The Power of Paradigms

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“Our awareness of our patterns is the first step toward designing the life for which we’re intended.”
~ Mary Morrissey

After a year of writing, it’s time for Persephone to take a little vacation. Rather than leaving you with nothing to read this week, I decided to reprint the second most popular post that I wrote last year, The Power of Paradigms. Well, the second most popular until yesterday when I saw the metrics for my last post, What I Wish I knew at 18 — the posts are now neck and neck with over 1,200 engagements! In any event, Persephone will be back in full force on April 5. 

So without further ado, I give you, The Power of Paradigms:

Before I take on a new client, I insist that he or she participates in a Strategy Session phone call with me. The session is a coaching version of an “intake” that consists of a short questionnaire completed prior to the call, followed by an hour coaching/discussion/general info session. I insist on this for a few reasons.

For starters, I want to make sure that the prospective client is willing to put in the work required and has the right attitude to proceed. I also want to make sure that the client and I have a good rapport and can work well together, especially given the fact that we’ll be working in very personal, and at times, uncomfortable territory. But most importantly, I want to make sure that my client is mentally healthy enough for coaching, and that he or she isn’t mistaking the work of a coach with that of a therapist.

In a nutshell, while therapy focuses on the past and delves into the “why” questions, coaching is future-oriented and utilizes the “how,” “when,” and “where” questions. Coaches work with clients on setting priorities and goals, identifying their life vision, and guiding them through the steps necessary to create a plan of action that will enable them to achieve a higher level of success.

There’s one concept that we cover in the Strategy Session — it also comes up time and time again in my coaching — that is imperative to understand. It’s one of the keys that can lead you up to success, but, sadly, it can also bring you down to failure. I’m referring to paradigms and their impact on your life.

My alma mater, the Life Mastery Institute defines paradigms this way, “The current situation that we’re all in, is a perfect ‘outer’ reflection of our ‘inner’ paradigms. Our paradigms act like an internal thermometer on all aspects of our life.” Simply, they are a collection of habits based on our beliefs, feelings, and most importantly, thoughts that shape our circumstances, experiences, and results. Paradigms can be positive and helpful, but usually, they are the blockers — the negative thoughts stopping you from making a change.

You are not born with paradigms, rather they are gradually instilled in you over time through a series of life events and outside influences. Think about it: who are the main influencers in your life that shape your belief system? You can adopt your parent’s beliefs. You can adopt beliefs from your education, from your cultural and religious upbringing, from your interactions with friends and acquaintances, and, also, from impactful events that occur.

Henry David Thoreau alluded to paradigms in his essay, Walden. He writes, “He will put some things behind and will pass an invisible boundary.” Every person has an invisible boundary. Your invisible boundary is created by your thinking and represents the unknown, the land beyond your current experiences that is home to growth, change, and success.

Your paradigms are the sentries guarding your boundary. At times, they can be of assistance and guide you over the boundary, but more times than not, they are the thoughts and habits that not only stop you from moving forward but trick you into thinking that inertia and stasis are your friends. They are the voices that tell you, “beyond the invisible boundary is a place of fear and uncertainty — this is not a place that you want to be in.” These paradigms, if not confronted, can destroy you and will lead you to live your life by default rather than your own design.

In the Vision Workshop that I present, I use this story as an allegory to illustrate the power of paradigms:

In India, elephants are the beasts of burden. Elephants pull plows, drag heavy materials, and do most of the hard labor. The process used to train elephants is quite unusual. When an elephant is a baby, the trainer tethers him with a big strong rope tied to a stake that’s driven deep into the ground. The baby does its best to escape by pulling and tugging with all its might. But, alas, the rope and stake are stronger. 

As the elephant gets older and increases in size and weight, instead of the restraints getting stronger, the ropes and stakes gradually get thinner and flimsier. Yet, oddly enough, the elephant begins to tug less and less against the restraints, and in short order, just gives up the fight.

When the elephant reaches full size, the owner just goes to a river or stream, pulls out river reeds, and weaves them together. They then control the animal with these little river reed ropes.

Now, you know how powerful elephants are and can imagine how easy it would be for the elephant to break the rope and escape. But that doesn’t happen, the elephant stays put. The elephant has an ingrained pattern, a set belief. He has been conditioned to think that no matter how hard he struggles, he will not get free, so he doesn’t even make the attempt. It’s not the rope that’s keeping him stuck, but the elephant’s own paradigm that keeps him stuck. 

Paradigms are powerful. They can be used to propel you forward, or, they can drag you down to defeat without you even knowing it. Take a closer look at your circumstances — perhaps you are dealing with some “river reed” thinking of your own.


TIME TO DINE: Cooking for Joan

Today, I’m bringing you another cocktail. This has been my go-to drink for over 30 years, although, I called it a vodka, soda, splash of cranberry, and a lime for half of that time. It wasn’t until summer 2002 that I discovered its true name — the Rose Kennedy.

 I was vacationing in Provincetown on Cape Cod and ordered my usual at a local bar. The bartender looked at me quizzically and said, “Oh, you mean a Rose Kennedy.” Of course, I was immediately intrigued and needed to know the backstory ASAP. The bartender told me to come back in 10 minutes when the crowd subsided and he’d fill me in.

 Here is his tale:

During the summer, when the Kennedys were in residence at Hyannis Port, the entire clan and their guests would gather together downstairs at 5:00 pm for cocktails before dinner, which was served promptly at 6:00 pm. However, Rose would always decline the invitation. Instead, she preferred enjoying her cocktail hour in her upstairs sun room alone, or on rare occasions, with one lucky guest.

Her drink of choice? Vodka, soda, with a splash of cranberry, and a lime, which she made for herself in a special glass. Well, this was no ordinary glass, by any stretch of the imagination. This was a pitcher-sized crystal bucket! One that could (and did) hold the equivalent of three cocktails. At 6:00 pm sharp, she finished her bucket and toddled downstairs to join the rest of the family, always a little tipsy.

Inevitably, one of her sons would ask, “Mother, how many cocktails did you drink tonight?” Her honest reply, “Just the one, dear.” Now, that’s my kind of thinking.

Cheers to you, Rose Kennedy — this “one” is for you! 

The Rose Kennedy

Time:  4 min | Makes: 1 | Difficulty: Easy


  • 1 1/2 ounces vodka (or gin, if you prefer)
  • Club soda to almost fill the glass
  • Splash of cranberry juice
  • Lime wedge



In a lowball glass, add the vodka

Add as much (or as little) soda as you’d like, usually fill just below the rim

Add the splash of cranberry

Put the lime wedge on the rim

 *For the original version of the Rose Kennedy, find a bucket and triple the ingredients!

bon appétit!


Categories: Purpose - Mindfulness

Tags: life coach , life coaching , paradigms , paradigm , getting unstuck , moving forward , understanding your paradigms , Rose Kennedy , vodka soda with cranberry , Rose Kennedy cocktail , Life Mastery Institute , Mary Morrissey