English dailies in the 90s in India were full of long sentences and words with more syllables than less. My pea brain of a decade and a bit concluded that the point of writing was to impress. Teachers, if not girls. An essay about the pernicious effects of atmospheric pollution fetched better grades than one about the mere harmful effects of air pollution. The occasional asks by friends to write simply did not dent my confidence. ‘It was a matter of style’, I told myself. ‘I write well’.
Recently I joined a program about the art of clear writing where the first lesson was that writing clearly is writing simply. And that a good writer writes for the reader. Ouch!
Cognitive dissonance happens when we receive information that conflicts with our beliefs.
It creates mental discomfort that urges us to reduce or remove the internal inconsistency. Existing belief: My fancy style is what makes me a good writer. New idea: Simple writing is better writing.
Our beliefs shape our world but can be inconsistent with new ideas or with each other. We respond to this gap on a spectrum: from outright rejection to behavioral transformation.
I’m not interested in what the right response is, or if there’s such a thing as one best response for all. But I want to talk about what happens when we discover a breach in our belief system. I felt this immense urge, almost compulsion, to re-discover my equilibrium once I started examining my writing. The more dearly held the belief, I realized, the greater the urge to stay close to base.
This is the nature of the filter through which everything has to pass through before entering our world. It explains how we consume information, how we decide, and how we live.
When you want to become a better version of yourself, oftentimes the first thing you’ll notice is that the process brings you anxiety instead.
That is your internal filter being cleaned. Don’t regress. Don’t react to the dissonance. Stay the course. The half life of cognitive dissonance may be short. But the wisdom from a process of self-discovery will last long.