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?