Our World of Contradictions

We all have contradictions in our lives. We are confident that we believe one thing but we do the complete opposite when we are confronted with situations that test our professed beliefs. We say we are people of integrity but cheat at the drop of a hat when we think no one is watching or feel that it makes no difference; especially when our choice causes no harm to others. All that is required is the right condition, temperature and pressure and we abandon our beliefs for the path of least resistance.

An experiment by Piercarlo Valdescolo and David DeSteno posed two tasks to participants - experiment one was a photo hunt to simply scan through pictures on a computer screen to find certain objects. This was a short ten minute experiment which many of the participants thought was a lot of fun. The second experiment was a little trickier. It will take a good 45 minutes with many difficult logic-related problems.

The scientists wanted to ensure that an equal number of people were assigned to each task and in an effort to be fair and to not unduly influence who completes which task, participants were allowed to decide which task they would perform by the simple automatic flip of a coin where they press a button on a engineered randomizer,. The randomizer simply displays a green or red circle. If the circle is green, it means the short photo task is assigned. If the circle is red, the long set of logic problems is the choice. The participants would be the decider of which task they would perform or so they thought. Unbeknownst to the participants, the device has been secretly programmed to repeat the same selection for the first few attempts.

As people sat alone in a test room and pondered what to do, they were left alone to decide if they would obey the decision of the randomizer or not. One thing they all agreed on at the onset of the experiment was that not using the randomizer to determine who got stuck with the difficult task would be dishonest and immoral. To them, cheating in this way would demonstrate a lack of virtue and a weakness of willpower. Yet, when confronted with the actual, as opposed to the theoretical and the opportunity to cheat and get away with it, 92% of the participants succumbed to the temptation.

Some ignored the randomizer and simply dove into the simpler task. Some kept pressing the button multiple times until they got the green circle. Seeing a green circle somehow made them feel better - as if the repeated "do-overs" were justified. Scientists were surprised by the high percentage of cheating. But no one is perfect. Just because we act with honesty and integrity does not mean we will act with honesty and integrity all of the time. We all face times when we contradict ourselves. We will happily go for pleasure in the immediate even when it goes against our moral codes or future success.

So, why are we so often tempted to go against what we know and believe? The most intelligent and aware amongst us will readily abandon self-control when we think we have no one else to be accountable to but ourselves. For example, we have the emotional, social and spiritual down pat but we can't get our bodies to a place of health. Rather than go to the gym, we sit on the sofa and watch endless hours of TV instead, even when we know and believe that health is wealth.

In what area of your life are you currently being contradictory?

Excerpt from Emotional Success - The Power of Gratitude, Compassion and Pride by David DeSteno

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