After deciding I could put my Ph.D. in Psychology to good use by dismantling myths about the field. I asked all you writers (and nonwriters) out there to send me your psychology oriented questions. My friend Pam, musingaloud , took me up on my offer. She found cognitive interventions to be powerful tools for combating negative thoughts related to her writing. Yet, she wasn't sure how to mesh her experience with the facts of the intervention. We put our minds together and came up with the following joint post. Without further ado . . .
I woke up the other morning from a weird dream and lay there, in that dreamy half-asleep state, where ideas and random thoughts float through, and all is quiet and relaxed. A story idea reared up, asking for attention. It was for an intricate murder mystery conspiracy plot, something I've never done before. The next thought that popped up was, "No, I can't write that story. I'm not capable of doing that." And the brain moved on, still floating and meandering. It was only later, thinking back on it, that I realized that my automatic answer was negative self-talk, and that it quickly and certainly squashed an idea without me even realizing it.
We all have thoughts that play on a continuous loop in our mind. They're like whispers on the wind, which means sometimes you don't know they exist until you sit still. Yet, the impact of those winds, thoughts, are felt and seen. Thoughts can be negative or positive. They can motivate or hinder. They inspire our moods, and in doing so, they inspire our behaviors. Notice I said thoughts inspire our mood and behaviors and did not say events inspire mood or behaviors. Why? Two people will witness the same event, but their thoughts about it will lead to different outcomes. Let's look at this idea with the thought provided above:
"I have an idea for a great book.” The Event “I can't write that." Negative thought. It will likely trigger . . . sadness, hopelessness, anger, frustration. The negative emotions will consume the great idea; thus, the story will not be written.
"I have an idea for a great book.” The Event “I can write that, no problem." Positive thought. It will trigger . . . confidence, happiness. The positive emotions will compel the person to act. I am talking about healthy positive thoughts, not delusional or grandiose.
We all grapple with negative thoughts. Some of us grapple more than others. So how do you pin the thoughts to the mattress? Cognitive-Behavioral interventions say you do the following. First, you have to recognize them. See them for what they are: motivation and
dream stealers. Then look at how they make you feel. Next evaluate the accuracy of the thought. Challenge it: what is your evidence that supports or refutes the thought? Then generate a more balanced, realistic thought. Check to see if you believe it. Ask yourself, "On a scale of 1-10--one being whatever and ten being, I totally believe--how strongly do I believe this thought?" If it's weak, keep working. Try and find out what's at the root of the thought(s). Those thoughts that have moved into your mind and dropped their muddy boots on your coffee table are comfy. Be willing to demand they leave. Show them who's boss.
So the above situation might look like this:
"I have an idea for a great book. I can't write that. No wait. What did I just say to myself? I can't write that. That makes me feel sad, frustrated. It makes me question my abilities as a writer. Sure I don't know how to write a mystery novel, but I have written short stories
with elements of mystery and intrigue. I do know there is a workshop at the local tech school. I have a writer friend who writes that genre. I can pick his/her brain. I have the foundation, I can build the rest. Do I really believe that? Hmm. Yes, I do. I wrote a story
with some of the elements. I can write. I can learn."
The new thinking is balanced. It takes into account true strengths and areas for growth. It encourages and celebrates. And in this business, we all need encouragement. It won't come from the outside all the time. You have to be willing to be your own cheerleader.