scared man 2 by tom lin, creative commons, maggie mcreynolds blog

The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective People

If you’re interested in self-improvement, you’ve probably read—or at least heard of—Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey’s premise is compelling and simple: that people who are productive, happy, engaged, and effective share what he calls “true north” character traits, habits that connect with their inner compasses and keep them aligned with their core, essential selves.

In other words, being happy and effective is a matter of changing your thoughts and behaviors. Even more importantly, you need to practice these new thoughts and behaviors until they’re as “hardwired” into your brain as the negative stuff you’ve been doing to shoot yourself in the foot.

Bringing the negative thoughts and behaviors to a screeching halt isn’t always easy—in part because some of those thoughts and behaviors have been with us for so long they’re practically reflexive; we’re not even aware we’re doing it. There are all kinds of insidiously creative ways we can undermine ourselves and keep ourselves stuck. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

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Help! There’s a Menacing Blob in the Backyard!

scary shadow, maggie mcreynolds blogI’m seriously nearsighted. Have been ever since I was a kid. So at night, when I took off my glasses and lay in bed looking out the window, the normal, everyday stuff of my backyard was transformed into something purely terrifying.

The swing set became a surreal giant arthropod. The Weber grill, a man crouched next to the back door. Every bush and shrub took on a menacing shape: a bear, a hulking monster, the mean lady down the street who hated our dog.

The thing is, everything in the backyard was just as it had been in the daylight, when I’d had my glasses on. All that had changed was my perception of it. Lost in the darkness, blinded by my own myopia, I could and did work myself into a complete state of panic over things that weren’t even there.

I wear contact lenses now, and I am often too tired when I take them out to spend much time gazing out at the backyard. But I can still scare myself quite easily when I find myself, lost and temporarily nearsighted, in the darkness of pain, anger, depression, or fear.

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happy cowgirl, maggie mcreynolds blog

Being Happy—One Nanosecond at a Time

The other night, I was relaxing in front of the fire with a cup of my favorite tea, a square of dark chocolate, and a great movie playing on the DVD. In that moment, I was safe, fed, warm, comfortable, and enjoying myself tremendously.

Then I started wondering about a friend who said he might call that night. I wondered when the phone would ring. I glanced at the clock, saw that it was later than I’d thought, and anticipated that he wouldn’t have much time to talk, if and when he did call. I felt some irritation feathering around the edges of my good mood. Because the second I started thinking about anything other than what simply was, right in that moment—I rocketed myself out of that moment into the land of conjecture and expectation. In short, I set myself up for disappointment.

I aspire to simply be, without expectation…to live with open mind, open heart, and open hands. To find that line between expecting nothing, and staying open to the possibility of anything.

It’s way harder than it sounds.

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Mind the Gap: The Distance Between What You Want and What You’re Doing to Get It

mind the gap sign, maggie mcreynolds blogIf you’ve ever taken the Tube in London, you’ve seen the signs posted all over that say, jauntily, “Mind the Gap.” They refer to the distance between the station platform and the train itself.

But these days, I’ve been thinking about a different kind of gap: the one between what we tell ourselves we want, and what we’re actually doing—or, more pointedly, not doing—to make it happen.

Maybe you want to get in shape. Maybe you want a better job. Maybe you want a big-screen TV, or to learn HTML, or to find a significant other who knows all the lyrics to obscure mid-century jazz tunes.

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paper hearts with notes, by hefin owen, maggie mcreynolds blog

Who’s Really Disappointing You?

This Valentine’s Day was just about my best Valentine’s Day ever. And it took me almost all day to figure out why: through circumstance, both accidental and planned, there was no one around but me.

Which also meant that there was no one to disappoint me, but me.

I had no expectation of cards, candies, flowers, phone calls, baubles, or beads.

I had no expectation of being invited to lunch, treated to dinner, swept off my feet, or taken to bed.

And so, with others and myself released from the burden of my own expectations, I was free to do whatever I wanted with the day.

I wanted breakfast in bed. This meant getting up to make it, but once I did, I returned happily to a nest of blankets and pillows, and ate it while reading.

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gray rocks, maggie mcreynolds blog

Mental Hygiene: Do You Have Rocks in Your Head?

So there’s this rock.

It’s a huge, heavy rock. It’s gray, and I hate gray. It’s a stupid shape. It is the ugliest rock I have ever seen, and it ruins everything.

People laugh at the rock, and at me for having it. Whenever I get near it, I stub my toe on it. Sometimes, I lie down, laboriously roll the rock over on top of me, and then wail, “Help, help, I’m trapped under this big, ugly rock!”

What in the world am I talking about?

I’m talking about circumstances. I’m talking about all the things in your life that, for one reason or another, you don’t have one jot of control over—at least at the present moment. Might be your spouse. Might be your boss. Might be your health, or your child’s learning disability, or your 10-year-old car with the dent in the fender.

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girl arguing with herself, maggie mcreynolds blog

Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones, But Words Can Just About Cripple You

Few of us would passively hold still while being whacked with sticks and pelted with rocks. So how come, when it comes to verbal assaults, so many of us go all deer-in-the-headlights?

Maybe it’s because some of those word missiles have been launched at us so many times, we no longer consciously register them (think of the parent who’s been telling his offspring they’ll never amount to anything for the past, oh, forty years). Other times, we don’t hear the verbal slap for what it is because it comes disguised as “advice” from someone we think we can trust.

But even when verbal attacks are pretty obvious, it’s not always easy to know how to defend against them. Consider the following:

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’Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy

music floating over an ear, mondegreen, maggie mcreynolds blogThe above is perhaps rock’s most famous “mondegreen,” a term coined to mean a misheard song lyric (and derived, rather uninterestingly, from an obscure Scottish ballad whose lyrics “They hae slain the Earl O’Murray, and laid him on the green,” were apparently misheard as “and Lady Mondegreen”).

Okay, so misunderstood 17th-century folk music is only vaguely amusing. But it’s downright hilarious to imagine Jimi Hendrix wailing about a sudden impulse to smooch a bandmate in “Purple Haze.” What he actually sang, by the way, was “’Scuse me while I kiss the sky,” which, while not much more illuminating, is at least kinda poetic.

There are other common mondegreens:

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