Dan's Note: A good friend who is a fantastic writer reached out to me lately. We were speaking on the phone and suddenly he tells me: "Sometimes I'm just sick of my head, with the brain I've been given." I asked him why and he tells me it has to do with his inability to take action with his ideas because he "thinks too much." I couldn't help but consider that it had to do with his negative "self-talk."
People in recovery call it "stinkin' thinkin'," a term that is equally silly as it is accurate. With ANY change you want to make in life (or project you want to begin, but cannot), negative self-talk is the FIRST item you gotta confront. What are your thoughts? Leave them in the comments! I love to read what you're thinking.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the process of writing. Lots of people ask me, "How do you write so much? I love what you've done! You write so well! How do you come up with all those great ideas?!"
Not easily, let me tell you. Part of me thinks I'm a hack. I've had to learn how to write—it wasn't something that came naturally or easily for me.
From the reading I do, I know that there are enough writers in the world to fill the island of Manhattan. There are enough GOOD writers to fill maybe Union Square. Superb writers, real geniuses, maybe could fill my living room in St. Paul. I don't fall in the last category, by the way. (Although some day I'd love to gather them all into my living room!)
There's the whole Malcolm Gladwell argument that if you work 10,000 hours at anything, you'll be an expert. Temple Grandin disagrees; she thinks expertise is about innate talent or skill. I'm apt to agree with both authors: I think it's a mix of talent and work. (Plus loads of luck, which both arguments leave out.)
The thing every one of these arguments seems to miss is what it takes to START doing whatever activity (like writing) to begin with in the first place! It takes a bit of courage for me to sit down at a keyboard and plunk away as if I actually know something.
The one step I needed to begin writing everyday was to address the negative self-talk I give myself.
Sometimes it's not even "talk," per se. Sometimes it's an itching fear, lurking in the back of your head, that whatever you begin to do will simply suck.
I believe unacknowledged fear causes a paralysis. In fact, it's what my friend told me the other day on the phone he experiences. And it's not just about being a perfectionist. Sometimes I find myself unable to begin a project, because I fear how much work it will be.
Negative self-talk comes in many guises; it wears many masks. For some, it's a feeling of inadequacy. For others, it's a genuine belief that you don't have what it takes (a lack of confidence rooted in another fear of rejection).
My friend realizes his difficulty and he acknowledges his own self-talk. I'm hopeful for him, because he's a damn good writer who tackles any topic with a perspective I hadn't even imagined.
The reality is that the sun is still there, behind the clouds.
In our minds, we can choose to see the sun, or listen to the cloudy voices that put us down.
Before you make any change in your life and before you begin anything, really: a job, a relationship, a writing project, a book—I hope you'll consider taking the one step that redirects you to action: acknowledge the negative self-talk in you. Find it. See it. Thenact, despite what your gut is telling you. Go in the opposite direction from where your gut tells you. What's the worst that could happen? You'd fail.
Ultimately, I don't believe there are any failures or successes, only experience. That disarms the negativity and you can begin whatever task you want. (Well, most of the time . . . I'm still improving.)
Confronting my own negative self-talk has been the way that I've improved as a writer ... and also as a person-in-recovery, a father, a husband, a human being. It's what I needed to do to make a change.