In the iconic Dr Seuss book, Green Eggs and Ham, the character of Sam-I-Am persistently tries to convince the protagonist to try a plate of delicious green eggs and ham. Try as he might there is no convincing his friend of the epicurean delights of his ham and eggs – no matter how verdant they are. No house, no boat, no mouse, no goat can lure the protagonist to change his mind. Until, of course, he does, and just like that he too becomes an ardent fan of the gastronomic peculiarity known as green eggs and ham. Quite simply, he changes his mind.
Our mindsets are formidable fortresses to their protected ideas. Once we have decided something is so, well then, so it is. I am always convinced that how I see a particular situation is right thinking, until proven otherwise. Our mental truths are really just transit lounges until we get to our destination and for most of our thoughts there is no ultimate destination. All mindsets are flawed; they are temporary shelters to help us make sense of the world as we travel through our adventure.
If I cast my mind back just six months, I remember how I thought differently about my work, my relationships and myself. The artful act of living is to ensure that our mindsets are evolving forward and not revolving around the same memories. Trying to avoid fitting what we are experiencing into the memory of our past takes effort. For the majority of us it’s very hard to ever experience anything new if we keep trying to match what we experience with what we know. Being at the growth point of our life takes courage – the winds are fierce and the sirens’ calls ever present.
The classical hero, Odysseus, you may recall, wanted to hear the beauty of the sirens’ song and had his crew tie him to the mast of his ship whilst they filled their ears with beeswax so they remained deaf to the lure of the sirens. This provided Odysseus with safe passage through this treacherous part of his journey. This hypnotic allure really represents the distractions of worldly temptations. It takes some ardour to navigate through and towards a higher order of thinking and not be pulled down into the base practicalities of life and the narcissistic love of our own suffering.
When we are young we acquire a collection of rules about life. Some keep us safe (look both ways before you cross the road); some socialise us (say please and thank you); and some can become passé as we move through life and our wiser, older selves learn that not all rules stay true always. I was raised to respect my elders, which I believe is a practical social skill to have. How I interpreted that rule though, is to fear my elders because most of the time when I was being taught this rule my elders were out of control and demanding obedience and threatening punishment without it. That mindset played out in my adult life.
I used to find myself withdrawing from people I regarded as more senior – biding my tongue and protecting my thoughts. However, as time went by and I released some of my views on my inherited rules, I was more open to seeing that some adults were really just grown up, insecure children. And once I saw that possibility, I was then ready to receive the idea that possibly we all are just trying to find our way through our life adventure the best way we know how and in ways that work for us.
Considering there are about 7 billion humans on this planet, I imagine there might be 7 billion possible ways for solving the mystery of how to live a life. Each of us needs to find our own ship’s mast that we can fix ourselves to for those times when our voyage takes us through the temptations of earthly delights – those worldly pleasures that fulfil our baser needs. Unite this distraction with a dose of victimhood (my job is so hard, my finances so fragile, my health is weak, my relationships are difficult) and we can stay swimming with the sirens forever!
I have found that three attitudes have served me well as the mast to which I can be tied, protecting me from staying in siren-land too long. A mental model underpins each of them. The first is the courage to ask for help. If I believe seeking help heralds a weakness in me I can never truly be in a relationship with another. If I am always strong and never in need of help it must come to pass that I would believe I am always right. I’d probably find myself fixing a lot of other people and helping them see the world as I do. I can also hold onto a belief of being the long-suffering, fixer-of-all-things. That is a mighty and deluded position to hold.
When I think I may need help, I acknowledge I am unsure, unknowing or perhaps unskilled at what may be required of me in this next moment. Accepting this pushes my emotional maturation along its path. I automatically grow when I face my vulnerabilities.
The next mindset to embrace is the acceptance that our thinking can change. It takes humility to relent to a new thought process possessing us. Typically we have built a life around how we think. We have mapped out a future and scripted a past that aligns with our view of the world.
New thinking is like renovating a house. It’s disruptive, messy and takes time. The dust of our old thoughts impregnates everything and you can feel like the clean up will never end. But, one day you look about your new house and commend yourself on your flair, your eye for detail and the great sense you displayed through the choices you made. Until it is time to renovate gain.
The final attitude I see working miracles in changing minds is self-compassion. We can spend too long beating ourselves up for staying stuck, for having made poor choices, for doing wrong by others or ourselves. If every human form is nothing more than embodied energy, then we need to be conscious of how we expend it. Energy makes things work, produces change and makes things happen. I’d suggest exerting our energy on blame and judgement is counter-productive. We can take that energy being absorbed in denouncing ourselves and direct it towards facilitating the change – put it to work cleaning up after the renovation!
Releasing our mindset is what its all about. Holding on and trying to keep things the same is a clue to us that we are not living life, but rather we are controlling it. We should treat our thoughts as visitors, passing through us. Treat them well, make them feel at home, but let them continue on their journey when they’ve stayed long enough. Remember you can always invite them back if you miss them or need them.
For me, a sub-set of self-compassion is humour. When we are kind to ourselves about mistakes we may have made, we get to a place were we can laugh at our foibles. We soon realise that the thing we classified as a mistake was a step towards a new awareness. Others may have seen it sooner, or chosen a less torturous path and perhaps we could have learned the lesson the first time around, but ‘mistake’ might be an old mindset talking to us. There is always collateral comedy within the drama of our lives.
Let’s go back to our Dr Seuss character who learns about his newly acquired penchant for green eggs and ham. The change of mind is like a magical transformation. It is as though some incantation like Abracadabra has been uttered and now what was impossible has conjured itself into the possible.
Abracadabra is derived from an Aramaic phrase meaning “I create as I speak. In Hebrew it translates as “it came to pass as it was spoken. The word has long held magical properties and was inscribed on amulets and worn by our ancestors as a powerful deterrent to lethal diseases and misfortune – a lot like the evil eye worn to ward off the curses from those wishing us ill. The word is believed to invoke the force of powerful, beneficial spirits. It also speaks of something very powerful that goes on in our thoughts and actions.
I know this to be true for myself, when I arrive at a new way of thinking about my self or a situation my language changes from unconstructive words and negative phrasing into something creative and empowering. So a magical trick to take you into a new mindset might be to change your language. Speak as though it were already taking place – talk yourself into your new mind. You’ll be eating green eggs and ham before you can even say abracadabra!