Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about magical thinking.
You know, those moments when we take action as though everything will work out despite all sorts of indications to the contrary.
I’m not talking about having hope or faith or trust in the face of not being able to predict the future.
I’m not talking about the occasional appearance of needed resources and solutions when we least expect them (the universe can be very generous that way).
I’m talking about knowingly putting on blinders to our problems and our limits and barreling through anyway.
I’m talking about…
- cramming more commitments into an already overfull schedule
- adding more responsibilities to an already too-long to-do list
- buying more stuff with an already depleted bank account
- demanding more work from an already tired body
- and so forth…
And expecting to get away with it because it’s just this once.
This is not how we normally do things. We know better. But this time, something about our circumstances seems to demand an exception – seems to require magic.
Because it seems there’s no other way out.
There is always more than one way out.
Of course, magic isn’t the only answer. It’s just that those alternate solutions ask something of us that magical thinking does not.
They require us to set aside our egos and acknowledge our very human limits – something that is at best humbling and at worst humiliating (though thankfully the latter is very rare).
Those solutions also require us to make choices. When engaged in magical thinking, we can have it all. But the moment we acknowledge our limits, we have to choose. Choosing itself is challenging – what to keep? what to release? And while relief often comes with release, so does disappointment and grief.
Yet this smaller slice of humble pie is so much tastier than anything else we’re hoping to conjure up. Mainly because it’s real. And because it’s real, we can find real satisfaction in it.
Magical thinking rarely delivers.
Oh sure, there may have been times when we’ve been able to dig down deep and pull a big white fluffy bunny of productivity from the top hats of our businesses.
But how often does that really happen? I don’t know about you, but the few times I’ve actually pulled it off, I was really surprised. Almost as surprised as I would have been had I actually found a real rabbit hiding inside an item of my clothing.
It’s surprising because the much more likely and familiar outcome of magical thinking is the spectacular failure to dazzle.
Nothing disappears in a puff of smoke.
No, that is not their card.
And there you are still stuck in your straightjacket.
Talk about humiliating.
Last week, I came down with a cold.
I know from experience it’s usually a full week – no matter what I do to take care of myself – before I feel fully like myself again.
And even when it’s not a never-mind-I’m-going-back-to-bed cold, I’m obviously not going to be able to do the amount, kind and quality of work I’m usually able to do when well.
That my work will be delayed by about a week when sick is something easily predicted – and handled.
It would have been a simple thing to email my clients and colleagues with a message explaining my situation and what to expect – then get needed rest and craft a Plan B when I felt better.
But no. I opted for magical thinking: this would be a short cold that I could work through.
I uttered the magic words – vitamin c and liquids! – and – tada! – found nothing at the bottom of my hat but rabbit raisins. Oops. But what did I really expect?
There is a point when Plan A is obviously not going to work out.
But we just don’t want to face it.
There is our injured ego – a result of our miscalculations.
There is the letdown of unexpected setbacks that we don’t have control over.
There is the time and energy required to come up with a Plan B that we don’t have.
The more embarrassed we feel,
the more disappointed we feel,
the more rushed we feel,
the more likely we are to choose magical thinking over finding a doable solution.
Also, the longer we have been engaged in magical thinking, the more likely we are to continue. Not just out of habit, but because magical thinking breeds more and more and bigger and bigger problems that seem to be solvable only through supernatural means.
Until eventually, tired of our Straightjackets of Too Much, we give up.
The real magic word is: Uncle!
As soon as you get an inkling that you are committing yourself beyond your capacity and resources – stop and adjust.
When you are tempted by magical thinking, consider the consequences if you aren’t able to pull a rabbit out of your hat.
Which is more embarrassing?
Admitting your small miscalculation now – while you still have control over how that happens – or later bombing on stage mid-performance?
Which will take more time?
Coming up with a doable Plan B now – which is probably just minor adjustments to Plan A – or coming up with Plan C which includes all the elements of Plan B, plus the job of reparation?
Even if that first inkling passed through your consciousness weeks ago, it’s not too late. Now is still the perfect time to pause and regroup. Sooner is still better than later.
I know how important it is to you to honor your commitments.
I know how much you want to feel forward momentum in your business and your life.
I know how much you don’t want to disappoint people (or yourself).
Believe me, I know.
But none of those things are achievable through magical thinking.
We do have magic, just not this kind.
Each of us has the power to dazzle – but not when we ignore our limits or the challenges that arise in our lives.
I know how hard it is to accept things as they are when we really really want something else to be true. Unfortunately, wishing won’t make it so.
All we can do is forgive ourselves. All we can do is let go of our expectations and recreate the conditions we know bring out our best from what is true now. All we can do is come up with Plan B.
It’s usually a process that does not feel at all enchanting. But if you are in the midst of magical thinking, things probably aren’t all fairy dust anyway. And in the end you may find you’ve wowed yourself and the people around you with your daring escape despite your initial ick and ack.
Once free of the Straightjacket of Too Much, you can then razzle-dazzle ’em with your superpowers – which can only flourish in spaces where we have room to be human.
It’s the absence of magical thinking that allows us to be magical.
Oh, and -mmm- enjoy pie.