Take This Quiz! Or Not.

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve seen the quizzes: If you were a children’s book author, who would you be? Which sexy movie star are you most like? Which Peanuts character are you?

Do we take them just for fun? Or are we hoping for some sort of confirmation that the world sees us as we see ourselves—or, perhaps even more accurately, as we wish to be seen?

What do the answers even mean? Maybe Facebook says I’m like Marilyn Monroe. Yay! Beautiful, curvaceous, iconic, adored! Oh, wait. Also miserable, confused, drug-addicted, and, um…oh, yeah. Dead.

i am graphic, maggie mcreynolds blogWhy do we so love to label ourselves, to compare ourselves to other people and things? It’s not unlike the Hollywood cliche of the screenwriter in a pitch meeting, packaging his story idea into a pre-digested form he thinks his would-be producer will understand and therefore buy: “I’ve got this great script! It’s ‘Gandhi’ meets ‘Hairspray’!”

When I was in high school, there was one brave guy in my whole senior class who came out of the closet—and he chose to do so in a spectacular way. He wore feather boas, Elton John-esque oversized sunglasses, and was fond of sweeping into the room and announcing things like, “I’m just so Scarlett!”

I’m not sure in what way he identified with Scarlett O’Hara—belle of the plantation who had men wrapped around her little finger? savvy seamstress who could whip up a darling frock out of the front parlor curtains?—but his label, while fascinating, didn’t have much of anything to do with who he actually was.

Even the labels about ourselves that sound true don’t have much to do with our essential selves: I’m a dog lover, we say. I’m a mountain biker. I’m a little bit country. I’m a little bit rock ’n’ roll. Those labels aren’t who we are, any more than we are “Marilyn Monroe,” “Scarlett O’Hara,” or even our own name. Those things are what we do, and what we and others call us. They say something about us, to be sure. But we are not a hobby or a role, any more than we are our houses, our children, our jobs, or our passions.

So while it is a social convention to say that I am Maggie McReynolds, I am a writer, a mother, a life coach, a terrible guitar player, there’s a core, absolute, essential me that these labels don’t describe and can’t reach.

The most honest, though perhaps uninteresting, thing I can say is: I am.

And that would make a really terrible Facebook quiz.

woman watching sunset, maggie mcreynolds blog

Change Your Mind, Change the World

I used to work with a guy who hated his uncle. I mean hated—to hear this guy tell it, his uncle was a jerk of epic proportions with no redeeming features whatsoever. One weekend, my coworker saw a movie that moved him to tears. It was all he could talk about the next morning at the office—how much he loved that movie, that movie really spoke to him, what a profound, amazing experience it had been. Then he found out his uncle had seen the same movie, and his uncle had loved it, too.

Did he rethink his long-held conviction that his uncle was a jerk? Did he wonder if maybe there was more to his uncle than he thought, since this movie that he so loved had moved his uncle in some way, too?

Nope. His take on his uncle was far too deeply entrenched, and he had years of anger and resentment invested in believing it to be true. So instead of being willing to give his story about his uncle a fresh think, he chose to recast his own experience of reality instead: “Eh,” he said. “It wasn’t such a great movie after all.”

It’s sad, but it’s all too human: when we have a long-held belief—even a painful one—and that belief does not conform to reality, our first impulse is often to distort, reshape, or manipulate reality until it’s back in balance with the limiting belief.

“I am someone who just can’t lose weight. I’ll always be fat,” Mary says. When Mary goes on a diet and loses some weight, she is exhilarated—but she’s also feeling some tension. If she doesn’t recognize and change her limiting belief about herself, she experiences cognitive dissonance when the reality (she is indeed losing weight) doesn’t match up with what she feels in her bones (“I can’t lose weight.”)

Without the ability, self-awareness, or willingness to change her belief, she’s likely to sabotage her diet and regain the weight she lost. She won’t be happy about it, but she’ll find some relief from tension when her reality once again is in balance with what she holds to be true: she can’t lose weight. It isn’t a good place to live, for sure, but it’s comfortable, familiar territory.

So what’s a girl (or guy) to do? Find a different thought, one that feels at least as true, or truer, than the one that’s keeping us stuck. Mary might come to believe that “I am a person who can lose weight,” or “I am committed to reaching and maintaining a health weight.” Odds are good she’ll find this hard to hold onto, even if she has ample evidence that this thought is true. Some of us need to write our new beliefs down, to repeat them to ourselves, to practice this new way of thinking about the issue until it is as deeply ingrained as the original painful thought.

Bringing what you think and what you observe into balance feels delicious—and we don’t have to sabotage ourselves and distort reality to do it. The only real way to change the world is to change your mind.

What are you thinking today?

 

spinning top, maggie mcreynolds blog

Proud Graduate of MSU

Everybody loves a good story—no one, perhaps, more than the storyteller herself. But sometimes I find that I am no longer telling the tale; instead, the tale is telling me. I’ve forgotten that my story is just that: a saga informed by my own perceptions, not some kind of objective truth. When that happens, I am trapped in my own creation. I’m not living my life. I’m not moving forward. I am simply rehashing the same tired stuff, over and over. My story is now running the show.

A story might go like this: some moron wasn’t looking where he was going, so I was in a terrible car accident and I was in the hospital for a month and I lost my job and none of it was my fault and now I’m never going to find a job as good as that one and my life is ruined forever. I hate that guy who did this to me.

Or it might go like this: I was in a freak car accident and spent a month in the hospital. During that time, I got a chance to see how many people really loved me and cared about me. And because I was off work for so much time, I finally broke free of a job I didn’t enjoy working with people who didn’t value me enough to hang in there for me while I was injured. Now I am free to reinvent myself, and I am looking forward to what happens next.

Same principal characters. Same events. One story is one of loss and anger; the other is one of hope. The thing is, they’re each just a story—and there are dozens of other ways to tell it. A version in which the accident is the injured party’s fault. A version in which the accident was no accident, or a perhaps one in which the accident was predestined to happen. It’s a tragedy. It’s an opportunity. It’s a cautionary tale. Ultimately, they’re all spin.

None of those stories happens to be mine, but I’ve got plenty of my own, just as we all do. It does me good to remember that they are just that: my own dramas, with my own spin. Thinking about them this way makes it easier to keep them where they should be: in the past. And it heightens my awareness that I also tell stories about those around me, about what I think they’re thinking and feeling, when the truth is, I have no idea. Recognizing my stories for what they are keeps me in the present, instead of reliving the past or conjecturing about the future, which I can plan for but can’t possibly predict.

All I really know is this moment. Which, even as I write about it, is already a thing of the past. Anything else, the spin doctoring, the assumptions, the prognostications…all of that simply buys me a full scholarship to what a friend of mine calls MSU: Making Stuff Up.

So at this moment, all is well in my world. The next moment will have to take care of itself.

 

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