship. I am a loving and compassionate person. Yet I am not loving and compassionate to you at this moment. Therefore, there must be something wrong with you – you are selfish, irrational, ignorant, unworthy, crazy, personality-disordered, abusive, damaged by childhood, etc..
It’s easy to avoid the trap of cognitive dissonance in intimate relationships. Instead of asking what is wrong with your partner, ask, what in me is making it hard to be compassionate right now. The answer will almost always be guilt (I’ve hurt or neglected you), shame (I feel too inadequate), or fear (I’m afraid of your response). The only thing that relieves guilt and shame for violating a value is investing more energy in the value. Ignoring it or continuing to violate it by blaming your behavior on your partner will only aggravate guilt and shame, no matter how much you try to hide your failure beneath resentment, anger, or self-righteousness. If fear blocks your compassion, share that with your partner, which will give him/her a chance to feel compassion for you. What you want to arrive at is a relationship song that goes something like this. I want to be more compassionate to you and I know that in your heart you want to be more compassionate to me. Let’s figure out how we can make it easier for each other to be compassionate and pursue what is best for both of us.
Resolving cognitive dissonance in this way makes you less likely to seem critical or attacking, which makes it difficult for your partner to be defensive. The stakes of accurately interpreting cognitive dissonance are high. Fidelity to values generates energy, confidence, and vitality, while violation of values depletes all three, which is why it requires adrenalin; usually in the form of anger or resentment – to temporarily restore energy and confidence. Like all amphetamine effects, these dissipate in an hour or so, in favor of a depression that is likely to be relieved by more resentment or anger. Continuing this roller-coaster ride of disaster leads inevitably to contempt of self; however, hidden by chronic resentment and self-righteousness and a deeper contempt for the former loved one.
The alternative choice is to invest in a deeper compassion for self and loved ones.
Every time we sit down in meditation, we are challenged to face our dissatisfactions. What is really going on in our body-mind? What ideas are we stubbornly holding onto? What are we afraid of? What would we rather not deal with like anger, resentment, longing, dissatisfaction, numbness? What, or who, are we rejecting? What aspect of our lives makes us want to act selfishly or childishly – by throwing a tantrum, blaming others, or refusing to participate? We don’t have to go seeking for our dissatisfactions when we meditate. Zazen, seated meditation, doesn’t have to become a grim session of taking account of how crappy our life is or how flawed we are. We also need to be open to awareness of the joy and positivity in our life; we have to be completely open to awareness of everything as it is. However, we are much more likely to be open to the positive stuff than we are to the negative stuff, so facing the dissatisfactions takes some intention and courage.
I like to think of “opening the doors of my mind” during zazen to whatever might wander in. The Zen ceremony of Segaki ritually enacts this process when the doors of the temple are opened wide and the hungry ghosts or manifestations of unresolved stuff are invited to enter. It is surprising how effective this ceremony is. Many people report unresolved stuff coming up for them as they sit zazen in the day-long retreat that follows the ceremony traditionally. In the evening there is a ceremony to send the “ghosts” on their way, but it often takes much longer to become familiar with a new ghost, learn what it has to teach, and then take the actions necessary to truly send it away.
When I open the doors of my mind as I settle on the meditation cushion, I always feel some apprehension. What am I going to discover? What am I going to have to deal with? Am I going to have to change?
When I finally summon the courage to face my dissatisfactions, I am always surprised to find that no matter how bad it is – it is less anxiety-provoking to face it than it is to avoid it. Finding something behind the door can be scary and might require serious action, but in the long run it’s better than sensing there’s something behind the door but just wondering how terrifying it might be. When we really face our dissatisfactions there is often some sense of relief. In addition, avoiding or denying parts of our reality increases our sense of separation or isolation from our whole life and from the people and situations we encounter. When we are one with our dissatisfactions we are more fully present with everything. When trying to summon the courage to face our dissatisfactions during meditation or anytime it can be helpful to recall the sense of relief or presence that can be achieved by doing so. Sometimes it also helps to imagine the worst that is likely to come through the doors of our mind and ask ourselves if it would be the end of the world; it rarely would be. Alternatively, we might talk ourselves into facing our dissatisfactions by noticing how tired we are of running away from it.
Once we are determined to be still no matter what comes at us, we expand our awareness by letting go of any idea about our life, our body-mind, or what we should or should not be experiencing at this moment. Then our dissatisfactions can arise and find itself recognized and embraced – because, after all, it’s not coming at us from outside, it was already here.
Rarely is dwelling on the past seen in a positive light nor should it be. Thinking too much about times gone by typically keeps your mind and life stuck in neutral and maybe even shifts it into reverse. If you habitually ruminate over your earlier life, you may regularly be revisited by feelings of anger, guilt, resentment, sorrow, or shame. Such emotions are hardly productive. In many ways, they're downright toxic. Fretfully obsessing about the people and events precipitating such negative feelings can lead to endless recycling. Becoming increasingly stagnant, or fixated, your thinking really can't progress toward any adaptive resolution.
Moreover, returning to the past to rehearse old dissatisfactions and grievances or even to replay images of earlier triumphs and idly preoccupying yourself with irreconcilable thoughts about them can result in self-reproach, lamentation, remorse, and even bitterness. Using your mental energy for such a doubtful purpose can catapult you into the inextricable pit of would have, could have, should have with the result that you can end up consumed with regret; which are most futile of emotions.
Yet, to be fair, dwelling on the past does have certain short-term advantages. For instance, you might become preoccupied with earlier events of success by way of rationalizing present-day frustrations and failures. If you haven't been able to live up to the hopes of others or to your own expectations, you might find temporary comfort in reliving past accomplishments. But while focusing on past positives may afford you some relief from current disappointments; by itself, it does nothing to direct or re-direct your efforts to further your objectives in the here-and-now. If you're to realize your full potential in life, you need to squarely focus on what you can do right now to fulfill your promise and not on what you achieved in bygone times.
Dwelling on the past can also be a way of not coming to grips with present-day realities. If your head is stuck in the sand of yesteryear, you may not be facing up to the fact that never having been this old before, you may now be less attractive, less strong and nimble, less quick-minded and adaptable, or with less stamina. There may be limitations and constraints that didn't exist earlier. The limitations that now need to be confronted and adjusted for and obviously, denying what in the past you may still need to make peace with can only hinder your moving forward in life.
Besides all this, loitering in the past can represent a kind of self-indulgence. It can interfere with your creating or in some alternate shape or form recreating past joys. Ultimately, it is pointless to employ memory to hold onto what may have been lost many, many years ago. As a result of not letting go of the past, you may rob yourself of present opportunities to reach out for what may still lie within your grasp. If past satisfactions and pleasures have left a vacuum in your life, now is the perfect time to diligently pursue what possibly might fill this void. If, because currently they're sorely lacking, you've been renewing in your head former attachments and endearments, you may be much less pro-active in searching out new sources of love and support than, optimally, you should be.