I recently wrote about Cognitive Dissonance and Writing. One of the ways I’ve dealt with my own cognitive dissonance (in many areas of my life) is to find small ways to “prove” both of my conflicting beliefs true. One way I do this is to use a concrete exercise I learned from Martha Beck[i]. I call this exercise the And/Or Exercise, but Martha calls it by its more correct psychological name:
Unifying False Dichotomies
To shake yourself free of falsely dichotomous thinking, try making a list of either/ors in your life. These could be any pairs of opposites, contradictory things that you could be, have, or do.
My Dichotomous Life
I can either be __________________________ or ______________________________.
I can either have ________________________ or ______________________________.
I can either do __________________________ or ______________________________.
Now, rewrite those very same things in the spaces below.
My Creative Life
I intend to be both __________________________ and __________________________.
I intend to have both ________________________ and __________________________.
I intend to do both __________________________ and __________________________.
The more resistance you feel to rewriting these either/or statements into “and” statements, the more likely you are holding onto false beliefs.
Here are some statements I’ve worked with over the years:
- I can either be a doctor or a mother.
- I can either have a family or a career.
- I can either write novels or practice medicine.
Rewritten, these statements become:
- I intend to be both a doctor and a mother.
- I intend to have both a family and a career.
- I intend to write novels and practice medicine.
These days, I can rewrite all those statements with an “of course I can!” feeling, but back in the day, I had a hard time believing them. Seeing the statements written out made them easier to believe.
I continue to do this exercise every once in a while, as a way to see what I’m thinking and to discover where I might be experiencing cognitive dissonance in my own life.
At one point I came across this dichotomous belief: I can be either an artist or a productive member of society.
How’s that for a creativity blocker? Pretty good, it turns out.
I intend to be both an artist and a productive member of society is a statement that works much better for me, and allows me to see the creativity I bring to every part of my life, from my writing to my parenting to my cooking. It’s a shift in perspective that allows me to see myself as the creative being I am.
Do you think you can either be a writer or something else? How about both?
[i] Adapted from The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life, by Martha Beck. Used with her permission.