Way back in the early nineties, I gained a BSc (hons) in Sport Science. As part of the course, we studied sports psychology. Twenty-plus years and Multiple Sclerosis later, the sporting part of my life has a lot less relevance, but the psychology involved with ‘self-talk’ is just as applicable now as a writer.
For athletes, how they think, or what they tell themselves can have an impact on how they perform. It wasn’t until after the 2nd World War that coaches started to realise the impact that the mind can have on the body. In the late twentieth century, ‘self-talk’ was described as ‘the key to cognitive control’ (Bunker, Williams and Zinsser, 1993), referring to an internal dialogue and thought control. It is now widely accepted that negative self-talk can result in poorer performance.
What does this mean to me as a writer?
(Adapted from ‘The Cognitive Model – Therapy Changes)
Often our responses are related to our perception of situations, rather than the reality of them. The thoughts we have to these situations are automatic, and we may not even notice them, noticing instead the emotions that result. As a result, we make mistakes in interpreting these thoughts (do you recognise yourself in any of these?):
· Black and white thinking – ‘If I don’t make the best-seller list, I’m a failure’.
· Discounting the positive – ‘I was accepted for publication, but I just got lucky, the editor must be on a bad day’.
· Emotional reasoning – Thinking something is true because you believe’ it. ‘I do lots of things well, but I’m still a failure’.
· Mental filter – focusing on one negative, ignoring all the positive (tunnel vision)
· ‘Should’ and ‘must’ – ‘Everything I write should be best-seller material’.
A good way to challenge negative self-talk is to ask yourself questions:
· Reality Testing – What is the evidence? If I’ve received a rejection, does that mean I am a failure?
· Alternate explanations – What else could this mean? Do I just need to make some changes to the manuscript? Can I take this as a learning experience and move on?
· Putting it into perspective – Does it really matter? Will my friends / family love me less? Does it mean my writing career is a waste of time?
· Goal-directed thinking – Can I learn from any feedback received?
What else can I do to challenge the situation I am in?
· Seek out people who agree with your work ethic and support you on you journey. This could be a spouse, family member, friend, or it could be a writing community, either where you live, or online. We tell our kids all the time to avoid peer pressure, but do we take our own advice?
· Question yourself (see above)
· Try something different. Can you write a radio jingle for a local business? Can you write an article on something that interests you for the local newspaper? Write something out of your comfort zone.
· ‘First World Problems’, as my daughter likes to tell me. This links back to putting it in perspective. I am not suggesting that your problems or worries are insignificant, merely saying that your life, continued health and freedom are not at stake.
· Take rejections for what they are: that story was not what that publisher was looking for. It doesn’t mean you are a failure or a bad person. Go back to the drawing board (writing board) and start the next piece.How do you deal with self-doubt? Let me know in the comments.