Tuesday, September 28, 2021

A Room of Our Own: An Interview with Creativity Coach Eric Maisel

Eric Maisel

“O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”

Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2

"Yes, we all need a room of our own, and it's alright

Yes, we all need a place to call home."

Billy Joel

We all need a room of our own. This need certainly surfaces and arises in adolescence, if not sooner, and it is something we carry around with us for the rest of our lives. It is a place that we fully identify with, and in which, our freedom, privacy, and our core being are valued and respected. It is often a physical room, like teenagers who have their own space and area where they listen to the music they like and where they can freely talk to and be with anyone they desire.

It can also be a specific location and space that we cherish, a park bench, a relaxing spot away from the office, a coffee place, or even our mental space where we can be who we are and do as we like. This room of our own exists even when we are living with another person, when we are married and have children, or are surrounded by many people. It can also exist when we find ourselves in a confined space, such as in a hospital ward or in a prison.

In fact, as Eric Maisel, family therapist and creativity coach pointed out to me, the medieval monastery cell was not that different from a prison cell in terms of shape and size. The difference lay in the fact that the monk had freedom of movement if he chose to do so but there was also a significant shift in their mindset and overall experience. A monk may deliberately choose and opt for that confined lifestyle and even delight and relish in it. Although a prisoner does not deliberately make that choice, he or she could still consider themselves a king (or queen) of infinite space, but unlike Hamlet without the accompanying nightmares. Similarly, you could be living in a luxury home and still feel bound and imprisoned, not physically but rather mentally and emotionally.

Now that we have established both the physical room, but more importantly, the mind-over-matter mental and emotional room, I would like to point out Eric Maisel’s ingenious approach to this mindroom of ours as depicted, described, and elaborated in his excellent book Redesigning your Mind: The Breakthrough Program for Real Cognitive Change.

I had the pleasure and honor to talk to him about how you can not only see and spend time in this mindroom of yours but how you can actively change it by reimagining, redecorating, and repainting it in various different beautiful, and colorful ways and manners. In fact, most of us are living our days in a mindroom that is stuffy and filled with repetitive, limited, and limiting thoughts circulating in our weary and exhausted heads and bodies.

But what if you installed large sun-filled windows into it and opened the window to let the breeze in to clear the stuffy air! What if you scraped off the old wallpaper and replaced it with new vibrant and shiny colors! What if you put in a light switch that you can flip on when proverbial nights set in and, as such, be able to brighten our rooms? For those of us who have a somber in-dwelling style, an anxious, fearful, critical, and often angry outlook and feeling, why not imagine a brighter place and lighten your surroundings with a much better view and vista?

Eric’s idea of seeing your own mind as a room is immensely creative and commendable. Descartes had seen the mind as a stage but that would be too much in the public view, and it would be bound with stress and pressure without barely any privacy or intimacy. To imagine your mind not only as your own room but to visualize changes and amendments within it, is absolutely fascinating and enticing to me. You are what you think, but what if you started thinking differently, and, as such, were able to change our mindset and shift your paradigm towards real change, as the subtitle in Eric’s book is alluding to. 

There is a problem though, but it is not insurmountable: We all carry a bed of nails in our respective mindrooms. The room is haunted and imbued with secrets, ghosts, and ghouls of the past, subjective experiences of failures here and there, and depreciating and belittling comments, rumors, and gossip that we heard and overheard and that we infused into our private spheres. The traumatic bed of nails is pain-inducing, but it can be hauled out and be replaced by a soft comfy bed or an easy chair.

In fact, CBT (short for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) has its strengths and merits and can be moderately successful for dealing with certain issues and problems related to mental health and healthy functioning, but it also has its share of shortcomings with (pun alert) significant room for improvement. Its main dilemma exists in the perplexing feat of trying to replace a negative thought with a positive one. All this does is accumulate thoughts, and, in the end, all you are left with is, in Eric’s words, the idea of merely arm-wrestling thoughts.

But by moving away from this dilemma and changing your perspective - and keep in mind, he’s a creativity coach - then we can have the ability to change the source and origin of those thoughts. Once we start doing that, it is not just about gaining and maintaining control but living in peace and tranquility where the thoughts we do not want do not even bother to arise in the first place!

Since the body and mind are inherently and intricately connected, you can indeed use the mind to make and bring about the changes that you want to see and make in your daily life. All you need to do is to go to your room, a well-chosen and well-suited metaphor for our purposes, and imagine it differently; you would make changes that make sense and that are useful to you at that specific moment of your life. Visualization and imagination are proven and evidence-based ways that can help us break out of the rut and the vicious cycle we have gotten ourselves into and we have become entangled and enmeshed in.

To return to the previously mentioned prison metaphor, we can transform the prison cell into a monk cell. As Eric explains, medieval monks and prisoners were technically in the same place, it was practically the same dark-walled place after all, and yet, they had different experiences, and they related to the place in very different ways and manners.

So we can overcome our own limiting metaphors and completely change the orientation of our very own mindroom as well as how it feels to us; we can do so by metaphorically removing the bars and by being aware that we literally are able to get out of this perceived prison. In this way, we can become aware of and activate and engage with our inherent potential and the many opportunities and possibilities both within and without.

One of the problems is that we are just not honest and truthful enough with ourselves. This is to our detriment as we have wall-papered our mindrooms with lies, falsehood, delusions, and deception. Moreover, we do not feel prepared for life and do not know how to respond to various situations in our life that may feel out of control. Hence, we simply abandon ideas or disregard and sabotage opportunities that could be helpful and beneficial to our psyche. In fact, we get badly stuck in life because we have simply not thought things through.

The way to overcome and circumvent this is to create our very own speaker’s corner in a designated corner of our mindroom. That is the place where we can freely speak and say what is on our mind without worries about getting into trouble and without censorship. Just say it, let it out whatever it is, and speak your mind.

This type of visualization is a form of rehearsal, the same way we can prepare for all types of performances, athletic or artistic, as well as for upcoming challenges and difficult and potentially stressful situations like job interviews or marriage proposals. Yet by rehearsing talking points, by going through it in our mind, we are priming and preparing ourselves for potential success and we will have answers ready at hand.

Eric’s creative, insightful, and humorous book, which makes psychology even more fun and interesting, can help us not only see things and ourselves differently and in a different light and room but it can also facilitate change in our lives and help us become better versions of ourselves. Without that bed of nails and the fear and insecurity nagging in our entrails, we can free ourselves towards fully being ourselves.

Yet I want to take this metaphor a bit further. It is true that we crave a room of our own, a private and even scared space that represents us, that is the home of our home, the heart of our heart and in which we can truly and fully be ourselves without worry or concern about pleasing others, friends, and family members, nor be concerned about displeasing others with our words and actions.

It is true that we need to use words and language to communicate and express our ideas and to identify and label our feelings. Thoughts expressed in words are vital and unavoidable, and they can potentially, when practiced with awareness and mindfulness, lead to gains and insights into our beings, that of others as well as our relationships with them.

But here’s a radical thought: what if you do not need to change your mindroom after all? What if it is the thought and language that are creating the limits and establishing the boundaries within yourself? What if there is “no best version” out there but there is an “only you” version: your unique way of being yourself. What if the most beautiful and life-transforming feats are not enshrined and enveloped in thoughts but simply are what they are without any comment or judgment, thoughtless and yet filled with feelings of bliss? What if there is after all a spiritual realm that we can simply tap into and connect with?

Did Eric’s idea for this book not come from in-spir-ation? Was it not that spiritual realm and sacred place that presented him with a gift and that he accepted, unwrapped, sculpted, and chiseled for us in elaborate and precise words as a form of dedication of and devotion for divine knowledge? But then again, the truth of truths cannot be spoken nor expressed, and as such, some unspoken truths are better left unsaid.



I want to thank Eric Maisel for this mind-blowing interview. He was also the catalyst for me finally buying a new, more comfortable and convenient, and well-deserved chair for my office! Thank you for the inspiration and motivation!


Here are some additional links to his book:

Amazon- http://bit.ly/RedesignYourMind


Bookshop- http://bit.ly/RedesignyourMind

Barnes and Noble- http://bit.ly/redesignYourMind

Indiebound- http://bit.ly/redesignyourmind


Moreover, I recommend checking out the full-length interview, which includes fascinating topics that are not covered in my blog post above, including further insights into creativity and the creative process, authoritarianism, and Improv comedy!


You can access it via YouTube or via my podcast: Arash’sWorld Podcast.

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