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.


baked potato with sour cream, maggie mcreynolds blog

No More Sour Cream

I grew up in a family of people who liked sour cream on their baked potatoes. And since children learn by way of example and I was above all else determined to win the grown ups over by imitating everything they said and did, I dutifully put sour cream on my baked potatoes, too. Except I couldn’t seem to get the hang of it.

A pat of butter, a shake or two of salt, a small dollop of sour cream, and…hmmm. The thing just didn’t taste right. I’d watch everyone else snorking down their creamy potatoes with their blissed-out expressions and think maybe I’d messed up the proportions. So I’d add some more sour cream. And a little bit more. But it was to no avail. It didn’t matter how much or how little sour cream I put on the thing, I just never achieved the level of potato nirvana to which I aspired.

I’m embarrassed to tell you that it took me 18 years to figure out what you’ve doubtless deduced in about fifteen seconds: turns out I don’t like sour cream on baked potatoes. And yes, DUH, when you don’t like something, piling more of it on your plate doesn’t make you like it even a little bit better.

It seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Yet how many of us bail out of a dysfunctional relationship only to sign up for more of the same with the next paramour? Or plug away dutifully at a job that numbs our souls, only to take that promotion, or go after a bigger job just like it, simply because it’s what we think we ought to do and it’s—well—what we’ve always done?

It’s hard to admit that something doesn’t work for us, especially when familial custom or societal values or our inner critic tells us that we should.

How could you leave that gorgeous woman with the trust fund? How could you ditch that tenure-track job? How could you break up the belly-dancing troupe for no better reason than you just aren’t enjoying yourself?

If you don’t like sour cream, you don’t like sour cream. Trust your own palate and the inner workings of your own soul.

Photo by JaBB, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, cropped

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