Mind Over Matter, As Illustrated By a Small Child Who Shamed Me At an Amusement Park

It was one of those moments where all the bravado that led you to that point suddenly drains from your being — but it’s too late to go back. The attendant had pulled down the heavy shoulder harness that would keep me from flying off to my death and was going through the standard safety announcements, and all I could think was, Holy shit, oh my fuck, why did I decide to do this?

I am 30-mumble-something and hadn’t been in an amusement park since my early 20s until my recent trip to Cedar Point with my (younger and more physically resilient) sisters. And if the way my metabolism has been treating my weight lately was any indication, I knew my body no longer handles things the way it once did.

I’d been relieved to find out I could still do roller coasters of all varieties, but spinny things — which I once loved — now made me sick. So when my youngest sister somehow dared me onto this whirling dervish of a machine, all bets were off.

The spinning/swinging/twirling contraption looked awesome to the 20-year-old inside of me (which I think is what got me on it in the first place), but the 30-something body housing that inner 20-year-old was fairly certain it was about to pass out, get sick or scream for her life like a terrified child who thought the kiddie coaster would be cool but then spends the entire ride shrieking to mom to stop-the-ride-I-wanna-get-OFF-make-it-STOP!* (*Actual embarrassing anecdote from Cordelia’s childhood.)

The announcements stopped and there was that moment of dead silence before the storm hits something awful happens the ride starts to move.

I was shitting my metaphorical pants.

Then a tiny little voice from a boy who must have been 6 months old (read: probably between 5-7 years in actuality) piped up next to me:

 

“This Is Gonna Be Awesome!”

I couldn’t see him around my enormous shoulder harness, and he couldn’t see me, but I felt instantly and utterly burned.

“It totally is!” I called back, too fragile in my state of panic to realize a show of bravado to keep an unseen elementary school child from thinking I’m a lame-o is in itself pretty lame-o.

“My brother wouldn’t come on this with me,” the small voice responded. “He was too chicken!”

“Well then, he’s gonna miss out!” I replied cheerily, resolving deep within myself that I would not let this little boy know I was a chicken too. I would. not.

So, as the ride gained momentum and my stomach gained some not-so-great sensations, I whooped and hooted with a right good will along with the small boy next to me. We traded “This is so cool!”s and “We’re flying!”s until an odd thing happened:

I realized I was actually enjoying the ride as much as I was pretending to.

It did kinda feel like we were flying, and if nothing else, it felt pretty awesome to have conquered something I’d been petrified over. I felt a wee bit dizzy afterwards, but I was more exhilarated than anything — both at the outcome, and at how it had come about.

 

It’s All About Your Perspective

If I’d kept stewing in my pants-pooping fear and nervousness as the ride got into full swing, no doubt my worst-case scenarios would have come true and I would have felt ill, scared and extremely PO’d at myself for having agreed to go on that stupid ride. But since I’d made up my mind that I was going to enjoy it, dammit, I actually wound up enjoying it.

Funny how that whole “mind over matter” thing works.

I’ve written before about how the stories we tell ourselves matter — how the frames through which we view the world color the way that world looks to us. That’s a big-picture thing, and it’s something I try to keep in mind on a grand scale when it comes to things like my business and my relationships. But this was the first time it really clicked for me that you can play the same game with little-picture things, like the scary ride you’re about to go on or the presentation you’re about to give or the room full of strangers you’re about to walk into.

As James Clear so brilliantly put it, your mind is a suggestion engine. You can choose the way you want to experience things, and you can psyche yourself into situations as much as you can psyche yourself out of them. So why not use that force for good rather than evil? (Tweet!)

Later, feeling emboldened by my newfound Jedi mind trick, my sister and I conquered this bad boy, which shoots you from 0 to 120 mph in 4 seconds, then straight up and down a 300-foot incline in the span of about 17 seconds (that’s me waving in the tan sweater, if you can see it):

 

[KGVID width=”568″ height=”320″]http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Cedar-Point-video.mov[/KGVID]

It’s the sort of ride so ridiculous it has an actual row of bleachers next to it for people to watch it run. It honestly happened so fast I remember nothing but the sensation of mind-numbing speed and feeling, again, proud that I went through with it. I went through with it because I told myself I could. And I found it was pretty freakin’ fantastic — as you’ll find many things are when you decide to decide they are.

 

An Aside

That’s the happy ending to this story.

The extended ending is that when I emerged from my harness on that first ride and went to give the little boy next to me a high-five, I discovered there was another little boy sitting on his other side to whom all of his comments were more likely directed. This made me just some random crazy old lady stranger seemingly talking to herself.

But whatevs. I didn’t promise this method would remove deeply ingrained social awkwardness. Just fears and other bad mental juju.

How can you use this mind trick to make your daily experiences awesomer?

Image:  Tara Faul / Flickr

The Way Things Are Isn’t The Way Things Have To Be

Recently, I wrote about the importance of the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. The way we cast ourselves (victim, reject, center of the universe) affects the way we experience the world. If we think everyone’s against us, we’ll keep seeing things that reinforce that story. If we think we’re better than everyone else, people will constantly let us down. We react to things based on the story we believe about our world, and as a result, we wind up perpetuating the story by playing along with it.

But there’s a bigger story, a story so hulking and omnipresent it warrants a post in itself. It’s a really shitty story our whole society has deluded itself into believing. That really shitty story is the ridiculously depressing notion of “The Way Things Are.”

You may not realize The Way Things Are is a story. That’s part of what makes it so devious (and powerful). Most people just accept that it really is… well… the way things are. As a result, they play along with it without realizing they have any other choice. They take it as a given rather than one way of seeing things.

And since the majority of people are going along with it, it really does become the way things are.

 

So, How Are Things?

Pretty damn crappy, if you believe the story.

If you subscribe to the general belief in The Way Things Are, life is a pretty grim set of circumstances you can’t control and probably don’t like. Here are some elements of “The Way Things Are” mentality:

  • You have no choice but to work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for pretty much most of your life.
  • You have to do this because you have to have a car, a house, 10 credit cards and a steady stream of stuff and distractions at all times to keep you happy.
  • You need to be kept happy because you probably hate the job that takes up the majority of your waking hours.
  • (Lather, rinse, repeat the above 3 phrases as needed. It’s a nice vicious circle.)
  • You deserve lots of things you can’t afford because you put up with the unfairness of the above circle. Future You can deal with paying for these things.
  • Debt is something you only need to think about when the bills come each month. It doesn’t matter if you’re paying off that flat-screen TV for the next 30 years, because they’re probably going to be 30 miserable years anyway, and the least you deserve is to be able to watch Dancing with the Stars in high-quality HD.
  • What you do doesn’t matter.
  • Dreams are for the naïve and the misguided. Resignation is the mark of a real, functioning adult.
  • If you don’t already kind of dislike your spouse, you probably will after enough time together. Kids will only make this worse.
  • You should still have kids anyway.
  • No one is where they want to be. That’s just part of growing up.
  • No one likes The Way Things Are, but they can’t be changed. Suck it up, have a drink, go out and buy something. It’s almost the weekend.

I could go on, but it’s too depressing. And I think you probably recognize the story by now.

 

If We All Hate This Story So Much, Why Do We Keep Telling It to Ourselves?

The thing is, no one is really happy living according to The Way Things Are. Any story you have to constantly resign yourself to is not a good one.

So why do so many of us resign ourselves to it?

Because we don’t realize we have any other choice. If we did, we think, more people would be doing something different, wouldn’t they? The fact that everyone around us seems to be keeping their heads down and trudging along makes us think that must be our only option. So we all put our heads down and keep trudging, and this grim picture of the world continues to be the way things actually are because no one realizes it can be any different.

It’s not surprising most of us don’t think to question it. Everything around us reinforces the story.

TV shows give us characters who live neatly in The Way Things Are: dysfunctional families, disgruntled cube farm workers, harried moms and overworked suits and couples who communicate in nasty one-liners. We find these shows funny or moving because they portray things we recognize. They make us feel better about our own shitty circumstances by delivering the reassurance that “we’re all in this together.” You don’t see many shows about minimalist, location-independent lifestyle designers living life on their own terms. (And if you did, people would probably argue that they’re completely unrealistic.)

Commercials sell us products to help us escape from The Way Things Are. We deserve that big SUV with dual heat zones and seat-back DVD players because nothing else in our lives is going right, and the least we can do is give little Johnny the comfort of knowing we’re keeping up with the Joneses. (The money we put towards that SUV could fund part of little Johnny’s college education, but what matters is pleasing Johnny, and ourselves, N-O-W.) We need energy drinks because we’re exhausted after 8 hours at a desk and only have an evening of drudgery to follow, and it’s easier to guzzle a little bottle of something than find a lifestyle that actually energizes us.

We’re inundated with ways to work around The Way Things Are, to distract ourselves from The Way Things Are, to make The Way Things Are a little easier to live with. But The Way Things Are, in itself, is considered a given. And if everyone around you is operating under the notion the earth is flat, you have no reason to stop and wonder if it’s not. You just go on living the best little flat life you think you can.

 

What You Don’t Know

What you don’t know could turn everything upside down.

Did you know it’s possible to sell all your stuff, pay down your debt and be free to live literally anywhere you want, at anytime?

Did you know you can visit every single country in the world in 5 years?

Did you know playing it unsafe is a viable option?

It’s time to free yourself from The Way Things Are and instead create The Way Things Ought To Be. (Tweet!) Poke around the blogosphere long enough and you’ll find that more and more people are doing it — real-life, ordinary people who are, in their own ways, rejecting the mass delusion and creating the lives they’ve always wanted. Start reading just a few of their stories. It’s like someone flipping the Technicolor switch after you’ve been watching black and white all your life.

I’m not gonna lie to you. It takes hard work and some serious faith to pursue a life on your own terms. Another reason The Way Things Are has such a stronghold on us is because, shitty and completely miserable as it is, it’s oh so easy to fall in step with it. But you’re always sacrificing something, whichever story you choose to live by. The choose-your-own adventure stories take discipline, hard work and a willingness to stand out and be different. The Way Things Are story takes your soul, your dreams and your day-to-day and long-term happiness.

Guess which sacrifices I believe are the better deal?

It’s your choice. It’s your story. Which road are you going to take?

Image: Eamon Brett / Flickr

It All Comes Down to You (Some Stories About Adversity)

This post is from way back in 2011 (remember those days?). I’m re-airing it because I very much need to hear it as I overcome my own challenges this month — namely, kicking my sorry tail into shape.

I have a feeling you could stand to read it, too, whatever challenges you’re currently facing.

So, sit back and listen up, kiddies. I’d like to tell you some stories about some people and the things they have done…

 

Helen Keller Was Deaf and Blind

She not only learned sign language, but earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, wrote 12 books and numerous articles, was a fundraiser for the blind, and campaigned for many liberal causes including women’s suffrage and workers’ rights. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

No one would have faulted her for living a quiet life of solitude, given her seemingly insurmountable disability. But she didn’t.

 

Beethoven Began to Lose His Hearing at the Height of His Career and Eventually Became Completely Deaf

He sawed the legs off his piano so he could set it on the floor and feel the vibrations as he played. His Symphony No. 9, of which he never heard a single note, is one of the best-known works of classical music.

He could have given in to the suicidal thoughts that overtook him at first and become just another poetic tragedy. But he didn’t.

 

Elie Weisel and Viktor Frankl Experienced the Unspeakable Horrors of the Nazi Concentration Camps

Weisel went on to spread a message of hope, atonement and peace, drawing from his own struggles to come to terms with the presence of evil in the world. He wrote over 40 books, including the acclaimed memoir Night, and is a political activist for human justice, tolerance and freedom the world over. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his crusades for human dignity.

He could have become disillusioned, bitter and withdrawn from the world. Few of us would have faulted him for that. But he didn’t.

From his own attempts to find a reason to keep living in the midst of meaningless suffering, Frankl developed a philosophy that even in the cruelest and most hopeless of situations, man has the ability to find internal meaning and purpose. He went on to teach that even when we are helpless to change our circumstances, we have within us the power to summon the will to live. He pioneered existential and humanist psychiatric systems and wrote more than 32 books, including his hallmark Man’s Search for Meaning.

He could have been broken and defeated by the horrors he experienced. Most of us probably would have, in his situation. But he didn’t.

 

Nelson Mandela Spent 27 Years as a Political Prisoner

He became a leader among his fellow inmates, fighting for better treatment, better food and study privileges, earning his B.A. while imprisoned through a correspondence course. He also became a symbol of hope and anti-apartheid resistance for his entire country. While behind bars, he continued to build his reputation as a political leader, refusing to compromise his beliefs to gain freedom, and upon his release, he led negotiations that resulted in the democracy he had always fought for.

He was elected president of South Africa and received more than 250 awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize. His funeral was a global event.

He could have decided to lie low, give in, and let those 27 years sap his motivation and his influence. It would have been easy enough. But he didn’t.

 

Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney and Winston Churchill Are All Said to Have Displayed Signs of Learning Disabilities Like Dyslexia

They did poorly in school. They were told they were stupid, talentless, unteachable, and that they would never amount to anything beyond “mediocre.” I think you know they all went on to do some fairly impressive things.

They could have believed the negative voices and been the smallest versions of themselves. But they didn’t.

 

Speaking of Thomas Edison…

In addition to failing about 10,000 times before landing on a successful design for the light bulb (“I have not failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”), his factory burnt to the ground when he was 67, destroying countless lab records and millions of dollars of equipment. When he surveyed his losses, he remarked, “There is great value in disaster.  All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.”

He could have thrown in the towel at any one of these setbacks. It certainly seemed like “fate” was trying to tell him to do so. But he didn’t.

 

J.K. Rowling Was a Divorced Single Mom Living on Welfare When She Had the Idea for the Harry Potter Books

She walked her baby in its stroller until it fell asleep, then rushed to the nearest café to get out as many pages as she could before the baby woke up. She is now the revered master creator of a beloved global franchise and one of the richest women in the world.

She could have dismissed her idea as silly or focused on something more “viable.” But she didn’t.

 

James Earl Jones Still Struggles With a Speech Impediment

When he was young, his stutter was so debilitating that at one point, he actually gave up speaking.

He could have stayed silent. But he didn’t.

 

Jackie Joyner-Kersee Was Diagnosed With Asthma When She Was 18

She is now a six-time Olympic medalist in track and field, is ranked among the all-time greatest athletes in the women’s heptathlon, and was named by Sports Illustrated for Women as the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century.

She could have seen herself as defective or weak and given up on her dreams. But she didn’t.

 

Jean-Dominique Bauby Suffered a Massive Stroke That Resulted in “Locked-In Syndrome”

The well-known French journalist, author and editor was left paralyzed and speechless, his only thing method of communication being the ability to blink his left eyelid. He went on to write the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, letter by letter, with this one good eyelid. A transcriber recited a modified alphabet to Bauby until he blinked his eye to indicate the letter he wanted.

An average word took around 2 minutes to “write” this way. The book was written in about 200,000 individual blinks, accomplished in 4-hour-a-day sessions over a span of 10 months.

If anyone ever had the right to claim “writer’s block,” it was him. But he didn’t.

 

The Moral of These Stories

Circumstances mean nothing.

Limitations mean nothing.

Obstacles mean nothing.

It all comes down to you. (Tweet, tweet!)

YOU decide how you react to circumstances. You decide who you are in those circumstances and what you can do in spite of them (or because of them).

YOU decide what you do with your limitations. You can see them as a challenge, a minor setback or a message from the universe that you’re just not “meant” to do something.

YOU decide to let obstacles stop you or keep blazing ahead.

You know what the above people did. What’s your choice?

 

Image:  Flickr

What Story Are You Telling Yourself?

When I was a little kid, one of the funnest games to play was “let’s pretend”: “Let’s pretend the living room is the ocean, and the furniture is islands, so you have to swim to get to them!”… “Let’s pretend everything is opposite, like we can only move backwards!”…  “Let’s pretend I’m a really rich person and you’re my butler!”

(O.k., so you usually can’t get your younger siblings to go along with that one, but it’s worth a try.)

The awesome thing about the “let’s pretend” game was that it made the boring everyday things around you seem suddenly new and exciting. In the blink of an eye, you weren’t stuck inside with nothing to do on a rainy day; you were on a cool adventure, and everything you saw was part of that adventure.

Banisters were trees. Trees were giants. The world transformed around you, just because you said so. (It’s a handy trick to use if you’re babysitting, too. You’d be amazed how excited a kid can get about brushing his teeth or helping clear dishes if you make it into a race or a secret ninja test.)

 

The Power of Frames

The way we frame things matters. When we get older, we may stop intentionally imagining the world around us into something different. But while we’re no longer saying “let’s pretend,” we’re still telling ourselves stories that change the way we view things — and not always for the better.

It’s way too easy to cast yourself into a role. You’re the overworked, under-appreciated martyr. You’re the only nice person left in a world of jerks. You’re no good. You’re too good. Everyone else is no good. You’re hopeless. And, like magic, everything around you seems to fall into place to support that role.

Self-stories have a way of becoming self-fulfilling. If you look at the world through whatever-color glasses, guess what? Everything will look whatever-colored. (Tweet, tweet!)

But that doesn’t mean that it is. (Or that it has to be.)

 

Red Flags

I’ve begun to realize there’s one surefire to tell when I’m operating based on faulty self-stories. Any time I find myself thinking in terms of things that “usually,” “always” or “typically” happen, I should learn to stop myself right there, because I’m probably telling myself a story that won’t lead to anything good.

For instance:

  • This guy’s gonna cut me off. SUVs usually cut me off…
  • Of course she dumped that project on me. People always dump their projects on me. I’m the only one who ever does any work around here…
  • One more load of dishes to do. Typical. The chores never end…

Can you tell which sad, sorry stories I’m telling myself about my life in these examples? Here are the underlying (/unattractive) assumptions:

  • Everyone else drives like an idiot. Everyone is only out for themselves. SUV drivers are obnoxious. Woe is me. [Cordelia note: I personally do believe that the ratio of obnoxious SUV drivers to obnoxious small car drivers is considerably high, but an assumption is still an assumption, so I’m trying to be more charitable. Apologies if you’re one of the nice ones!]
  • Everyone wants to take advantage of me. No one appreciates how hard I work. Everyone else is just goofing off playing online poker or updating their Facebook status. Woe is me.
  • My life is ruled by chores and errands and I’m helpless to do anything about it. I’ll never have any time for myself. It’s all on me. [My husband is actually perfectly willing to help out if I ask him, but I rarely ask anyone for help because I’m too busy doing everything myself and then stewing over it.] Woe is me.

In summation: Not good, folks. Just plain Not Good.

 

Bad Story. Bad!

(In Which Cordelia Confesses She’s Not Always That Great)

In case you couldn’t tell, way too often I tell myself the “woe is me” story. I cast myself as the harried Girl Friday who does everything for everyone and never gets a break.

And what happens as a result? I’m stressed. I resent things. I dwell on petty inconveniences. I’m inundated with stress because I’m approaching the world stressfully. I’m easily irritated because I’m focusing on all the things that irritate me.

It’s not pretty, and I don’t like it. Actually, I feel pretty awful admitting to it. It’s a horrible way to approach a life. I’m not sure how I acquired it, but it’s time for a redo, stat.

 

Self-Story 2.0

(New & Improved!)

I’m deliberately trying to teach myself a different story now. For all my Cordelian ideals, I still find myself defaulting to the old story when things get hectic or I’m not feeling particularly strong. But I’m learning to catch myself when the bad self-casting kicks in and to start the new story playing instead.

The new story is infinitely better:

I’m taking control. I’m on my way to something better. I’m Cordelia, and I’m calling it quits, because there are better things to do with a life.

Are the same stresses and petty inconveniences still there? Yep. Of course. But I don’t mind them as much. The world seems a little rosier in my new role, which means I’m reacting to it better, which in turns makes better things happen.The story perpetuates itself.

Is this sort of self-narrative a little too golly-gee-whiz perky? Damn straight it is.

Sort of a silly “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me” affirmation? Might be. What of it?

I’ve takenthe opposite approach, and personally, I think it’s crap. If I’ve got a choice between stories to believe in, you bet your sweet tail I’m going for the happier one.

I’m done bemoaning the world I think I’m stuck in. I’m ready to start creating the world I want to live in.

So, what kind of story are YOU telling yourself?

Image: Flickr