Change: Spontaneous or Cookie Cutter?

Gingerbread men being cut out of dough with cookie cutters

We’ve been living from the cookie-cutter mind that thinks it can copy-and-apply on repeat to make change happen, in order to be successful and happy. Is it working for you?

“Copying the behaviour spontaneously produced by people who transform their lives will rarely transform yours” Michael Neill

I often used to write about the ‘cookie cutter mind’. The aspect of the intellect or conceptual mind that sees something, thinks it looks like a great idea, and then proceeds to go into mass production — repeating the behaviour, activity or words that it thinks contained the magic, in order to try and secure a reliable outcome.

Reliable, repetitive outcomes are great when there’s actual manufacturing involved; with machines that (as far as we know) aren’t capable of creativity or spontaneity, and with a customer who wants this sock to look like that one.

But we aren’t machines (as much as the industrial revolution tried to pretend we were) and our brilliance is in being the unique aspect of life that we are. Sure we can follow some repetitive activities like brushing teeth, following processes so that the machinery of a business runs smoothly, going to bed each day to rest and restore…and — when it comes to transforming our lives, or even just living a fulfilling life — there’s no play book for that.

And this is the opposite of what the self-help industry purports

The land of self-help is full of prescriptions to get the life you want — do this, follow that, copy the other. Learn, apply, repeat.

It’s based on the idea that if X, Y and Z worked for Bob then you too can do X, Y and Z and get the life Bob has! It’s very alluring. It appeals beautifully to that cookie cutter mind that thinks a) there’s a right way to do life and b) predetermined certainty and reliability are essential to success and happiness.

But that’s not how we work

Not at our best at least. This is the ‘reverse engineering’ that Michael talks about in Chapter 5. Sure we can experiment with what others have done. And we can spark ideas from others or take a pick and mix approach drawing on others’ experience. It’s just that we’re lost if we think we can carbon copy it all.

And it’s not even just about trying to learn from others. We do it to ourselves too. When have you had a success, or a lovely experience, or a profound experience, or a flow experience — did you try and do a self-help approach on yourself? Did you try to learn, apply and repeat to ‘make sure’ it happens again? Did it work? Reliably?

It reminds me of when my kids were babies and, after a night of sleeping through, attempting to repeat the same steps in order to guarantee the same sleep — it must be that babygro, or because I washed it yesterday, or the time of the last bottle, or…in desperation for sleep the ‘learn, apply and repeat’ looked like a great idea. And of course it didn’t work.

But every time our attempts to learn, apply and repeat ‘fail’ like this, it’s not telling us that we (or our baby!) is broken or a failure — it’s simply, and very kindly, pointing us back to where natural, easy change that’s perfect for us comes from…because it comes from nowhere. Naturally.

With love, Helen

It’s week 4 of the Brilliance Book Group where we’re reading Michael Neill ‘s “The Space Within”. Follow along with the blogs here which align with the chapter(s) we’re reading that week.

If you’d like to make it easier, sign up to my newsletter here to get these posts and other quotes, questions and resources relevant to the chapter direct to your inbox.

I coach and guide smart, passionate, curious people who care about improving the lives of those around them. Often coaches and leaders, they’ve worked hard all their lives to be the ‘best’ them and it doesn’t seem to have delivered the happiness, security or freedom they expected. Now they’re wondering what else is available. I guide you back, prior to stories, to remember the real you because that’s what you, me and the whole world really wants! Find out more here.

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