Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Word Wonders -- disgruntle & gruntle

To make dissatisfied or sulky; put out of humor. [from the prefix dis- (meaning "not") + gruntle, an obsolete word that intensified the meaning and impact of "grunt"] -- Funk & Wagnall's Canadian College Dictionary and The Oxford English Reference Dictionary
In other words, disgruntle means to "not gruntle," which for me instantly raised the question, "What, then, does 'gruntle' mean?" So here you go. I found the definition and a couple of delightful uses of "gruntle" online and discovered that it means "to put in a good humor." (from Texan Walter Prescott Webb, 1888-1963, wrote that some people "were gruntled with a good meal and good conversation."
In the entry from the 1913 edition of  Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (found on, I learned that gruntle also once meant "to grunt repeatedly."

So here's my fanciful theory about the development of gruntle and disgruntle. (Remember I am not a word expert but, rather, a word enthusiast with an imagination.) Maybe, back in the day, a pig farmer or village of pig owners noticed that their swine grunted when they were contented with their slop and mud. They came up with the word "gruntle" to describe the pigs' expressions of bliss.

Then maybe another astute soul noticed that sometimes humans also grunt with pleasure at dinner time (and other pleasurable events) and applied "gruntle" to their expressions, too. Hence, over time, to be gruntled could come to mean that a person was in a good humor or tranquil.

Then, life being what it is, someone who was not in a good humor, was not feeling at ease and serene, might have come to be described as being "disgruntled." And, sad to say, the delightful little word gruntle passed from our daily vocabulary.

Personally, I'm really glad I found the word gruntle, because as it happens, earlier today I was feeling decidedly disgruntled about a variety of frustrations. However, it was time to write a blog post so I decided to investigate a Word Wonder. Those are usually entertaining for me, and I was hoping I'd get distracted from my grumpiness.

It worked. Not only did I get distracted, I got gruntled in my search for meaning...of the word "disgruntled." And the word "gruntled" is so charming and rolls so nicely around in my mouth, that I think it might just help me choose being gruntled over being disgruntled the next time I'm out of sorts. And, that, my friends, is an important part of healing and personal growth.

Happy Gruntling to me and to you!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Change your Magical Thinking

This is the third post in which I write about magical thinking, a life view and habit that keeps many of us stuck. (Read the first post here and the second, a journalling exercise, here.)

If you have recognized that you do engage in magical thinking, if you've thought or journalled about it, you might want to know how to do the next step...changing your magical thinking.

As I said in my last post...
By recognizing and then loosening your grip on magical thinking, you'll find new energy, new resilience, fun, and hope.

  1. Notice one aspect of life in which you're waiting for some magical solution to appear. Money, relationships, job, lifestyle and health are common areas for magical thinking.
  2. Name what you're wishing would change, such as:
    • more satisfying work
    • no more debt
    • more travel
    • better appearance
    • happier family life
    • ...or whatever is on your mind
  3. Can you name the person or entity you've been wishing would make your situation better? Is it God, or a loved one, or some nameless and faceless Something? This can be hard, because magical thoughts are usually vague by their very nature, but give it a try.
  4. As you pay more attention to your wishing-thoughts, notice how you feel, such as:
    • hopeless                   
    • wishy-washy
    • angry
    • vague
    • tired
    • frustrated
    • lonely
    • wistful
    • without energy
  5. Now say or write a statement that includes what you've noticed in the first four steps. This might be hard or uncomfortable, because part of the power of magical thinking is that it's vague and usually not put into clear words. But looking at your wishful thoughts and putting them into words is an important part of seeing and then changing them. For example:
    • When I think about my huge debt load, I feel tired and hopeless. I wish Uncle John would die and leave me his money.
    • I wish God would just change Susan so we'd be happier. She really makes me mad. Maybe she'll just leave, and I won't have to deal with this mess.
    • If only I could win the lottery, big time. Then I could quit my lousy job and travel around the world.
  6. Take a few deep breaths. You might be feeling guilty or pathetic or angry or many other things if you've written out your unnamed desire for someone to die or go away. But this step is so important if you're going to actually see changes in your circumstances. Because magical thinking is often so vague, we don't really pay much attention to those thoughts; they seem to hover in the background of our minds and hearts. The trouble is that while they're hovering, they're also draining us of energy and blinding us to our ability to be responsible for our own lives.
  7. Now try this. Below your "I wish..." statement, write an "I will..." statement, such:
    • I don't like being in debt, but I will change that myself. If Uncle John wants to help, that's a bonus, but I don't need him to die for me to get out of debt. I'll take an honest look at my finances and see what my options are. 
    • I 'm not happy with my marriage and the messes Susan has created. But I'm an adult, and I can take a look at my part of things and do something about that. And I'll ask God to help me with me.
    • I've waited for ten years to win the lottery, but I just keep losing. I don't like my job, but I need an income. So I will make a list of the pro's and con's about this job, and I'll start a savings account for trips I want to take. Then I'll decide where to go from there.
Maybe you've noticed that the I will statements are different than the I wish statements. They're more action-packed and positive. Their power results from looking at the reality of a situation. And in saying them, our power is made available to us. Even if the changes that follow are hard or uncomfortable, they're rarely harder or more uncomfortable than the problems we lived with before we changed our magical thinking.

So, the last step (#8) in changing your magical thinking about a situation is to actually do something concrete. Make a budget or talk to a credit counsellor...and then follow his or her suggestions. Stop blaming others, look honestly at your own undesirable behaviours, and change them. Quit your job or change your attitude about the one you have. Start a savings account with $2, if that's what you have.

Small, concrete, responsible steps are the antidote to magical thinking. And the result is more energy, a more positive outlook, healthier relationships, better finances...whatever. You decide because you can.
You can follow the steps below by thinking it out, talking with someone, or writing your answers.Start small, since this is often the best way to learn new skills and attitudes. Here are eight suggestions for doing just that:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Question

The other day, a friend said she'd asked herself a question. Now I'm asking myself the same question and pass it on to you. Maybe it will be useful to you.

What would you do in any given situation if the fear weren't there?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Magical Thinking -- a journal exercise

Last Wednesday I wrote about magical thinking, a view of life and self that resides deep below the surface in some people. (Click here to read that post.) This sort of belief system is part of childhood's charm, but in adults it supports an unhealthy degree of passivity. Magical thinking, as I mean it here, keeps us meekly waiting around for someone or something else to resolve our problems -- financial, personal, professional, etc. -- while we do little or nothing to progress.

As I said the other day, magical thinking is not the same as being patient or wisely waiting for the best time. It's not the same as trusting others or accepting limitations. These are helpful ways to interact with the world, while magical thinking makes it hard for us to move forward and to recognize our own strength and ability.

Letting go of magical thinking means seeing one's own strengths and weaknesses realistically. It means letting go of the idea that others will fix one's problems. It means taking responsibility for choices and decisions.

Get out a pen and paper and set aside 15-30 minutes to start. Ask yourself the questions below to help identify if you are prone to magical thinking. And as with any new awareness, the purpose of this is not to criticize yourself but to take the first step in change -- recognizing the problem. Keep in mind that many people have the thoughts and feelings described below; the trick is to identify if you frequently count on others to make things better.

Q?    Do you find yourself wishing someone would come along and pay your    debts or fix a troubled relationship?

Q?    Do you have vague feelings of powerlessness or inadequacy in your own daily affairs?

Q?    Do you feel like you're getting nowhere, especially in areas of life that are important to you? 

Q?    Are you sometimes jealous of people who seem to "have it all together?" Do you compare yourself to them or resent them?

As you work through these questions, others might arise. Do your best to honestly explore the questions and the answers. Be kind to yourself, since that's the most effective way to stay interested in change. If you beat yourself up over perceived failures, you just add to the pile of magical thinking and lack of progress.

You can make changes that make you and your life more dynamic! By recognizing and then loosening your grip on magical thinking, you'll find new energy, new resilience, fun, and hope.

In another post, I'll write about  ways to turn magical thinking into dynamic thinking. Once you begin to recognize the old patterns, you'll be able to build new ones.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A quotation

Life is not life at all without delight.

-- Coventry Kearsey Deighton Patmore (1823–1896)
Victory in Defeat

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Magical Thinking

Never grow a wishbone, daughter,
where your backbone ought to be.
-- Clementine Paddleford

Born in Kansas in 1898, Clementine Paddleford  wrote in her memoir that her mother gave her the advice I've quoted above. Apparently young Clementine listened well, since she grew up to become an intrepid journalist, pilot and traveler in the 1920s to 1960s.

As a food writer at such publications as the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Sun, Paddleford flew a Piper Cub all over the States to learn about and report on regional foods. She went aboard a submarine to learn what the sailors ate and explored quiet corners of her country to discover what the locals prepared for their families. Paddleford then conveyed her enthusiasm to readers by tempting their palettes with descriptions of the exotic-sounding foods she found in her travels.

When I found Paddleford's quote a number of years ago, I knew nothing about her. I only knew that its cleverly worded meaning shot straight into me and put words to a vague and unsettling feeling I had about myself. Although I was happy with some of my accomplishments and personal traits, I knew I wasn't being and doing all I could. At that time I'd never heard of "magical thinking," but I could tell I had more of a wishbone than a backbone in some areas of my life.

Through the years I've carried Clementine's mother's advice around in my head. I've passed it on to students and have continue to be attracted to its meaning. And when for the first time I heard about the idea of magical thinking, I knew that Mrs. Paddleford had nailed it so many years before.

To me, magical thinking means meekly waiting around for something to happen instead of doing it for yourself. It implies to me a floppy, waffling sort of attitude to one's circumstances and, perhaps, oneself.

Magical thinking is not the same as being patient or wisely waiting for the best time. It is not the same as trusting others or accepting limitations. Instead, it's a state of mind that doesn't allow a person to recognize his or her own strength and ability. Magical thinking is the result of (and supports) the belief that some external Somebody or Something will fix the problems, get the job done, make the desired result appear...and it immobilizes the magical thinker because she or he does not believe in herself or himself.

Letting go of magical thinking -- getting a backbone instead of a wishbone -- means seeing one's own abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. It means letting go of the idea that others will fix one's problems. It means taking responsibility for choices and decisions.

Changing my own magical thinking has come as a result of facing and dealing with the lousy things that have been done to me as well as the lousy things I have done or the valuable things I have not done because I was waiting for somebody to do it for me. It's a satisfying (though not always easy) feeling to take responsibility for my own life, for myself, for my choices.

In my next post, I'll offer a journalling exercise that can help you look at your own tendencies towards magical thinking.