The Fight Of The Century: Your Imagination To KO Cognitive Dissonance Into Retirement

Melissa Llarena
Creative Enlightenment
7 min readJun 10, 2021

Living here in Sydney, I am the first to admit that what got me to continue my gym routine during the bushfires whilst my family and I were AirBnB hopping in Melbourne was this Rocky YouTube video clip. There is no tomorrow! Thank me later when your six-pack arrives. So I have a lot of love for boxing culture, not the actual fights but the metaphors. Life does feel like a fight except the weight categories are not so clear cut and heavy-weights fights with light-weights all the time. All of this got me thinking about the biggest fights in my professional life…the ones where it was me in one corner (the present me) vs. the future me. There have been too many blooding noses to line item them in this piece. However, what I know is that oftentimes the moments that my future self won i.e. I met an ambitious goal. Those wins were because I decided to take inspired actions towards the goal in spite of what my circumstances would suggest I really should be working towards. For example, you can be sitting on a heap of laundry yet banging feverously on a keyboard like you are some kind of J.K. Rowling writing her first book. This example could be right now. Mock me later when something is written. Fingers crossed. So where am I taking you in this writing? Here’s my thinking…

What if the only way for you to make your future ideal life happen were by taking actions today in your “could not be any more different” present life?

Introducing cognitive dissonance…it would be my prayer for you that the two of you could learn how to become best of friends. Anyone with wacky ambitions knows a thing or two about this friendly dream highjacked. So what is cognitive dissonance? Glad you asked since it was one of the first terms I memorized back at uni when I studied Psychology. It’s kind of like being a hypocrite against yourself. Sort of. What if you wanted to become a marathoner and in this present moment you were out of shape and had gone around being a hater of marathoners? Maybe your whole family mocked runners. Yet, in your heart, you wanted to outpace Usain St Leo Bolt. If you started running in spite of these beliefs, your environment, and prior sedentary preferences then you’d feel some cognitive dissonance.

This is where having a boatload of imagination can save your life and/or hold your hand when you are trying to take new steps and deviate from your norms or the expectations of others. Don’t you deserve it, a partner by your side? Anyone who wants to change their life should read on…

A life without a compelling future is sad. So how do you get one of those? What if your early life circumstances were bleak? What if even having a dream in your childhood home would have been confusing in and of itself given your environment? Two podcast guests come to mind as I consider cognitive dissonance. Timothy Phelps and Breeja Larson.

Phelps can help. Catchy right?. When I approached Timothy the reason why I asked him to be a podcast guest was simple. We were attending a Zoom event with an MMA champion Pulver who shared his brutally violent upbringing. The conversation we both attended was raw and painfully honest. In the Zoom chat area, during that event, Timothy stood out. He typed into the chat that he had an abusive childhood. How often does anyone open up publicly about something like this? You want to know what a dose of Brene Brown's vulnerability is? That was it. So I invited him to share his story, his book, and mindset hacks on my podcast An Interview With Melissa Llarena. Timothy stood out to me because he raised his hand.

Quickly during our interview, I realized this: the only way to get out of a crappy situation is to think yourself worthy enough not to stay in one. Your situation can temporarily contain you but it doesn’t have to hold you, hostage, for a lifetime. Timothy was homeless. He slept in a tunnel. You want to learn to know exactly what his immediate surroundings were? Listen to his interview. Know this, nothing that he saw with his eyes would lead anyone (including himself) to surmise that he was born for greatness. Years prior as well as a kid his parents neglected him. So what happened? What had to happen for Timothy to turn around his circumstances in one day whilst still being homeless? And, how can you do such a dramatic turnaround in your life? Change in behavior and actions. Let’s get real it took more than one day for Timothy to go from homeless to being in real estate. So here’s the thing…

I believe that everyone has to learn how to pull themselves out of their circumstances sometimes. And often you won’t be able to just hop on a plane. The pandemic has made this blatantly obvious. The main escape valve? Our imagination. Mine is a heavyweight and for Timothy, it came by way of a miracle. One day when Timothy was in a tunnel he decided to change his circumstances. He saw himself in a new way one that would offer him a compelling vision to pursue. He thinks it was God and grace. They go hand in hand. It wasn’t a human who gave him money. At that moment, there was no clear plan. At that moment, he had to decide to live in a world where he could live in a tunnel and find his way out of that tunnel. It’s those “yes, and” situations. You want to know how not to end up in a psych ward? Right here is one way. Thirst for grace. You can spend your limited energy battling with the cognitive dissonance that must be felt when pursuing anything bigger than your current circumstances or you can find an ally. Timothy’s ally was God. Who’s yours? Cognitive dissonance sure knows how to pack a punch be sure to find one. Interestingly…your ally can be a higher power or a televised role model.

Here is a second example of when feeling cognitive dissonance yet taking unexpected actions could be the only way out of a tough life moment. It’s coming from a totally different angle but why not? I asked us all to use our imagination, right? Follow me here. Breeja Larson is a Gold Medalist for Team USA in swimming. Have you ever watched that P&G Olympics ad? You see proud parents bringing their kids to sports practice during dawn hours. Years later you see these parents relishing as their kids earn their medals. Yep, that one. That experience was unlike that of Breeja. She wasn’t raised on tofu and organic foods. Funds weren’t enough. She like prior podcast guests invited themselves places where no one in their families had been. She signed up with a coach who was taking chances with unexpected athletes and Breeja paved her own way to the Olympics. All of this to say that the kryptonite necessary to battle cognitive dissonance’s limitations truly is your imagination. Breeja was smitten with gymnasts on TV who were at the Olympics. She had a vision of what she could be and it literally came from her television. Is it just me? I feel like I should be using the TV to manipulate my kids but I digress. Sure anyone who saw Breeja would have thought that her body frame was not fit for gymnastics but that didn’t stop her from dreaming of the Olympics in any sport. Her vision got her wheels turning. Breeja found swimming which made sense given her physique. However, if Breeja hadn’t moved despite cognitive dissonance then she wouldn’t have earned a medal. Despite her reality or that of her family, she decided to imagine her possibilities in new ways that had been unimaginable by prior generations. Was she as thoughtfully-nourished as a kid as her swimming peers? No. Did she have any advantages? I would say yes. She let her imagination hold her hand. Rather than pour an ounce of energy into contemplating the hold that cognitive dissonance can have on your psyche she did the work and acted “as if.”

Considering the 180 both podcast guests made in their own lives’ trajectory, my sense is that your imagination needs to do a clean sweep. You will need to imagine you are worthy of something different than your eyes would lead you to believe is possible. You will need to imagine the steps necessary to propel you forward. You will also need to imagine that your current circumstance is irrelevant to your mission. Your imagination has to take the reigns. P.S. sometimes cognitive dissonance masks itself as confusion. Either way, cognitive dissonance has to be reimagined as the Apollo Creed in your own Rocky story. Imagine that, learning how to train your imagination to KO cognitive dissonance whenever you get in the ring to fight for your bigger dreams? Seems worthwhile to me?

P.S. I am writing a book to help us all reawaken our human spirit. If you’d like to follow my personal journey or subscribe to my weekly newsletters then sign-up right here. You’ll gain access to my 75 podcast episodes meant to inspire your creativity, courage, and sense of curiosity PLUS I’ll add fries with that by sending you my 9 tips to feel hopeful, empowered, and limitless on your career + life journey. All of this and more located on the same page. Keep exploring! Life can be fun and filled with wonder even if you alphabetize your spice cabinet or would never tell colleagues you’re addicted to TikTok. I see the inner kid in everyone. You are still magical to me and your dreams should continue to light you up.



Melissa Llarena
Creative Enlightenment

I coach executives on how to dissect & deliver a perfect #jobinterview @TuckSchool Author of №1 #HR interview @Forbes @LinkedIn #mom