Break Up With Beliefs
January 24, 2022 3:36 AM   Subscribe

The question: What do I do when I know exactly what I want to do in life but the odds always seem to go against me? The suggestion: Our brains are masterful collectors. If you were to illustrate a map of our clever little minds, they might look like the interior of one of my favorite museums, the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post (heiress to the Post Cereal fortune). […] Sometimes, I visualize my brain this way: various rooms each with a different purpose defined by fixation, and a collection of dusty, difficult-to-find objects to support that purpose. [From Out of the Blue, a newsletter by Mari Andrew, via]
posted by ellieBOA (13 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
That link is giving me a big white page -- some kind of browser issue?
posted by amtho at 4:50 AM on January 24


Working for me.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:20 AM on January 24


It might be a Facebook issue, here’s the text from the link:

The question:

What do I do when I know exactly what I want to do in life but the odds always seem to go against me?


The suggestion:

Our brains are masterful collectors. If you were to illustrate a map of our clever little minds, they might look like the interior of one of my favorite museums, the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post (heiress to the Post Cereal fortune).

Marjorie was an avid enthusiast of specific interests: Imperial Russian art, black onyx jewelry, Sèvres porcelain, and pink bathroom accessories. Every room in her house in an ode to something that caught her interest for a time, cluttered with objects of a particular fascination.

It’s a stunning, strange, intricate house, and a bit creepy in its devotion to various obsessions, much like bedroom belonging to the love interest in Sex and the City housing his massive doll collection.

Sometimes, I visualize my brain this way: various rooms each with a different purpose defined by fixation, and a collection of dusty, difficult-to-find objects to support that purpose.

The reason I’ve been visualizing my brain as a mansion of obsessions is that I’ve been working really, really hard on the stories I tell myself. I’m talking about beliefs that are so engrained that I can’t tell where they end and I begin. I'm talking specifically about limiting stories: the narratives I have that keep me from possibility and play because I have an overpowering assumption about how it will turn out (not good).

Here are a few stories I’ve been telling myself for at least a decade, but some for much longer:

No one will ever understand me truly. There is something defective about me that I can’t put my finger on, so I’m fundamentally an impossible person to “get.”

Men are not trustworthy and can't love me sufficiently. Other women appear to be loved very easily, but that’s not for me.

My work doesn’t matter—especially in comparison to others’.

I am a difficult person to be around because I’m too sensitive.

I’m not smart enough to engage in intellectual conversations.

…for just some examples.

I’ve been in committed, long-term relationships with these stories for such a long time that I’ve trained my brain to amass impressive collections of “evidence” that support these beliefs.

I use evidence in quotes because, if I really examine my collections, they don’t actually tell me that much. Let’s take a scenario like ghosting after a good date: The old 'Everything seemed great, then he ignored my text' plot.

In the Marjorie Merriweather Post Mansion of my brain, I’d put this scenario in the guest bedroom with the theme “Collection of Men Can't Love You.” It would be placed among painful childhood memories of moments when my dad couldn’t show up for me in ways that other dads showed up for their kids, or the time that my friend got asked to the dance and I didn’t, and a whole bunch of other ancient treasures that I keep on a shelf to confirm my own made-up belief.

Made-up or not, because this belief is fundamental to my understanding of myself, I’m obsessed with it...in the same way that Marjorie was obsessed with 19th century Chinese lion dog figurines.

I started my collection long ago, and I’m determined to complete it.

But what else could this ghosting scenario mean? Does it necessarily mean that Men Can't Love Me? No. It could also mean: the guy just broke up with the love of his life yesterday, the guy didn’t want to commute to my neighborhood, the guy was offended that I ordered a gin gimlet and he doesn’t like lime juice, or—dare I propose—he just wasn’t that into me. It has nothing to do with my worthiness of love, nor does he represent his entire gender when it comes to Ability to Love Mari.

Alas, my commitment to this story—to my beloved Collection of Men Can't Love You—won’t allow for any of that. I know it seems strange to call this collection “beloved” or “treasured” but the obsessive quality of clinging to these stories has me in a passionate love affair with them. It's so hard to let them go.

Because it’s more comfortable for me to be hurt than to be brave enough to accept love, I actually get a little high from the hurt. It’s tremendously validating; it invites me to be the victim. Subconsciously, I enjoy that role and I want to stay there in peace.

My various odd collections prevent me from summoning my agency and taking control of my own thoughts. If I get rid of them, who am I?

Then I’m someone who has to open my mind. I’m someone who has to use my free will to make a new choice. I’m someone who has to get creative. I'm someone who has to be vulnerable enough to put myself out there, to enter into intimacy, to take a risk.

And that's actually really hard to do! I don’t blame my past self and I don’t blame anyone for staying in a committed relationship with limiting stories. If our beliefs started in childhood and we’ve been collecting evidence to support them ever since, that’s a deep interdependent relationship that most likely won’t go away with just a decision to shift to more positive thinking.

I used to think it was spiritual bypassing or naive to think that I could actually change my stories. I would tell people “You don’t know what this is like” when they resisted my idea that my life would always be this way: Men will always love me insufficiently, I’m alone in the world, my work won’t be taken seriously.

But that was giving ALL my power away: to stories, to strangers.

That wasn’t who I wanted to be anymore.

I wasn’t going to fall in love if I thought men sucked. I wasn’t going to figure out a way to share my work if I thought nobody cared. I wasn't going to dive in to topics I'm really interested in if I thought I wasn't smart enough to engage.

You told me that the odds always seem to go against you in life. I can easily see why you feel that way, and your experience is valid. I’m never going to say that you can wish away real and tangible and frustrating obstacles that are standing between you and the exact thing you know you want most. That’s so real, and so hard. I’m so sorry you’re feeling defeated. Defeat is a really tough state for a person to be in; humans actually haven’t evolved yet to sit with the emotion of helplessness so it’s almost unbearable for us, and it sounds like you’re somewhere around there.

But I wonder if, after sitting with those very real feelings for a while, you can begin to explore the reality of these odds you mention.

May I suggest: Take yourself on a tour of the collector’s mansion that you’ve lovingly and meticulously created. Visit the room called “Collection of The Odds Are Against Me.” Examine each one, with tenderness, and ask if maybe they don’t quite belong in this particular collection. Maybe move the collection around a little like a curator of your own mind; take one piece of evidence and put it in a different room, like “Collection of Times I Was Resilient” or “Collection of The Odds Make Me More Creative."

One way that I break up with my stories is to announce that I’m available for a different reality. As the brilliant Aaron Rose writes, “By revoking that consent and saying: I’m not available for this and I’m ready for a new experience, we allow a miraculous shift to take place and life reorganizes to an organic order.”

That means, we can begin breaking up with our limiting stories (such as “The odds are always against me”) by becoming more and more available for a new way of being in the world.

I’ll give you a small example: I think Midtown Manhattan in NYC is extremely ugly and stressful. I hate being there. It’s a big strain on my nervous system and I don’t think there’s anything redeemable about it…except that the theatre and my doctor exist there.

So, whenever I have to go to the doctor, or when I get to go to the theatre, I say this to myself/God/the universe/New York:

“I am available for beauty. Feel free to show me some beauty here today. I'm here for it and I'll appreciate it.”

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But changing my perception of what is possible helps a LOT. If I go into Midtown grumbling, "I hate it here, this is ugly, I'm going to have a terrible time here, I'm probably going to be a worse person after I leave"...I'm most definitely going to focus on the chaos of hot-dog-scented steam and crowds rushing out of depressing big box stores. I might not even notice some of the golden trees piercing through the grey landscape.

I know that’s a minor example, so here’s a bigger one: I got nothing but rejections on my writing for over ten years. In fact, I got a C in the only writing class I ever took. I basically had no business thinking that I should be a writer.

For years, every piece I submitted to any publication—even obscure blogs that nobody reads—was rejected or ignored. I had a ton of treasures in my “Collection of Nobody Wants to Read My Writing.”

I flopped my head down on the keyboard when yet another rejection invaded my inbox, telling myself one/all of the following stories: This is a waste of time, I’m a bad writer, I’ll never get anything published, Nobody understands me, I should quit.

I would have quit if I kept adding to my collections of those stories…and I would have had a pretty whack view of the world.

I had to really get creative here: What other stories can I tell myself?

I started saying that I loved writing SO much that it didn’t matter whether I got published or not. I’d keep doing it. I’d find a way to share. I had a book idea and felt so compelled to write it that I resolved to make copies of my work and hand it out on the street if I had to.

I wasn’t going to let strangers at these publications tell my story for me; I was going to tell my own. And that story is: I love writing and I have something to say. That’s when I started breaking through with some different solutions, new ways to share, and a more realistic (i.e. a much more supportive) story about myself.

Anybody who tries anything is going to have a lot of odds against them. This is the truth of being in a human society on earth. The only people without odds against them are people who never try anything.

But, I’m going to suggest you getting a little less cozy with these odds, and refuse to give them any more power. It’s time to yank your power back. Take a look at that room in your Mind Mansion, the collection you’ve had for years. What’s the first time you ever felt like the odds were against you? I’m going to guess that’s a pretty old feeling, maybe even from early childhood.

Look at how much evidence you’ve collected to confirm that narrative, and get curious if there’s some other evidence that exists in a different room. Are there some ways you’ve been absurdly lucky? Are there moments when you defeated the odds? Are there moments when the odds actually catapulted you into some beautiful truth about yourself (for instance, your commitment to a creative passion no matter what), or when the odds forced you to shift gears and find a new path?

I’m thinking about my friend Susan Alexandra, now known across the world and Instagram as the designer of fabulous beaded bags that are gorgeous and coveted and provide her with a living as a full-time designer with her own shop in New York: her greatest dream come true!

But I met Susan when she was striving to become a jewelry designer, working for another jeweler during the week and selling her wares on weekends. Her jewelry was colorful and whimsical and over-the-top, which wasn’t catching on during a time when minimalist jewelry was all the rage (remember geometric necklaces and the popularity of a single thin gold ring?).

She’d watch shoppers pass by her stand at the pop-up sales in search of the trendier style, which obviously hurt her feelings. She considered attempting to embrace minimalism, which lasted all of five seconds. It just wasn’t her.

There are a lot of stories she could have clung to: People don’t resonate with her style, Other designers are more worthy, She’ll never be a full-time designer, She's unlucky in work.

She was coming up against odds. She was telling limiting stories and collecting evidence. So she began furnishing a different room: “Collection of I Have Something Different to Offer” and “Collection of My Work Matters.” Then, she began tilting and pivoting.

She saw the stacked odds as protection from a path that wasn’t meant for her, and took some different paths. Not all of them worked, but some did.

The odds aren’t more powerful than you.

While making attempts toward exactly what you want to do in life, may I suggest proclaiming: “I’m available for success. And I’m available for a new definition of success.” (The latter is sort of advanced level, but maybe say it just to see how it feels!)

My New Year's resolution this year is to begin my own breakups with long-term commitments to whack stories. A few years ago, I would have been so so irritated with my present self for suggesting such a thing: "YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND, FUTURE ME!!"

But I've seen what happens when I challenge my beliefs, liberate myself from the lie of "This is how it's always going to be," and take back my agency. And I know Past Me would be in awe of what's happened since.

posted by ellieBOA at 5:23 AM on January 24 [7 favorites]


This is just what I needed to hear today, thanks so much for sharing it.
posted by rpfields at 8:52 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


That's lovely. I actually used to work with Mari, back when she needed a day job, and I'm not at all surprised she's a good advice columnist (?) among the many other things she's doing these days. I remember a few tough days when I found solace holing up in her softly-lit office (it will not shock you that it was by far the most tasteful and aesthetically pleasing space in what was otherwise a very ugly building) and she always had time for talking, even when she was going through some really rough things. Basically, she's always seemed like lovely person and I hope her success now is bringing her happiness and this was a very kind letter and some good food for thought. I'm going to have to do some thinking about the stories I'm telling myself and what that's doing to/for me, for sure.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 10:25 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]


in a sort of a topical granfalloon: i saw my first dead show at merriweather post pavillion, and grew up guiding boyscouts in the 'mountains' around, and shorelines of, lake merriweather.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:45 AM on January 24


I don't disagree with understanding our identities and narratives or checking for limiting beliefs, all of which contemporary therapy tries to get their clients to do, but social realities also exist and sometimes human beings really have callings that really are being thwarted due to constraints of modern society. It's not always our individual fault, or up to us, and there's no guarantee that just ever rechanging our ideas and identities and narratives to fit capitalism better will help us not confront a very real lack of human freedoms and inequalities in our era.
posted by polymodus at 11:48 AM on January 24 [6 favorites]


Thank you for posting this! I look forward to reading all her newsletters :)
posted by BeeLIC at 1:04 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


I've visited Hillwood, MMP's former estate. It's beautiful but full of fragile things that made me nervous about being klutzy. Gorgeous kitchen, though.
posted by wicked_sassy at 1:58 PM on January 24


Thanks Ellie, lovely words when the script and the rooms in my headspace are ready for me to go outside to new things.
posted by k3ninho at 2:09 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]


social realities also exist and sometimes human beings really have callings that really are being thwarted due to constraints of modern society.

Thought same. I do feel like a very limited and limiting person, but also that's because I have to live in a world where one has to do what's needed (not what you want) to make a living and get health insurance, and frankly, I'm not talented enough to really be able to do my "calling" as anything more than a hobby and being one of the least of the group permitted to be onstage.

And also, if you've experienced nothing but, oh, shitty dudes, that is your life experience. Yeah, there's the potential that one day a miracle happens, but who knows on that one. I do agree with her on "I’ve trained my brain to amass impressive collections of “evidence” that support these beliefs." That is certainly true, especially when there is a lot of IRL evidence of NO to go up against my soul's "But I WAAAAAAAAAAAAANNA!!!!!!" whiiiiiiiiiine.

Then there's this:
I’m thinking about my friend Susan Alexandra, now known across the world and Instagram as the designer of fabulous beaded bags that are gorgeous and coveted and provide her with a living as a full-time designer with her own shop in New York: her greatest dream come true!
But I met Susan when she was striving to become a jewelry designer, working for another jeweler during the week and selling her wares on weekends. Her jewelry was colorful and whimsical and over-the-top, which wasn’t catching on during a time when minimalist jewelry was all the rage (remember geometric necklaces and the popularity of a single thin gold ring?).
She’d watch shoppers pass by her stand at the pop-up sales in search of the trendier style, which obviously hurt her feelings. She considered attempting to embrace minimalism, which lasted all of five seconds. It just wasn’t her.
There are a lot of stories she could have clung to: People don’t resonate with her style, Other designers are more worthy, She’ll never be a full-time designer, She's unlucky in work.
She was coming up against odds. She was telling limiting stories and collecting evidence. So she began furnishing a different room: “Collection of I Have Something Different to Offer” and “Collection of My Work Matters.” Then, she began tilting and pivoting.
She saw the stacked odds as protection from a path that wasn’t meant for her, and took some different paths. Not all of them worked, but some did.
"
And I related to that. I definitely had moments of that back when I used to sell crafts (I eventually just quit when only the $1-2 items ever sold), and people say I should have a craft business, but that shit's hard and business isn't fun. And because for years I thought I could not sing, because I'm an alto and can't hit high notes. I never got into any plays I auditioned for. I took up improv and thought "Hey, this is for me, you don't have to be able to sing or fit anyone's idea of a part! You can make up your own!" except I auditioned for years and nobody wanted me on a team. Much to my shock, I ended up getting into plays elsewhere. And now I do musicals, which I never would have thought I could do in a billion years and never even tried to audition for in high school and wouldn't have except for pandemic. I'm working on #'s 4 and 5 now!

I did enjoy her writing and signed up for the newsletter.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:49 PM on January 24 [3 favorites]


It seems like quite common but to me really unhelpful advice. I really internalised this idea and I wish I hadn't. My life has been so much better since adopting the idea I'm mostly right about my perceptions. I can reframe my values or think about how to interact with my environment differently but adopting the mindset of a winner, a successful person, as a gateway to success idk it feels like its not giving a frame for people to ask interesting questions but instead doubling down on just emboding social power so you can become perceived as more socially powerful? Like drawing on one of the authors examples- if I think I'm going go find an environment busy and stressful that's not a negative limiting story thats useful information I should pay attention to? And rather than being like oh but I can look out for simple moments of beauty and all the ways its good actually, I can instead think about ways to interact so its less stressful, like times of day to go, routes to take, noise cancelling headphones, etc. Rather than 'oh well of course it'll be stressful if you think its going to be!' because honestly it's stressful either way!
posted by mosswinter at 1:51 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


I look forward to reading all her newsletters :)

I had done this over the few days before posting, in one of them she links to an excerpt from her book which I also enjoyed.
posted by ellieBOA at 1:55 AM on January 25


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