I loved Disney’s Little Mermaid growing up. My father was strict and had an anger like King Triton. I fathomed myself as Ariel, wishing to be “part of your world” while I was holed up at home playing by myself with stuffed animals.
Now that I’m an adult, I realize a deeper lesson inside the Little Mermaid. Ursula gave Ariel legs in exchange for her voice, yet all along King Triton had the power to give her legs AND let her keep her voice. Our thoughts tend to express themselves in terms of good vs. evil. Right vs. wrong. Black vs. white. The operator in our mind is either-or, when we should think with the AND operator, even if the ideas seem opposing, paradoxical.
When Ariel mentally closed off the option of working with her father to pursue her dreams, she thought her only option was Ursula. Her substitution thinking led her down a negative spiral of mistakes. Complimentary thinking conversely would’ve likely given her more options. She could’ve negotiated with her father, despite his wrath. She could’ve weighed the options, both Ursula’s deal and her father’s deal. She could’ve leveraged Ursula and forced her father’s hand. Instead, she went down a one-way street that almost killed everyone. (What was Disney thinking at the time? I love the movie, but for girls to aspire to marry a land prince at such a destructive price? I have my reservations, too…)
Nevertheless, the biggest lesson I think is the power of AND. When your mind takes a stand on one side of the fence, we should consider practicing the improv technique, “Yes, and.” When you catch yourself saying “I’m a failure for not sticking to my diet…” follow up with “Yes, and I successfully avoided the afternoon cookie today.” Then let your mind ruminate on it.
It will feel awkward. It will feel uncomfortable, but the more you practice it, the more you’ll become familiar with the feeling. The feeling that you can live with paradox and that willingness to accept things that you don’t want to accept expands your horizons. It gives you more options and room to grow.
Don’t let your inner Ursula trick you into substitution thinking. Practice “Yes, and.”