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If you’ve ever taken a train, there is often a reminder written on the platform, or a recorded message, telling you to “mind the gap”, ensuring your safety as you take a step off the platform and into the train.  This safety measure was first introduced in 1968, long before the overly distracted times that we currently live in, offering us a measure of awareness when we might have other things we’re focused on.  

But truthfully, we all have gaps in our lives, with the most common issue for the accountant moms that I work with and coach, being bridging the gap between where they are and where they want to be; whether it’s in their relationships, their career, their finances, their health, or many other areas of their lives.  They have goals and desires for their career, their families, and themselves, but wind up settling for less than they truly want because their goal just seems too far out of reach.   

Maybe you can relate – they want more flexibility in their schedule but their current job is demanding and inflexible; they want to make more money but don’t see how, without sacrificing more of their time; they want less stress, less overwhelm and more balance, but can’t imagine how it’s possible with their personal and professional demands.  You’ve probably got your own list of goals and desires that might seem impossible to achieve. 

While it’s important as an accountant to mind and fill in the gaps when it comes to your accounting knowledge of various subjects in the ever changing world of finance, it’s also just as important to be aware of the gaps in your personal life as well.  To find those places where you may have not allowed yourself to consider improving upon; where you may have accepted and normalized the gap.

Thankfully minding and bridging the gap between where you are and where you want to be doesn’t have to be impossible or dream-stealing.  Crossing that bridge just takes some awareness of what makes change so difficult and how to transition your goals from an impossibility to a possibility. 

If like a lot of working moms, you aren’t living your best life and want to do something about it, you first need to understand the concept of cognitive dissonance and how it’s making it so challenging for you to bridge any gap you find yourself facing.  Just know that If you have a desire, you also have the ability to make that desire a reality when you understand what’s getting in your way and how to use this awareness to have what you want.   

This week I’m going to discuss what cognitive dissonance is, why it’s a problem and how you can successfully bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

Cognitive dissonance and why it’s a problem

If you’ve ever had a dream about making a change in your life or achieving some goal, but you felt scared, overwhelmed, doubtful or frustrated, you have experienced cognitive dissonance.  Most of us working moms, when faced with bridging the gap between where we are and where we want to be, will most likely experience cognitive dissonance and not even know it, believing it must be a “sign” that’s telling us to give up or change direction.

Basically, cognitive dissonance is when your brain is struggling with two opposing thoughts or beliefs that you are holding simultaneously, which are then creating mental discomfort.  It happens when there’s a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors.  

For example, you might currently be making $50,000 a year and want to eventually make $100,000 a year, but the discomfort your brain experiences with the dissonance, or the gap, between your current reality and your future goal, is what will cause you cognitive dissonance. Before you know it, you’re feeling doubtful and worried, eventually giving up on your dream of ever making $100,000, assuming that it just isn’t meant to be.

The issue is that cognitive dissonance is the reason why most people don’t even want to set goals or go after a dream.  As soon as you set a goal, it means that your current thoughts, which are creating your current life experience, are going to need to change, and that’s very uncomfortable for your brain.    

Your brain doesn’t want to expend the energy necessary to believe something new, to feel determined or committed, and then to take the actions necessary to make it happen.  Your brain thrives on sameness and would much rather stay on the familiar side of the bridge, rather than make the effort to cross over to the other, less familiar side.

Interestingly, you’ve probably experienced cognitive dissonance more than you realize, and just thought that the discomfort, doubt or fear you experienced were telling you something or warning you in some way.  Like many of my clients, you may have allowed your brain to tell you that you don’t need to be uncomfortable, and that if you just give up on that goal or dream, you’ll actually feel much better.

In the example of wanting to make $100,000, you may have conflicting thoughts like, “That’s too big of a leap from where I’m currently at” or “I have no idea how to make that much money”.  When faced with cognitive dissonance, bridging the gap between where you are and where you want to be can seem like trying to jump over the Grand Canyon.

The good and bad news is that if you have a strong desire, it’s probably been tapping you on the shoulder for awhile, which means that cognitive dissonance is totally normal, but will also make you feel pretty horrible for awhile.  Just by its very nature, cognitive dissonance is the precursor to making a change, and your female brain is not onboard when it comes to making changes.

The other thing that will often get in the way is your brain’s need to be right, referred to as cognitive bias, and to look for all the proof to validate your current belief, as opposed to the belief you’d like to have about where you want to be.  Your brain is always working to prove what it already knows, which means you’ll have to be willing to change your beliefs and be wrong about your current beliefs.

In other words, you are saying, “I have this, but I want that” and unfortunately your lower brain will do everything in its power to convince you to stay with whatever “this” is.  Thankfully bridging the gap from this to that, doesn’t have to be an impossibility or as challenging as you might assume it would be.

If you think about it, you’ve been successfully dealing with cognitive dissonance and cognitive bias your whole life, and just didn’t know it, or else you would have never made any changes, learned anything new, gone after any big or small goal, or done anything different and challenging.  Instead of dealing with cognitive dissonance unconsciously and leaving it up to chance, I want to show you how to handle it consciously and powerfully, in order for you to get where you want to be.     

How to successfully bridge the gap 

Since cognitive dissonance is when your brain is struggling with two opposing thoughts or beliefs that you are holding simultaneously, then what really needs to happen is, you need to create a bridge between those two opposing thoughts.  When I work with my clients, we call this creating bridge thoughts; these are the thoughts you choose in order to get you from what you currently think and believe, to what you would like to think and believe.

In the example of currently making $50,000 but wanting to make $100,000, you need to create bridge thoughts that can bridge the gap between the two.  The key though, is that the thoughts must be believable or they won’t “stick” and your brain will automatically go back to the old, familiar thought.

Remember, cognitive bias is your brain’s way of proving it’s always right, so you need to gently and gradually make your way from one believable thought to another.  Just like the planks that would build a rope bridge across two cliffs, you need to lay down neutral, believable thoughts to bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

It’s really important to understand that you may not want to continue making $50,000, but your brain is very comfortable with that amount; it’s much more familiar with it, than it is with making $100,000.  That’s why using bridge thoughts will make the possibility of $100,000 much easier to move towards and achieve.

To start laying down planks to get from the current thought “I make $50,000”, which can feel frustrating, to “I can make $100,000”, which probably feels impossible, you need to choose a neutral thought like “I can make money”.  Just consider that neutral thought for a second – it’s believable, it’s provable, and it’s not in opposition to your current, familiar thought of “I make $50,000”.

A thought like “I can make money” gives your brain a chance to prove that thought true, allowing it to settle into this neutral thought.  Now there’s a plank on the bridge –  “I can make money” is taking you from “I make $50,000” and getting you closer to “I can make $100,000”.

Remember, your brain has been practicing the thought “I make $50,000”, for a long time and has a lot of evidence for why this is true.  That’s why you want to gradually turn its attention from what it currently believes, to what is also believable, in order to get you over the bridge to “I can make $100,000”.  

Once you’ve practiced the thought “I can make money” and it feels good to you, it’s time to place another plank on the bridge.  The next plank could be the thought “It’s possible that I can make more money” or “I’m willing to be open to the idea that I can make more money”.

As you put down each plank, you need to check in with yourself by asking questions like:

  • How much cognitive dissonance, or uncomfortability, am I feeling?
  • Is this new thought believable? 
  • Does this new thought make me feel a little bit better? 

Just know that as you put each plank on the bridge, your brain’s confirmation bias is going to want to show you proof of why $50,000 is all you can make.  It doesn’t want to be proven wrong, so you may feel some resistance to the bridge thoughts; this is completely normal and with your awareness of why it’s happening, it’s totally manageable.

To bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be, you have to be willing to be uncomfortable as you put plank after plank of bridge thoughts down, in order to get to the place you want to be.  This is the work I do with my clients in my 6-week program, helping them to navigate their brain’s cognitive dissonance, cognitive bias, and making their journey over the bridge as easy and speedy as possible.

There’s nothing worse than having a goal or a desire, and not understanding why it’s so hard to believe in yourself, to have confidence, and then to go after what you want.  It can be challenging when you don’t understand how your unique female brain works, why it’s so uncomfortable with the idea of change, and how to manage it.

As I’ve shared before in previous podcasts, discomfort is the currency for achieving your goals and dreams.  Nothing has gone wrong when you feel doubtful, overwhelmed or frustrated with the gap between where you are and where you want to be, but there is a way to manage that discomfort and bridge that gap.

There’s nothing I like more for myself and my clients than to have a desire for something more, and then not let the usual seeds of doubt and worry creep in.  When you learn how to bridge the gap for one dream or goal, that skill can be used in many different ways as well.

If you’ve been feeling the taps on your shoulder, making you take a look at where you currently are and dreaming about what’s possible for you in the future, you need to honor those taps.  Just know that if you have a desire, there’s no reason you can’t take the steps needed to make it a reality.

Summary  

  • If like a lot of working moms, you aren’t living your best life and want to do something about it, you first need to understand the concept of cognitive dissonance and how it’s making it so challenging for you to bridge any gap you find yourself facing.
  • Basically, cognitive dissonance is when your brain is struggling with two opposing thoughts or beliefs that you are holding simultaneously, which are then creating mental discomfort. 
  • The other thing that will often get in the way is your brain’s need to be right, referred to as cognitive bias, and to look for all the proof to validate your current belief, as opposed to the belief you’d like to have about where you want to be.
  • Instead of dealing with cognitive dissonance unconsciously and leaving it up to chance, I want to show you how to handle it consciously and powerfully, in order for you to get where you want to be.     
  • Nothing has gone wrong when you feel doubtful, overwhelmed or frustrated with the gap between where you are and where you want to be, but there is a way to manage that discomfort and bridge that gap.