One sunny day when I was living in Savannah, Georgia going to drunk brunch whilst hungover at least once a week, I made a choice that changed my life: I decided that I would like Bloody Marys.
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My reasoning? They’re just so practical! They’re nutritious, filling, and hydrating while appropriately buzz-inducing. They are the perfect hungover brunch drink. Problem was, I just didn’t like them at all. I hated both tomato juice and vodka (“clear alcohols are for rich women on diets”). But I was determined to optimize my Sunday routine.
Because I just couldn’t stomach the bland, floor cleaner taste of vodka, I started with sake Bloody Marys at the Foxy Loxy Print Gallery and Café. I do enjoy sake, and these were surprisingly okay. Much better than I expected. Then I tried an Old Bay Bloody Mary with gin and a big ol’ shrimp on top at this place on River Street – I loved me some low country boil, and gin was a baby step closer to vodka. I liked it even more. Finally I made my way to vodka. I started ordering a Bloody Mary with every brunch, and although they were hard to finish at first, after a few weeks I was genuinely enjoying this weird viscous beverage. Now, I love them – even the ones with vodka.
After I realized I could train myself to like Bloody Marys, I moved on to cooked mushrooms. Then southern heat and humidity. Then running. Then writing. Then I opened my mind to the prospect of living in foreign countries, speaking a foreign language, and doing things radically different from how I assumed I could or should. I started questioning all of my preferences and habits.
Four years later I’m living a life I never would have imagined at the time. I’m traveling the world, living in Costa Rica, speaking Spanish, and actually making a living as a freelance writer. I’ve learned how to surf, how to make chocolate, how to grow and roast coffee, how to taste Italian wines, how to write on about 101 different subjects, how to identify venomous snakes, how to regrow the rainforest, how to do acro yoga, how to horseback ride, how to climb a volcano, and how to survive in Manhattan on $1,000/month. I say Bloody Marys changed my life a little tongue in cheek, but actually, maybe they kind of did. (Okay, it’s hyperbole, but it makes for an attention grabbing headline, no?) I realized that the limits I assumed I had were, in fact, self-imposed.
Study after study done by neuroscientists has shown us that the human brain has this incredible quality called “neuroplasticity“. It doesn’t stop growing and changing once we hit adulthood and in fact can be trained to alter itself pretty drastically all throughout our lives. Essentially, it’s kind of like play-doh that we once thought dried out around age 20 but then learned it can actually be rehydrated and molded into something new, even after 30 years of habit, with a little practice and exercise. In the words of the great philosopher Frank Ocean, we dream of walls that keep us imprisoned – but it’s just a skull, and we’re free to roam. Hey, it’s science.
We want to believe in essentialism because believing in some core, unchangeable self feels like a warm security blanket that relieves us of the responsibility to decide who we want to be. It makes us feel less lost, but in exchange for security, we give up potential. The truth is, none of our preferences and personality characteristics are innate and unchangeable. Preference is learned. We’re born into a set of conditions that, for better or worse, decide where we start out, but our reactions are our own. By no means do I want to minimize the fact that we are not all born into the same conditions. Some people are born into conditions so oppressive they have to struggle 100x harder than others to achieve the same things. The point is this: those conditions do not define us.
Write it down and it will magically come true? What is this, Harry Potter? Do I have to wave my wand first?
I read something the other day about the power of writing down your intentions. The author brought up all kinds of anecdotes, like the story about how Jim Carrey once wrote himself a $10 million check while he was still a starving artist and then went on to make that much off a single movie. I kind of tuned it out at first – I’d heard this stuff before, at 101 different yoga retreats and self-improvement workshops. I never really bought into it. Write it down and it will magically come true? What is this, Harry Potter? Do I have to wave my wand first?
But then I stopped doubting and started listening. I remembered my economics coursework from university. Self-fulfilling prophesies happen all the time in government policy and finance. Most economists agree that economic recessions are often self-fulfilling prophecies: people get nervous about the market, people dump their assets, the market crashes.
Then, I thought about the time a boy I was in love with gave me a folded up page ripped from the Catholic Bible, a protection prayer. He told me that his mother gave that paper to him and it would help bring me the good and keep away the bad. It would protect me.
Now, I’m not the least bit religious, and actually, he wasn’t either. But I still have that folded up prayer in my wallet. If I went about life believing it would protect me, well, did it really matter if the physical paper actually held some special power? Perhaps my own bravery and hope, derived from the paper, could save me from a bad situation now and then.
Of course, that’s getting awfully close to Law of Attraction territory – the idea that like produces like, or, you attract what you put out into the world. While this can sometimes be true and helpful, it can sometimes be false and extremely detrimental – it can be used to justify everything from victim blaming to race blindness. I believe in self-fulfilling prophecies, but I also believe that sometimes, shit just happens. Sometimes you’re just screwed, and you did nothing to cause it and you don’t deserve it. Life is not fair.
But one point still remains: your mind is powerful (this includes, by the way, your emotions). It is far more than you give it credit. This is true of everyone, whether you fell into this world and landed on a 10,000 thread count feather bed or a pile of horse shit. Your mind is powerful.
To me, ritual, prayer, and even magic are real. They’re real displays of the power of the human mind.
“Mind over matter is magic. I do magic.” Frank Ocean
Here’s another thing – you don’t have to travel halfway across the globe and spend thousands of dollars on the trip of a lifetime in order to exercise the power of your mind. You can challenge yourself from where you’re sitting right now. To me, travel is about curiosity and lifelong learning. It’s about challenging assumptions and trying new things. It’s about opening our minds to infinite potential. Travel isn’t about the miles, it’s about the mindset.
So, I did decide to write down my goals and fears after all. And actually, a lot of stuff came up that I didn’t even realize was there. After that, I even shared them with others. Sidenote: If you’d like to read what they were, you can fill out the subscription form below, and I’ll also send you my free 2018 Travel Goals & Fears printable writing exercise, inspired by this post!
You can fill it out and share it on social media with the hashtag #MindsetOverMiles for the chance to be featured in an upcoming project.
There’s nothing more eye-opening and hopeful than unwrapping a little piece of yourself you didn’t know was there, like an unexpected gift from an old friend. So, today, make the choice to surprise yourself. Start small, just to see how it goes. Who knows where you’ll be 5 years from now?
What are your goals and fears right now? Be honest! Be vulnerable! Share a few in the comments.