A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Change

I’m pondering stories for the remaining Dorning brothers, and as usual, getting my hands on the external conflict–the real, interesting, substantial force pushing the couple apart–is a challenge for me. I know whatever that force is, it has to embody the worst fears for the characters involved. The characters will have to face the one choice they’ve promised themselves they will never, ever consider.

In other words, the external conflict demands that the characters change if they are to earn their happily ever after, and usually the change required is a change of heart. Darius Lindsey had to break away from his father’s view of him as a largely failed, worthless, powerless man. To cite a more recent book, Quinn Wentworth had to learn that love is a force more powerful than money.

In every case, at the start of the book, our hero or heroine has very good reasons for believing as they do. They have evidence–a lifetime and a whole society’s worth of eyewitness evidence–which they then spend years confirming, with the selective zeal of the confirmation bias. (We notice what confirms our beliefs, we ignore or invalidate whatever conflicts with our beliefs.)

If changing a mind (or a heart) was as easy as confronting that mind with facts, then the loyalty of Darius’s staff, the regard of his siblings, his success as an estate manager, should have fixed his little self-esteem problem by page 3. Same for Quinn–his siblings stuck with him though every hardship, Duncan taught him to read out of simple kindness, and Quinn himself cannot be bought off lest his family be ashamed of him. He should have figured out that money isn’t as big a deal as love.

But nope.

If my characters are to re-open a painful question that they’ve firmly settled in their minds–settled for very good reasons–somebody has to come along who can say, “I know you well enough to understand why you think the way you do–you are plenty smart and I respect that. Your conclusions made sense at the time, but here are some reasons why a different decision would be an improvement now.” (And in a romance, one of those reasons will be, “No HEA unless you reverse engines.”)

So instead of asking about what pushes my characters apart, maybe I need to ask what long-held (mistaken) belief they will be able to give up, if somebody convinces them they are lovable despite all their mistakes and wrong turns. (Valerian Dorning, Emily Pepper, I’m looking at you.)

Even writing that sentence, I’m hesitant to ask the same question of myself: What long-held (mistaken) belief would I be able to give up…? Changing my mind–changing me–is a scary prospect, one that involves admission of mistakes and regrets, but one that also holds out the hope of more joy, freedom, truth, and love.

Has anybody changed your mind or your self-image? Is there a shift in perspective trying to nudge its way into your awareness? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 e-card.


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23 comments on “A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Change

  1. I suffer from worry and anxiety–not really diagnosed because it isn’t overwhelming or paralyzing, just irritating. Through our 40 (!) years together, it is often my Hubby who pushes me past my fears of–whatever. He sometimes forces me, sometimes nags me, sometimes give me no choicer BUT it usually works out. There have been a few times I have insisted ABSOLUTELY NO and he’s respected my choice. Interestingly, I often come around later. It almost seems he KNOWS what I’m capable of, even when I don’t. I do the same for him–I think we make each other better. 🙂

    • Congratulations on 40 years, Teenie Marie! It’s a rare number in this day and age! I think making each other better is a huge part of a successful marriage!

    • Opposites really do attract, and it makes sense. If one of us is always thinking through worst cases, and the other is a born optimist, between us, we have a lot more coping skills than we do individually. When a couple can appreciate their complementary gifts, the marriage becomes amazingly durable.
      When those opposites are viewed as nothing but irritants…not so good.
      Congratulations to you and hubby for seeing the wonderful in each other and here’s to forty more terrific years!

  2. I think the benefit of age has slowly changed my mind about things. My hubby tells me I’m becoming more like a man’s mindset. I’m less likely to let others push me around, or to tolerate BS. I like it. It’s a shame its taken so many years to get to where I don’t give many F’s. I hope today’s young women growing up get to this point earlier in their lives- the world would be a better place for it.

    • I agree about more women needing to get to the same place earlier. (I need to be that way more consistantly.) Isn’t it sad that it is considered by so many people to be a man’s mindset?

    • I know exactly what you mean. I’ve seen it expressed in terms of no more f’s to give… For me it has been associated with menopause, which suggests a hormonal component, but that’s not the whole explanation. Some of it is just accumulating a lifetime of anger, frustration, experience, and resilience. Hell hath no demon like a woman in her prime.

  3. I received an award from my dog club this week. I read the reasons why I was chosen for the award. I realized that I have contributed to our club in many different ways. And being recognized made me realize that I have many valuable skills- it was a confidence booster.

    Sometimes a person isn’t aware that others recognize their contributions or skills- this can be a confidence booster.

    Sometimes a past experience shadows a persons perception or ability to see clearly. It can bring a person & their confidence down.

    So- sometimes a compliment or a kind word can make a huge difference in someone’s self worth. I am going to return to work tomorrow with confidence & a fresh perspective.

    I hope you sort out the romance between the charming Valerian and the pragmatic Ms Pepper!
    I can’t wait to read it.

    And is Della getting her HEA?

    • Della and Ash are driving me nuts, so yes, they will get their HEA… eventually.
      I recall my brother Tom saying to me when I was about 25, “You were never fat as a kid, you were just big.” He’s four years older than I am, not the most sanguine of people, and he was a very grouchy boy. He would not lie about something like that.
      I thought back, and realized that my sister Maire, who is two years older than me, is also SMALLER than I am. She ended up being four inches shorter as an adult, and growing up, many people thought I was the older sister. I felt like a galoot, but the reality is, she was petite and I was a tad taller than my age group, but as Tom said, I wasn’t fat.
      Lordy, was my self-perception as a kid wrong.
      I am so glad your doggin’ buddies gave you a public pat on the back. I know you put your heart and soul into the canine activities, and a ton of time. Always nice to be appreciated, and I hope you put that award where all your co-workers can see it!

  4. I don’t think I am very likable, I certainly don’t have many close friends. The ones I have I cherish, but they are far away. I also have hearing impairment which is isolating. My dogs are my closest companions, even though they are bratty (still technically puppies). I also have a horrid cat who would probably be euthanized if I gave him up. I am kinda proud of the fact that we can share a bed now even though it took 6 months to get there LOL

    Back to me; get ready to laugh, but I recognized off putting things about me and I work on stopping them to see what will happen. Usually I can see the positive effect but the struggle continues. So engrained the struggle continues. A HEA dangling in front of me would probably help

    • Sue, what a thing to say about yourself! I suspect you are simply intelligent and introverted. A little bit of socializing goes a long way, and animals are good companions.
      I don’t have many close friends either, but I do have a few–enough–and I enjoy my solitude. I suspect in my later years I will have to make a different deal with life, but for now, I’m relishing that I can still live independently (with a lot of pets, of course).

  5. This is not a new insight but it was very powerful at the time I finally realized it, sometime in my 20s (and probably late 20s at that). I did not have self-confidence in my brain and thought my always excellent grades and test scores were just luck (as in, they just happened to ask the questions to which I knew the answers). There was a bit of worry about being too conceited (courtesy of my Mom who did the best she could but taught me not to praise myself at all), but I finally realized that I am just smarter than most people. That doesn’t make me better but it also doesn’t make me worse. I know a lot and I remember a lot and I connect a lot but I know I have my weak points (my sense of direction is so deficient it’s hardly a sense at all, for example). It may not seem a big deal but this was pretty earth-shattering for me.

    • Isn’t it interesting how much factual data and firsthand experience we can ignore when we’re trying to preserve a personal myth? All those accidental good grades, all those fluke high scores… And for what? To conform yourself to Mom’s no-praise rule?
      I asked my former riding instructor what my greatest strengths and greatest blind spots were, and I’d ridden with guy for YEARS. His reply, “Your greatest strength is your FEEL, and your biggest blind spot is that YOU DON’T BELIEVE IT.”
      Got it in one.
      I’m glad the truth finally broke through the misconceptions for you. If I do say so my own humble self, my readers seem to be a pretty smart, perceptive bunch. Just sayin’.

  6. I am trying to change my OCDness about work and find life work balance. I know that work isn’t the most important thing in my life, but still find myself staying late to finish things up. Sadly, even my health scare last year hasn’t helped me get over that complete type A work personality. I guess I’m good in that I’ve mastered the first step – I know I have a problem – right?

    • It’s not just you, Glenda. Women on average, work 37 minutes a day longer than male co-workers with the same job titles. That’s giving our employers about four free weeks of effort a year, the same employers who routinely promote the less-qualified man over the well-qualified woman.
      I think finding balance as you put it takes time. A lifetime of deriving satisfaction from nailing the job isn’t a habit that will be broken easily, and your employer is probably not doing much to help you break it. Here’s hoping the good old summertime tempts you away from that job for some R&R and plain old fun.

  7. Hi Grace, I had to learn how to temper ambition with an understanding of chronic illness and what it’s limitations mean for my physical ability to throw myself into my work. Without wishing to sound arrogant, I wasn’t limited by skill or intelligence in my career. My beloved partner has helped me work through this and accept where I’m at with my career and what I’ve not been able to aspire to, and to be genuinely grateful for what I have got.

    I love your books.



    • Jen,
      That must be frustrating, to know you have the intellectual wattage, the how-to, the experience, the passion… but not the sheer physical chops to go at it like you want to. That involves some grief, I’m sure, but how lovely, that you’ve also found a way to stay connected to the gratitude.

  8. Hi Grace, I had to learn how to temper ambition with an understanding of chronic illness and what it’s limitations mean for my physical ability to throw myself into my work. Without wishing to sound arrogant, I wasn’t limited by skill or intelligence in my career. My beloved partner has helped me work through this and accept where I’m at with my career and what I’ve not been able to aspire to, and to be genuinely grateful for what I have got.

    I love your books.



  9. I did. As I drove to my university graduation, I realized that no one but me had read all the books, taken the exams. I needed to accept the accolade of completion and reject the idea I was not allowed to be proud of myself. That kind of pride is synonymous with pleased and is not false. I remind myself of that lesson any time I start to question myself.

    BTW, I love the ideas you propose for determining your story. Lots of food for thought. Thank you.

    • We don’t have a lot of public rituals in American society, especially for women, and I sometimes regret that. A ceremony can make us stop and take stock, as graduation did for you. The cap and gown, the Pomp and Circumstance, the big speeches… they all reinforce a sense of achievement and as you say, healthy pride.
      Glad the light bulb came on!

  10. One particular event comes to mind. A new member joined our church when I was ten or so. He loved music and he loved to sing. He made his joyful noise to the Lord on one note. Our mother admonished us along the lines of “He’s doing the best he can. Now you do the best you can and let God sort it out.” It does mean that I can get through an entire church service, concert, etc., without hearing a note, which is lovely when one has small children performing in school groups etc. (First year band students’ Christmas concert is amazing.). However, the larger lesson of not being critical of others’ talents or lack of them is taking a life time to learn.

    • I think we all struggle with that–the temptation to label others as dim-witted because they can’t do the things we’ve learned to do (or the things that come easily to us), and the equally ubiquitous tendency to label people as smart because they can do something we struggle with.

      My daughter has little sense of direction. She’s a wicked smart woman, both intuitively and academically. Accomplished equestrian, great sense of humor, but entirely dependent on her GPS. I have a good sense of direction, but am INCAPABLE of dealing with a GPS. How can I focus on finding my way when that THING is blathering at me?

      We either find this amusing, or we disown each other. Fortunately, the humor has won–so far.

  11. Being mixed and with my mother being white, I grew up with a lot of internalized racism that was constantly reinforced by my mother. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized the constant complaints about my hair and body type she voiced that became my inner voice were all about ways I did not resemble her whiteness. It was incredibly toxic and common and having my non-white family at a large physical distance made it difficult to find alternate input that would have allowed me to embrace a different definition of physical beauty. Breaking that mindset was hard and I still find myself slipping into it on occasion.

  12. I just finished ‘A Lady of True Distinction’ and it was a great story I know you’re working on Ash and Della’s story and will download it as soon as it’s available, but I would also like to hear how Valerian and Emily Pepper work things out. What are your plans for a book about those two?