Interior redesign for the mind

Four psychological tweaks to prepare for the offseason.

Illustration by Kate Feiffer.

In the spirit of interior renovation, we jump to pockets of our homes that need help. Maybe it’s a dated powder room. Or a dusty dining table. Maybe it’s time for new bed linens or an overdue closet purge. But one of the most important things that often goes overlooked in the quest for the perfect whatever, is the less expensive and sometimes easier act of real “interior renovation” — and by this, we mean the mind. We’re looking inwards.

In an age of mental illness where medication and craft beer are the salves de rigueur, experts agree that with a few tricks of the psychological trade, a form of internal renovation can hastily take place.  

  1. Believing is seeing: Per the modern day philosopher/self-help guru Dr. Wayne Dyer comes the age old praxis, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Sometimes all it takes is the reevaluation of an idea or thought, usually hatched from past experience, that all-too-colors the current moment. That person, that place, that notion of work — whatever the material content is — can be replaced. 

If we are to “put the cart in front of the horse” and change a belief, for example, “people are idiots” into “people are good at heart” we begin to see and gather evidence for the new belief. If we shift the idea that “rain is bad” to “rain is a different kind of beautiful,” suddenly rainy days become tolerable. 

It may sound cliché, but a form of ontological engineering is possible by going down to the basement of our own souls and tweaking a few fuses. In other words, we can create a whole new world by reengineering existing beliefs. It doesn’t require walking on the treadmill, enduring the stair-master, or getting your butt kicked on the rowing machine, but it could have just as efficacious results.


  1. The present is given by the future you are living to: Many people believe that the future is given by the past, and in some ways it is, as we just discussed. Past beliefs creep in. Take, for example, “love is extremely rare.” While this seems self-evident to some, it is actually a belief, not a reality. 

By shifting that belief to something more on the order of “love is a factor of grace and can come at any time,” the possibility of said belief transpiring in reality is greatly increased. Additionally, the present is influenced by these beliefs. If you believe “life sucks,” then what is today going to be like? It is almost akin to knowing your trip to Aruba is coming up on Friday (see list of retreats). If that is the case, Wednesday is much more tolerable. In the same way we can shift the experience of every day by stipulating new ideas about what the future holds. These ideas may seem arbitrary, but good ideas are no more expensive than bad.


  1. He who is happy with his/her lot: Said both in Psalms (1:28) and in the Jewish Pirkei Avot (4:1) is the notion (paraphrased): “Who is content? He who is happy with his lot.” As Lao Tzu, the ancient Eastern philosopher says it, Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” And dare we quote the singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow whose “Soak Up The Sun” lyric wisely asserts, It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got. And lastly, from Albert Einstein: There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle or as though everything is a miracle.


  1. Story vs. What happens: Last but not least is the old notion, re-remembered, that what happens is just a story. Shakespeare said it this way,“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” In other words, there is a brief pause between when something happens, like a tree falling on your car, and our story or interpretation of it. This notion is asserted in the old parable of “The Lost Horse”:

“A man who lived on the northern frontier of China was skilled in interpreting events. One day, for no reason, his horse ran away to the nomads across the border. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, ‘What makes you so sure this isn’t a blessing?’ Some months later his horse returned, bringing a splendid nomad stallion. Everyone congratulated him, but his father said, ‘What makes you so sure this isn’t a disaster?’ Their household was richer by a fine horse, which his son loved to ride. One day he fell and broke his hip. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, ‘What makes you so sure this isn’t a blessing?’

A year later, the nomads came in force across the border, and every able-bodied man took his bow and went into battle. The Chinese frontiersmen lost nine of every ten men. Only because the son was lame did the father and son survive to take care of each other. Truly, blessing turns to disaster, and disaster to blessing: the changes have no end, nor can the mystery be fathomed.”


At the risk of sounding like Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret”, these are some public secrets that can help in your upcoming renovations, mental and physical. Don’t just get in the sauna or surf Squibnocket — clean up your mind, and your space will be a whole different animal.