Sarah sits alone at her desk, it is dark outside and her desk lamp seems to make the glare of her failure even greater; the suffering of a writer is a lonely, painful, unspoken one. Often plagued by self-doubt, highly skilled at procrastination and with very tight shoulders to boot, she gets up and paces around the room. The last coffee did not provide inspiration as she had hoped but merely induced feelings of anxiety. ‘I am never going to be able to do this. I’m no good at this. Who am I kidding, I am a terrible writer’ are the words she uses to articulate her response to the emotions and sensations she is feeling. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Here is the good news
You do not need to try and rid yourself of those ‘negative’ emotions. Struggle is a natural part of life and each of those negative thoughts probably has a positive partner. Sarah doubts her work because she cares about it. She procrastinates because she is afraid – again showing that this is important to her, so much so it is frightening.
So, what do we do with this perpetual struggle then?
Imagine you are in a boat sailing towards your perfect life on an island where everything that you want is there – all of your goals, all that you most long for. Now, on that boat are some demons, they will not hurt you but they are very very frightening. As you sail towards the island, as soon as you get near, the demons appear – terrifying you and telling you to turn away. As you turn away, they disappear again and you are relieved but you are not heading towards your island anymore. You try to think rationally, how can you get rid of those demons; can you negotiate with them? Can you scare them off? Can you throw them overboard?
You turn back towards the island with a new plan, you are going to fight those demons. Sure enough, as you get close to the island, the demons appear – remember, they cannot hurt you, they are just very frightening. You tell them to go, you threaten them, you negotiate, you haggle. Nothing works, they become more powerful and terrifying, you turn away from the island again and the demons disappear.
Sit for a moment and breath. Breathing in, breathing out, noticing your breath calming your body. Those demons are your personal pain and struggle and a normal part of existence. To get to the island, you can notice that they are there, you can acknowledge your reaction but you can detach yourself from them. You can also notice that you have courage and a remarkable ability to move ahead, acknowledging the presence of those demons but sailing towards your island life anyway. You realise you don’t need to beat them or rationalise or negotiate, you move towards your island life by sitting with them.
You sail on.
What you have just cultivated is a bit of psychological flexibility; the ability to be in the present moment, connect with your thoughts and feelings and persist anyway in pursuit of your values or value-based goals.
So, how can Sarah use the Demons story to help her become a better writer?
By using Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) with her writing coach, Sarah was able to gain a sense of present moment awareness. She could notice how she was feeling through the practice of mindful breathing. Grounding herself, pushing her feet into the floor, acknowledging and accepting what was going on. Then she would think about her values – about what was really important to her and focus on those values. Then, she would take a committed action towards those values, however small. In fact preferably, something small.
Find your values
What would your perfect day be like? Daydream and write it down.
From this perfect day, you can mine it for your values; what can you identify as having true value. These values are a great tool. If you remind yourself of them and keep moving towards them, little by little, you will be doing the right thing for you. When thoughts arise, you can notice them and think whether to pursue that thought by asking yourself ‘is that helpful’? If it is, allow that thought some time, if it is not then – sail on.
How to begin notice what you are thinking and feeling
Pause for a moment, look around and notice five things that you can see, notice five things that you can hear. Notice and feel everything that is in contact with your body. This is drawing your attention to the present moment.
Once you are there, in the present moment, you can start to notice that what we see and experience constantly changes. It is from this place that you can decide what action to take to move towards the values that are precious to you. You can commit to an action, preferably a small one. Small is the place to start. This is how you will move towards what is important to you.
It is possible to create a successful writer mindset.
Remember, blocks, procrastination, self-doubt, the doubt of others, stress, fear, these are all a natural part of the process and with the right mindset, you can change the way you deal with all of these so that you don’t turn away from your dreams, you keep sailing towards them.
Nicola Morgan MSc is a Positive Psychology Coach for Writers. Read more about Nicola Morgan and her other articles HERE
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