The Power of Changing Thought Patterns

Someone told me they don’t make plan Bs. It was a simple, but powerful statement. I’ve been ruminating on it ever since. I always make a plan B, plan C, plan D and the list goes on. Ever ready for disappointment, alternate plans minimize the emotional impact of failure. Plan A requires optimal conditions. Plan B is based on probable conditions anchored in reality. Each successive plan folds in more pessimism until plan n leaves no possible outcome, but failure. Each successive plan siphons energy away from plan A until the weight is on alternatives. What if all that was invested in success instead?

Success versus failure. Optimism versus pessimism. Yes versus no. Half full versus half empty. These paradigms are different iterations of the same question that have spawned a thousand solutions, particularly for women. There’s “Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes insisting it’s best to say yes to every opportunity. There are endless voices heralding the power of saying no and only seizing what serves ones goals/wants/needs best at a given moment. Audiences line up behind the theory that aligns with their existing framework for life. While these paradigms are diametric, both have power. The power lies not with either side individually, but in coaxing individuals to change patterns of thought, and ultimately behavior.

In my early years, I was conditioned to “winning.” I worked with a coach that preached the importance of visualization, deeply and vividly visualizing every second of a race. Experiencing each moment mentally made the win seem inevitable and the exercise worked again and again. By my early twenties, I abandoned the practice as the frequency of failure increased. My pessimism made failure feel like a promise instead of possibility. Less time was spent on plan A than plan n+1. Perseverance was easy; resilience was not. The habit was unconscious until I was challenged to think about it directly. What would happen if I focused on planning for success again?

Shonda Rhimes talks about how going from saying no to saying yes lead to her TV success with ABC hits like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. Glennon Doyle, the influential mommy blogger turned author turned social justice warrior, emphasizes saying no to the things that no longer served her, like her divorce which occurred at the same time she released her book Love Warrior celebrating her loving relationship with her (ex)husband with strong Christian overtures. Rachel Hollis, another social media influencer, has found success in encouraging audiences to break out of self-deprecating patterns in thoughts and behaviors with books like “Girl Wash Your Face.” Whether it’s saying yes or saying no, or planning for success or planning for failure, the power lies in breaking out of habits that are no longer working. The self-awareness and resiliency required to do things another way isn’t easy.

These women, as well as countless others, have built careers on the concept. Is there proof it works beyond a few anecdotal examples? Some research says yes. The way in which choices are framed can impact decision making. This is known as the framing effect. Say for example a clinical trial had an 80 percent survival rate and a 20 percent death rate. Both are true, but framed as in terms of survival, the percentage outcome appears more positive. A more practical example would be your friend telling you she was getting a 10 percent raise. Yay for her! But say she tells you she asked for a 20 percent raise first. That frames the 10 percent raise as a disappointment.

Framing effects have been shown to be more pronounced in adults. Adults use more qualitative reasoning in decision making and are more likely to be influenced by presentation. This effect occurs when choices are framed by both external and internal sources. If you’re constantly framing things through a lens of failure, you’re more likely to make negative choices. Cognitive bias is defined as “a systematic pattern of deviation from norms or rationality in judgement.” Framing effects are just one example. You create these patterns of thought, whether its success, failure, yes, no, etc and ultimately it impacts your reality. Research shows this is especially true in environments with high levels of risk, like startups. (If you’re interested in this topic, check out The Study of Bias in Entrepreneurship by Stephen Zhang and Javier Cueto in Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice). So you’re more likely to make decisions based on your own bias than rational judgement in situations involving risk.

For me, making alternate plans has become a necessity, because I’m convinced plan A will not work out. As it turns out, thinking that way and acting on that assumption helps ensure it does not work. I use this lens in many aspects of my life, from relationships to professional pursuits and it’s not what I want. In my year of passion driven action, the next step is changing my patterns of thought and believing in the power of plan A.

Passion Driven Action

2019: A year of intentionality. A year of pursuing goals. A year of rediscovering passion. A year of doing. My year of passion driven action.

Step 1: Start

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is begin. Begin where the story last ended? Begin from the start? Begin as if it never happened at all? There’s an emotional weight to beginning something again because it carries the burden of past failures and defeats. Inaction is easier than sorting through the mess. But what is not easier is living in a holding pattern.

It’s been a tumultuous few years. I’ve been focused on surviving and in many ways felt like I was being pulled along by the tides of life. Now that my land legs are back, a doctor posed the questions, “What comes next? What are your goals?” They hit be like a ton of bricks. My blank stare must have said it all, because he offered a few age appropriate fill in the blank suggestions. I nodded and prattled about something, but in reality, it had been a long time since I reflected on those questions.

Dare I be honest with myself? Didn’t stating what I want set myself up for disappointment? Wouldn’t the universe conspire for my failure thanks to my hubris in thinking I could have what I want? I don’t know how the universe works beyond atoms and quarks, so I can’t answer those questions with certainty (I don’t know if anyone can), but I decided to answer those that I could. I started with the biggest one: What do I want?

Like any millennial living in the digital age, I purchased a fancy analog notebook to write my thoughts and to-do’s. Putting pen to paper and making lists gives me the buzzing sensation of a nascent super power, or at least what the CW remakes lead me to believe it would feel like. If something is written with paper and ink by hand, it must come true, yes? Or be entirely forgotten about when the thrill of a new notebook subsides. The permanent reminder gives me less anxiety than the red bubbles on my phone, which manage to give me panic attacks while simultaneously being entirely ignored. The act of writing also permanently etches the words into my brain, by virtue of muscle memory or the slow repetition of them while my hand dragging across the page slowly catches up with my brain; or by some other magic the human body uses to construct the mind.

And yes, I am rambling. What do I want? The question reverberated within me for weeks, months; it still does. Being honest with myself was terrifying. It required a vulnerability I wasn’t sure I was ready for. But in the end, it was easy. It was like pulling back the curtain on a bright day and letting the light pool in dark spaces. Everything was the same as it’s been for hundreds of mornings before and yet there was an axial shift that left nothing unchanged. That’s the good and the bad part about trauma. Everything is changed and nothing is changed in the surrounding world. The things I want out of life are similar to those in my youth in a big picture way and yet entirely different seen with a fresh set of eyes.

- I want to be a present mother.
- I want to love and be loved.
- I want to work for myself.
- I want to write.
- I want to be healthy.

All of these are what I want. There are no specific goals with concrete timelines for now. Passion driven action means I will work towards my wants consciously and consistently this year (hopefully always, but baby steps first). There will still be things I don’t want to do (oh hey things I do to pay the bills) and imperfect conditions are a guarantee, but what I put my energy, mind, and heart behind will be things that I’m passionate about. And instead of letting my chronic overthinking paralyze me, I want to take actions towards what I want, even in the face of risk and uncertainty. I owe it to myself to try. Here I am in this empty this corner of the internet, asking myself to give myself a chance.

DIY Veggie Sushi

Sushi is one of those foods that seems simple enough to make, but also might have hidden complexity. If a food has chefs dedicated to its craft, it's probably a challenge to make, right? Yes and no. I'm only going to touch on vegetable sushi today, which is significantly easier than traditional fish sushi. Fish sushi requires a thorough knowledge of fish anatomy, both to pick out prime pieces of meat and to know where thin bones are hidden. The delicate business of extracting fish bones is an art onto itself. Vegetable sushi on the other hand can be made by just about anyone with the right tools and a bit of patience.

Deconstructed Mediterranean Potato Salad

Remember those kids growing up who hated their food touching? That was me. I still prefer to have my food separated, but I'm a little more carefree about it now. That's why I love this deconstructed potato salad. The components are all there, the potatoes, the veggies, the creamy flavorful dressing, but I have the option to mix, or not mix, with each bite. I opted for a Mediterranean flavor this time, but this layout could work with just about any salad with a thick dressing. Measurements are omitted to encourage full creativity based on flavor preferences. 

Dark Chocolate Banana Bites

Bananas and dark chocolate are a match made in creamy, smoky heaven. The combination is great for dessert, an afternoon snack, or a pre-workout out energizer. Trader Joe's has ready made bags of chocolate covered banana slices in the freezer section, but at $3 to $4 a bag, the product is a bit overpriced. It's easy and inexpensive to make at home AND the flavor can be customized. Depending on my mood, I like to eat the frozen banana slices with protein rich crunchy almond butter, blood sugar stabilizing cinnamon, or spicy cayenne pepper. Using one banana, half a bar of dark chocolate, and spices, I made a weeks worth of tasty treats.

New Orleans Coffee

When I was in San Francisco last summer, I fell in love with Blue Bottle's New Orleans Coffee. Up until then, I had never heard of New Orleans style coffee or chicory root, but the spicy, sweet, and bold flavor had me hooked from one sip. You can buy the kits directly from Blue Bottle to make it at home (available here), but honestly it wasn't in my budget and I wanted to make a hot version. I became obsessed with the idea of creating my own New Orleans coffee (me, obsessive? of course not ;) and have spent the past six months trying to hunt down chicory root in every health food store I come across. Thanks to an Amazon reviewer on so-so chicory root, I discovered Chicory USA. It is a farm in Nebraska that grows and roasts chicory root. Their no-frills website and ordering process was a little disconcerting at first, but the product is incredible.

Semi-Homemade Cheddar Biscuits

For me, weekends are all about decadent breakfasts. During the work week, I typically make something quick and healthy like a smoothie, oatmeal, or chia seed pudding, but on the weekend, I like to take my time cooking and eating. Banana buckwheat pancakes and scones are regular favorites, because #carbs. Occasionally we have morning events scheduled (which I try to avoid) and I'm not able to spend a long time cooking. Merle and I still want a rich breakfast though, so I opt for semi-homemade baked goods. The pre made buttermilk biscuits in the pop open tube in the refrigerated section of the grocery store bake quickly, making them a great fit for expedited weekend mornings. To make them worthy of a Saturday or Sunday breakfast, I drown them in cheddar cheese and herbs. I didn't say this would be a healthy recipe ;) The added layer of flavor takes the biscuits from bland to brunch worthy in minutes. Pillsbury makes the most widely available refrigerated biscuits, but I prefer the Trader Joe's version with fewer artificial ingredients. Either way, it will be hard to eat just one of these tasty biscuits. 


I fell in love with tabbouleh (also spelled tabouli) at Manakeesh, a Lebanese bakery near our apartment. Parsley and mint are the dominant flavors of the dish heightened by lemon juice. I love it because it is full of flavor and with the addition of a grain such as bulghur, couscous, or quinoa, it fills me up more than a traditional salad. To increase the intensity of the flavor, I like to let the salad sit in the fridge for an hour or so before eating. It has become a picnic favorite for us. Serve it with marinated tofu or lamb kebabs to make a complete meal.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Summer is here and it's impromptu party season. I love having a few simple recipes on hand that are inexpensive to make with relatively few ingredients to minimize pre-party stress. Dips are a party favorite, especially with the vegetarian crowd. It can be hard to find protein at BBQs when you don't eat meat, but bean based dips pack both protein and fiber. Hummus is a great option, but for people with an allergy to chickpeas (me), it can be hard to find a version without it. Instead I make my own using canned cannellini beans, which according to taste testers is even better than the chickpea variety #winning. The dip is so easy to make, it can barely be considered a recipe.   

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