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Yesterday I wrote about the self-fulfilling prophecy and how it can enhance our lives or increase our struggles.
Here's a humorous (I hope) essay about a biker's bell that demonstrates what can happen when one's self-fulfilling prophecy swirls out of control. This draft is based on a blog post I wrote years ago and have expanded.
I find myself in an awkward situation. I need a bell, but if I buy my own, it will not work. And if I ask for the bell, the one I receive will possess fewer protective properties. If I neither buy nor ask for the bell, it is unlikely that I will get one and I’ll have no protection at all. Let me explain.
Perhaps you’ve noticed motorcyclists who have a small bell hanging near their front fenders. Or maybe you’ve heard the little ding of such a bell and wondered why it was there? Legend…superstition…or a clever bell manufacturer tells us the bell protects bikers from road gremlins. Monsters that loathe bikers and show their animosity by tossing debris at us, placing nails in the road, or convincing deer to cross the road at the worst time.
The bell works because as the gremlins rise up from the road to attack, they get stuck in the bell of the bell, bounce around, and then vibrate to death. The little bell is powerful in a chaos-theory-packed-into-an-ounce-of-cheap-molded-metal kind of way. Butterfly effect except the bell and its tiny clapper are what reverberate. Kaboom go the road gremlins when confronted by a jangling bell.
And the gremlins are real. Most many some believe I heard a guy say the gremlins are half jackalope, half iguana; a mess of DNA that enables them to eat everything, outrun anything, and concoct creative ways to bring down motorcyclists. That last trait comes from the jackalope side, I’m sure. The cunning beasts. I once got hit by a warm burrito when there were no cars in front of me. Now where do you think that burrito came from? Who warmed it?
Gremlins are relentless but little bells appear to be the best way to combat them. And it’s not just getting a bell that matters, how we acquire it is important, too. Here’s the hierarchy of effectiveness:
Maximum: Someone gives you a bell without you asking for it—often from one biker to another because bikers understand the importance of having a bell attached to your motorcycle. Like mothers know you need underwear. This rider-to-rider tradition seems more prevalent among cruiser owners, by the way. I see and hear fewer bells on crotch rockets (speed bikes).
Good: Asking someone to buy a bell for you. This is not optimal, however, because you create some bad juju if you request the gift of a bell. Akin to begging for love, which is just sad.
Minimal: Buying your own bell. This approach offers some protection, but it’s better if someone else gives you a bell. They cost just a few bucks and come with a printed explanation of the legend. Most motorcycle stores sell biker’s bells.
Back to my problem. I have a new motorcycle - a lovely purple Honda Sabre 1100. Her name is Hazel (short for Purple Haze). When I sold my BMW R1200C a few years ago, I gave up my biker’s bell, passing it along to a fellow rider because it had served me well.
My challenge, now, is that I live in a new state and spend most of my time with non-riding writers. No one knows, or is likely thinking, they ought to get a bell for Hazel and me. My literary pals are lovely people, but clueless about gremlins and beneficial bell reverberations. What should I do?
This all sounds ridiculous, I know. I get it! I’m assigning meaning, weight, and importance to the bell I don’t have, and by doing so, I’m increasing its power over me. Is the fact that I am thinking and writing about this bell going to affect the quality and effectiveness of my two-wheeled adventures?
What about the fact that I just wrote that sentence? Have I now surrendered to the gremlins by broadcasting that I have no shield? It's a conundrum. I could buy a bell and get minimal protection. But what if I need the extra bit that comes from an unsolicited gift?
Have I now doomed myself by writing that sentence?
The psychologist in me—well, junior psychologist, what do you call someone who got a B.S. degree in psychology and an M.F.A. other than someone full of BS and able to write about it—knows that self-fulfilling prophecies are real. That our predictions, in and of themselves, make outcomes more likely. If we think it’s going to be a terrible hot mess of a day, it likely will be! And if I predict road gremlins will attack and make me crash, then…
I’m wondering if I ought not ride until I get a bell. Wiping out around a gravel covered corner or being t-boned by an SUV driver talking on his cellphone would be unappealing. Yes, gremlins cause those catastrophes, too. I wince thinking about me and Hazel skidding down the road. An eyes scrunching, stomach clinching wince, like how men react when someone mentions being kicked in the balls.
Have I doomed myself by writing that paragraph?
This situation feels like Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart. I can hear the ringing of the bell I don't have. At first it sounded like a soft little ding but is now bellowing strong like a migraine. As I pull on my full-face helmet, the ringing bounces around my head, crushing all non-bell-related thoughts. It’s unsettling, and the last thing you want to be on a motorcycle is off balance in any way.
“It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night.” Edgar Allan Poe
Have I become my own gremlin?
The quasi-junior-amateur-psychologist in me knows what projection looks like and how it manifests. Am I transmitting my fears and self-timidity about sitting on top of 600 pounds of steel, hot rubber, and gasoline onto miscreant mythical beings made of source creatures who couldn’t possibly have sex? Perhaps motorcyclists everywhere are using the legend of the biker’s bell to displace their guilt for living dangerously when their spouses are begging them to switch to mid-sized sedans.
Maybe the road gremlins exist as a stand in for the devil, or whatever evil supreme being we believe in and dread. That buying a bell is like going to church/synagogue/mosque or praying Hail Marys with rosary beads.
Although that would be transference, not projection. Who’s the amateur now?
Chaos theory, projection, transference, or who knows what’s behind this I’m guessing multi-billion-dollar market for little bells in fake velvet pouches. I’m petrified that I could research every aspect of this racket and be left with one unanswered question. What if the legend of the biker’s bell is true?
Have I doomed myself by writing this essay?
I need a damn bell, and I’m NOT asking for one.
Example: The young man worries that his girlfriend is going to dump him. This prediction affects his actions. He seems more leery, acts more needy, and expresses more doubts when with her. This makes him a less attractive boyfriend and she breaks up with him.
The self-fulfilling prophecy is often discussed in the negative, but positive outcomes are possible, too. Human systems are chaotic (as in chaos theory) and our thoughts can be swirly in nature. Future results are sensitive to initial conditions - and every thought and action is like a butterfly flapping (as in the butterfly effect). Everything we do reverberates.
The self-fulfilling prophecy is fueled by swirly reverberations. This is not a linear equation; it's the opposite. And as chaotic beings, we likely have dozens of self-fulfilling prophecies at play at the same time. Some will be in conflict with one another.
Swirly thoughts reinforcing GET IN SHAPE: I going to hire a personal trainer and commit to an accountability system for exercise. I can do this and it will work.
Swirly thought reinforcing GAINING WEIGHT: I'm doomed when it comes to health, so I should just enjoy myself and eat whatever I want.
Swirly thoughts reinforcing VEGGIES WILL HEAL ME: If I eat lots of vegetables, I will slow disease progression and feel better.
Swirly thoughts reinforcing DISEASE PROGRESSION: My weight is my greatest risk factor, and if I can't solve that problem, the rest is wasted effort.
Do you see how these conflicting beliefs could co-exist? What might be possible if I could let go of the least helpful beliefs and adopt better ones?
Bottom line: We have the opportunity to be more cognizant of the self-fulfilling prophecies we're reinforcing and deliberate about putting more helpful ones in play.
BTW, this idea is why something like a Decision Filter can be useful.
I began using this decision filter one week ago. So how did it go?
Interesting. Well. Disappointing. Enlightening.
Mixed results, in other words, but my experiment was beneficial, and I'll give it another week. I want to see what's possible and if I can learn from my observations which included:
- Having the words from the Decision Filter graphic as my phone wallpaper was awesome. I looked at those words hundreds of times and reflected on them often.
- It's too easy to rationalize suboptimal actions because they kind of meet the filter criteria. It gives me a wee bit of joy. I'm using my strengths (but to what end?). And so on. I need to be much pickier about my choices.
- The best choices reverberated to affect multiple goals and interests. We recently upgraded our internet service and downgraded our cable TV to basic channels. We have just local channels and PBS now (plus shopping and music). Moving to a speedier wifi helped us make our work-from-home situation more efficient. But the reverberation is that I'm no longer spending hours each evening watching cable news. I'm interested in politics and watched the same news repeated again and again. It was a bit of an obsession. But no longer. Now I check a few websites a couple of times per day and I have 2-3 hours back per day to use however I want. I've also noticed that my stress level is a bit lower because I'm not watching and listening to media as much. I miss watching my favorite news anchors, but binging cable news doesn't pass the Decision Filter.
I'll work harder to make better choices about how I use my time. I like this filter and look forward to experimenting with it further. Perhaps I'll put the graphic on my iMac wallpaper and as a daily task on my Todoist list. Check out the original post if you want to more details about the Decision Filter.
Found in an old notebook. Thought it apropos to this week's Decision Filter exercise.
I compartmentalize so each precious moment is designed and deliberate. Moves things forward.
Pardon if I pass on sharing feelings, worries, or concerns. I have them, but can set emotional distractions aside and be here, now, ready to roll. And can tap into and share honest emotion that serves the situation.
I'm not cold but do calculate how to be in each moment. Sometimes that's warm and gushy, others clear and decisive.
There is a fine line between switch tasking and manipulation that I try to never cross. Achieving this is productive self-management.
Note: I'm an INTP, so there's that (analytical, abstract, things-oriented). I like the notion of being more deliberate about how I spend time. Compartmentalizing is a useful skill and practice for doing this.
Several weeks ago I wrote about how I needed to focus on getting stronger and lighter and that this effort would be a big potential misadventure that would enable me to live a more misadventurous life. Here's an update.
My plan. I have a new virtual personal trainer, and she's awesome. The format suits my style and needs. She created a plan for me and then we did a couple of live sessions where she showed me how to properly do the strength training exercises. We have a private Facebook group where I post what I do each day, and include any proof (like screen shots from the Fitbit app). The result is that I have accountability, independence, and flexibility. The plan will be updated as needed with additional one-on-one sessions to learn new strength exercises.
My activities include:
- Strength training twice per week using routines my trainer designed.
- WaterRower and Peloton bike twice each per week.
- Easy and light yoga once per week.
- Dog walks (were already doing these).
To augment my home gym, I've purchased 3,5, and 10 pound dumbbell pairs, a set of resistance bands, a thick yoga mat, and ankle weights. I already had the WaterRower (15 years old still my favorite piece of exercise equipment) and the Peloton bike.
I'm in the middle of my third week! I'm getting stronger...slowly...which I know is all that this 56-year-old immunocompromised body can manage. I feel the usual hey-you-worked-out muscle pain the day after, and the next, and next...
I'm feeling optimistic about the "get stronger" part of my goal. The "get lighter" intention will be a tougher challenge because my diet is fairly plugged in (90% while food plant based) and my metabolism runs like a sloth on quaaludes.
Although I could've researched and created my own plan, having a virtual personal trainer helps me stick to a schedule because I've promised to post my activity in our FB group.
I could fib, but it would be obvious because the post would lack the detail or proof of my truthful checkins.
And lying would be wrong, of course. I meant to say that first. I'm not religious, but it seems plausible that I could be struck down for such shenanigans. Bad juju, or something.
I'd surely get caught and suffer greatly EVEN in spite of my considerable prowess for creating far-fetched fiction...I'm not doing it. (I know adverbs are bad but are they bad juju? I don't think so.)
Why so much energy about fibbing to your personal trainer, Lisa?
Let's just say I experienced a moment of truth the first day I fell short of the assigned activities. I'm proud to admit that I did not lie. I requested and was granted a mulligan.
Today is my "Pull" day of strength training. I'm getting psyched up for it right now. This set includes 8 exercises that I'll do 2-3 times, each for 12-15 reps. I'll do some stretching, too.
Progress. I'm progressing in wee bits. Therefore, and in usual Lisa form (delusion), I'm imagining walking a 1/2 marathon in Albuquerque in March and then biking 50 miles or so through the rolling hills of the Bluegrass next summer. Plus hiking for 2 weeks in New Mexico's High Desert (or Sedona), and kayaking a lot.
Some of these aspirations might be a stretch but the thing in March is for real. Such a lovely time of year in New Mexico. The picture above is of Sandia Mountain (means watermelon in Spanish because of how the mountain looks at sunset) in Albuquerque. Lovely, eh? Oh, and I'm going to hike all the way from the bottom to the top of Sandia. And eat lots of chile (that's not misspelled).
Focus. I should probably start with finishing a 5k around my neighborhood without having my knees file for desertion. Or divorce. Whichever applies to abused joints seeking another body or arrangement.
I watched a book launch video discussion from The Poisoned Pen Bookstore featuring Carl Hiassen as interviewed by author John Sanford. The topic was Hiassen's latest book, Squeeze Me. The two men go way back, and it was a very interesting discussion. You can find that FB video here.
One of the more entertaining parts of this interview focused on how authors select names and when getting the name right is critical. Hiassen said that for important characters, he wants the name to be striking so the reader remembers it the first time they read it. The name John marveled about was Fay Alex Riptoad, one of Hiassen's important side characters.
It is with this inspiration that I decided to brainstorm awesome names for characters. And that doing so would be a terrific use of my time and tick off the "Joy," "Strengths," and "Progress" aspects of my new Decision Filter. Heck, this might even make a "contribution" to society.
Here we go.
Great Names for Characters (that I might use one day - no stealing, OK?)
In no particular order
Jeptha Rule Wady Wayne Wright
Baby-face Kreed Convira
Asa Butterfield Rasmus Monk
Spag Bolle Drucilla
The Tooth Consequence (Conee for short)
Snipe Lobster Butterworth
Two-time Cross-eyed Tommy
Talulla Moola Lilith Rothworm III
Fern Green Griselda Feldman
Zaynab Ditt Euphrasia Rothschild
Lennox Turtleman Fizzy Joe
Rip Torn - oh wait, that one was already used by a real person (RIP Rip)
Pretty cool list, if I do say so myself. Can you imagine the weird and wonderful back stories for these characters? I wonder what it would be like to write a book STARTING with a set of character names? Could be fun!
What's your favorite?
Time is all we have. And yet, we sometimes fritter it away doing things that make no positive difference (or a negative difference). Some of this is okay. Too much frittering, I propose, will suck the life our of our lives.
I want more life, fewer regrets.
This happens one choice at a time. Every decision is a moment of truth. Here's a good one. I've decided to work on making better decisions about how I spend my time.
The One Week Experiment
It's Sunday September 6, at 3:39 p.m. EDT. I declare that for the next week I will use the following Decision Filter to make choices about how I spend my time. It involves asking the following questions as I plan my day and shift from task to task throughout it.
- Will this help me make progress on my goals?
- Will I experience joy during or after this activity?
- Does this activity increase or reduce anxiety and worry?
- Will I be contributing to others in a meaningful way?
- Am I utilizing my strengths?
That's it. I'm committing to asking the questions and observing how this affects my behavior and overall satisfaction.
Wanna try this with me?
Here's a wee hack that I'll be using. Pull this post up on your phone. Click on the graphic and then take a screen picture of it. Crop it to your liking. Save that as your background to remind yourself of the filter elements. Or create your own cheatsheet with the words in the graphic. Best of success!
I liberated a trapped mouse.
But I’m getting ahead of the story...let's back up a bit.
Night 2 Trapping Attempt
On Saturday morning I woke up feeling victorious. I as I stared at the ceiling, I imagined what I’d wear and whether I’d transport the mouse (or mice) before or after my first coffee.
I decided after coffee, because I want to get everything right. More mistakes would occur pre-buzz. Like letting a pissed-off mouse in my car, or allowing one to jump on my head and get stuck in my frizzy hair. Do mice have a mean side? Seems like a reputation reserved for rats and drunken bikers (in the movies). I made a mental note to google the stats on mouse attacks.
I walked into the kitchen and flicked on the lights. My cockiness turned to a whimper when I found all four traps empty. Four chances, not one mouse.
Had my previous successes set me up for failure?
No...I know how to do this! I have a proven track record. I’ve trapped and liberated three mice over the last two years. I’ve honed my techniques and augmented my toolkit. I'm a mouse-catching warrior. You might consider me a mouse whisperer.
Or am I? Maybe I just got lucky. No, I know that wasn't it.
What happened? I examined my traps and noticed that the peanut butter was gone. Peanut butter doesn’t evaporate, so something must've eaten it. The mouse had visited, chowed down, and escaped capture. My opponent was a smarty-pants, maybe the village genius.
Round One: The Mouse. But I'm still in it to win it.
Saturday night I prepared the traps for my third attempt – all with peanut butter, since this mouse obviously loved it. I reduced the amount of peanut butter and pushed it to the farthest corner of each trap. The mouse would have to walk all the way in the tube to get a good lick. I tested and retested the trap door mechanism. And I put all the traps up on the kitchen counter because every mouse I'd caught had gotten trapped on the counter.
I sweet-talked any mice who were getting ready to invade. Are you craving an extraordinary culinary experience? Tonight we have our finest peanut butter on the menu we'll be serving in one of our cozy private dining rooms.
I talked to the traps. Feel the mouse. Watch it enter your domain. See it stealing your food. Don't let it rob you of your riches or dignity. Capture it and don't let it go. Victory can be yours.
I'm a mousetrap whisperer, too. And yes, I used different communication channels to ensure my messages reached the intended recipient.
Night 3 Trapping Attempt Results
Our 120-year-old house is one and a half rooms wide and four rooms deep. From front to back it goes office-kitchen-living room-bedroom. The distance from the kitchen range to our headboard is about 40 unobstructed feet as the sober fly flies. Everything is close.
I’m a light sleeper/insomniac and, at 4:00 a.m., I rolled over and woke up. The cool air from the A/c was making the curtains flutter and I could tell it was raining outside. I heard another sound, too, a fast and persistent scratching noise. Like something was trying to get in or out of some hard object.
I grinned because I knew I’d caught a mouse this time. I got up and inspected my traps. The scratching noise had stopped, so I couldn't follow the sound. I knew the two black traps were empty because their front trap doors had not been tripped close. I held up the first green trap. Empty. But there was an occupant in the second green trap.
It looked at me.
I looked at it.
Hey buddy. You’re going to leave my house soon, but today is your lucky day because I will not kill you. I’m going to take you to a lovely park where you can start over and live your life. Unless you get picked off by a hawk, but that will be on you, not me. I wish you the best.
I put the mouse-filled trap in the larger plastic box and set it out on the front porch. Why outside? That scratching noise was haunting and disturbing. Maybe another mouse—if there was another mouse—would venture into a once-again quiet kitchen and get trapped. Two-for-one, baby. And maybe I could get another hour or two of sleep.
Neither happened. No second mouse. No sleep. I couldn't stop thinking about the one I'd caught and where I'd take him or her.
My criteria for relocation sites has always been: must be a park, far from homes (industrial businesses ok), more than two miles from my house but not too long a drive.
And then I obsessed about how to plot out the morning because I had non-mouse things to do and it was still raining.
Here’s a picture of the mouse. It’s rounder than the scrawny one I caught last year. A more successful hunter and higher in mouse intellect, perhaps. I took it farther from my house than I did the skinny rodent.
I’m realizing as I write this post, that it’s the first time I've used the word rodent, and I feel like changing it to something that sounds less icky.
Like calling gorging on pasta carb loading.
I retrieved the creature miscreant being monster mouse from the front porch and took it for a ride in my car after the rain slowed to a drizzle and I’d had coffee and breakfast. I drove 3.5 miles to a part of the Legacy Trail (very popular with bikers, runners, and walkers) that goes through rolling horse pastures but is close to some commercial buildings. The picture at the top of this post is the mouse’s new home.
I got out of my car with the plastic container and closed my door (so it couldn't jump back inside, this is not my first rodeo). I held up the green container to check on the mouse, it moved around and seemed fine. I turned the knob on the back door of the trap to remove it and placed the trap on the wet grass. It took a few seconds, but then the mouse ran out of the trap and through the grass in the correct - away from me - direction. Liberation complete! No blood shed!
I liked the mix of pastures and businesses of this location because it occurred to me that there might be city mice and forest mice. This fella/sister might know how to harvest crumbs from Pop Tart wrappers but have no experience hunting or gathering fresh whole food. I hedged my bets, in other words. If it’s a city mouse, it will find some trash cans to jump into.
I'm sensitive to these differences because I'm a city girl. If someone dumped me in the woods without a pre-made PB&Js or a microwave oven and frozen burritos, I’d starve. Unless I got a good cell signal, then I’d be back in my element.
What. FedEx delivers everywhere, doesn't it?
This little misadventure is complete for now. We’ll continue to look for and fill and gaps or cracks in our house. I’d rather address the root cause. I’d rather not have mice running around my house. Have I mentioned our little brick cottage is 120 years old? With the original foundation, walls, and wood floors? Don’t get me started on the non-working coal fireplaces. Charming, the real estate ad said. Non-working fireplaces instead of closets would’ve been truth in advertising.
But I digress. We love our house, and it’s time to clean my traps and celebrate.
These are the supplies I keep for mouse catching.
I have two each of two types of traps - the black ones work by trapping the mouse in the tube as it walks in to get the bait at the end of the tube. I bought these first and they worked well except that I couldn't see whether a mouse was inside (I could guess but didn't want to open it and be wrong).
The green traps use a similar trapping mechanism. I like that I can see through the plastic to determine whether a mouse is inside.
The large plastic container seen on the left side of this picture helps me feel safer about having a mouse-filled trap inside the car with me as I drive it/them to their new home in the park. When I first started trapping mice, I wrapped the trap with a plastic bag. Then I realized that if the mouse escaped the trap, the bag would not stop the mouse from getting into my car. That would be a whole new problem!
When I trap a mouse, I put the trap inside the container and secure the top. Better!
I use two types of bait. The small white bottle contains a gel that attracts mice. It does not harm them if they eat it. This has worked well. Peanut butter works, too, and so I use both.
Night 1 Trapping Attempt
I decided to put out all four traps last night. Why not go for it, right? I put peanut butter in two traps and the gel in the other two. Below are a couple of pics of how I set them out. Two on the floor, two on the counter. We suspect that they're entering somewhere in back of the range.
Results: This morning I discovered that I'd caught ZERO mice! Total bummer! We had storms last night, the remnants of Hurricane Laura, so maybe the mice stayed in their homes.
I will try again tonight and report back. I might also read up on mice behavior and see if I can get any ideas for how to best catch them.
You might be wondering why we don't just solve the root cause of the problem - access points into our house. Trust me when I say that we've tried. We've reduced the number of potential ways mice and other critters can get in. We've sprayed holes and crevices with hardening foam (and pest repellant). We've boarded up and caulked larger cracks, and we've installed fine mesh coverings to any air vents on the foundation. We've inspected the areas under the house that are accessible, but there's a part in the front where it's too shallow/short for any human to go.
There's more we can and will do. Until we're able to lock the mice out, I'll need to trap them and take them away.
Starting tomorrow, I'll be chronicling my efforts to catch the mouse, or mice, that are getting into our house at night. Although we take excellent care of our 120-year-old brick cottage, we cannot fill every gap, crack and hole that mice might use to get in. So they sometimes visit our kitchen at night, and then we get to work evicting them. I've learned a few things during past efforts that I hope with make this year's effort especially successful (it seems like we need to deal with the issue once each year, must relate to their seasonal behaviors).
How do you know when they've started coming in? More details on that in future posts.
I'm an animal lover, however, and do not want to set lethal traps or icky glue paper. So I'll be putting out trap houses that capture but don't harm the mice. I'll then drive them to a park and release the mice so they can start over.
There are opportunities for missteps and misadventures at all phases of this operation.
Pictures and details to come. Watch this space.