Cognitive Dissonance and Writing II

I recently wrote about Cognitive Dissonance and Writing. One of the ways I’ve dealt with my own cognitive dissonance (in many areas of my life) is to find small ways to “prove” both of my conflicting beliefs true. One way I do this is to use a concrete exercise I learned from Martha Beck[i]. I call this exercise the And/Or Exercise, but Martha calls it by its more correct psychological name:

Unifying False Dichotomies

To shake yourself free of falsely dichotomous thinking, try making a list of either/ors in your life. These could be any pairs of opposites, contradictory things that you could be, have, or do.

My Dichotomous Life

I can either be __________________________ or ______________________________.

I can either have ________________________ or ______________________________.

I can either do __________________________ or ______________________________.

Now, rewrite those very same things in the spaces below.

My Creative Life

I intend to be both __________________________ and __________________________.

I intend to have both ________________________ and __________________________.

I intend to do both __________________________ and __________________________.

The more resistance you feel to rewriting these either/or statements into “and” statements, the more likely you are holding onto false beliefs.

Here are some statements I’ve worked with over the years:

  • I can either be a doctor or a mother.
  • I can either have a family or a career.
  • I can either write novels or practice medicine.

Rewritten, these statements become:

  • I intend to be both a doctor and a mother.
  • I intend to have both a family and a career.
  • I intend to write novels and practice medicine.

These days, I can rewrite all those statements with an “of course I can!” feeling, but back in the day, I had a hard time believing them. Seeing the statements written out made them easier to believe.

I continue to do this exercise every once in a while, as a way to see what I’m thinking and to discover where I might be experiencing cognitive dissonance in my own life.

At one point I came across this dichotomous belief: I can be either an artist or a productive member of society.

How’s that for a creativity blocker? Pretty good, it turns out.

I intend to be both an artist and a productive member of society is a statement that works much better for me, and allows me to see the creativity I bring to every part of my life, from my writing to my parenting to my cooking. It’s a shift in perspective that allows me to see myself as the creative being I am.

Do you think you can either be a writer or something else? How about both?

[i] Adapted from The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life, by Martha Beck. Used with her permission.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, master life coach, and family physician. You can find her at

30 thoughts on “Cognitive Dissonance and Writing II

    • Hey desperateramblings,
      I’d love to hear what you think after you do the exercise. Thanks for reading and commenting!


  1. This is a revelation for me in a way that I never heard it “spoken” before. Maybe it has nothing to do with it but this is somehow reminds me of putting people in boxes and labeling them (this is the opposite of course) If you’re one thing you cannot be another while there are so many facets to one person.

    • Hi impossiblebebong,
      I think we put ourselves in boxes and tell ourselves we can’t be this and that, we have to be either/or. Of course, many people in our lives also put us in boxes, but I think I feel most trapped when I’m putting myself in a box. When other people tell me I can’t do something (or be someone) I tend to want to prove them wrong. When I tell myself, I tend to accept the limitation.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  2. The dichotomy “artist” vs. “productive member of society” really resonates for me. I am grateful to have come across your post this morning. My head is on a little bit straighter for it. 🙂

    • Hi Sammy D,
      Thank you! Yes, I think many members of our blog community resonate with that one. I don’t know about you, but my family didn’t value creativity over “doing something useful.” Looking back over my career(s) I can see how much creativity I used when I was working as a physician, which was the most useful job I could think of! Now I’m more conscious of my creativity, and more willing to do something for creativity’s sake, rather than just doing something useful creatively–although that’s good, too!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  3. Pingback: Cognitive Dissonance and Writing II | JCU // Creative Writing Workshop

    • Hey joshuamrode,
      Good for you! You can do both. You can’t do everything, in my humble opinion, but if you have a passion for writing and for medicine, you can do both.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  4. Toooo-freakin’-shay, Diane!

    I can either be a cancer caregiver or an artist/writer.
    I can either be rich or poor.
    I can either be overwhelmed by a too- full schedule or work with an too-full schedule.
    I intend to be a cancer caregiver and an artist/writer.
    I intend to be rich and poor.
    I intend to be overwhelmed by a full schedule and work with a full schedule.

    The latter two sound negative, but not really, for isn’t life full of things that make us feel rich and poor? And don’t those moments when we feel “poor” often turn out to be the richest moments of our lives?
    And no matter how overwhelming and interruptive our schedules are, we CAN find time to shift things around in order to make time to write!

    I loved Part II as much as Part I. Excellent post.

    • Hey Laura,
      Thanks for doing the exercise and sharing your responses with us. I agree, we can be rich and poor at the same time, and have too much to do and still get a whole lot of stuff done.

      Great to hear from you and thanks for your kind words.


    • Hi manniqueen,
      You are welcome. I hope you found the exercise helpful. It’s just a very concrete way of seeing how our thinking is keeping us from doing and being who we want to be.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


  5. Pingback: Cognitive Dissonance and Writing II | booksaregifts

  6. I am struggling with such conflicts after taking a part time job AND trying to retain the same hours of writing. Of course it is not possible, unless I find an alternative dimension with another me willing to come along & share the workloads. I always aim to be a positive thinker but sometimes conflicts block out all the little things I have absorbed over the years.
    I am a writer and I have a part-time job which I like; I can also find time for family & friends.
    thanks for this great post.

    • Hi ehaleywood,
      I’m glad you like the post. Our minds are so concrete that just saying or writing “I am a writer and I have a part-time job which I like; I can also find time for family & friends,” will cause you to find the time. Your mind believes whatever you tell it, but if left unguided it will think (and believe) things like: I can’t be a writer and have a part-time job.

      Best wishes with both!


  7. Pingback: Cognitive Dissonance and Writing II | deepeahp

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