Welcome again to my weekly series Just One Thing. Each week, I offer you just one thing you can practice each day that will improve your creative output.
The topic I want to deal with in the next few posts is what American psychologist Albert Ellis defined as “Stinking Thinking” — the tendency to persistently engage with thoughts that do not serve us.
Personally, I think a less cutesy way of thinking about the tendency is to talk about distorted thinking.
Something that every person experiences at some point. Humans have thoughts. Humans have thoughts that are not accurate.
In other words, humans have distorted thoughts.
So, let’s look at two categories of thoughts: Those that work for us. Those that work against us.
While some of our thoughts actually encourage us — “Hey, you’re doing a great job!” “Wow! That workout was easy!” “This paragraph felt really good!” — for most people, sadly, those thoughts are rare.
We have WAY more thoughts that are not on our side. “I should have done more.” “This will never get published.” “I am so bad at this!” “People in my field aren’t going to like this.”
The issue is not whether or not we have unhelpful thoughts; the issue is what do we do with thoughts.
The answer is simple: We investigate! Today’s JOT practice: Investigate the thoughts that are not on your side. Here is a classic not helpful thought: “I’m not going to finish this.” When you sit down to work and “I’m never going to finish this” pops up, start your investigation:
- Is this thought helpful?
- That’s simple: “No.”
Now what? Keep investigating!
- Is there any evidence to support this thought?
Let’s take “I’m never going to finish this.”
1) It’s not helpful.
2) There’s minimal evidence to support the thought.
In fact, evidence abounds to support the exact opposite claim: If you keep working on it, it will get finished.
Side note: While most of us can find plenty of past evidence that we finish things, with negativity bias, we tend to grab onto a thing that we didn’t finish as proof of our not helpful claim. No matter the tug, resist the fixation on limited evidence and focus instead on everything you have finished. You can start with all of the assignments you have turned in since you started school lo those many years ago. You have finished A LOT of stuff. You can finish this!
But what if this thought that you’re having does happen or has happened and you can’t control whether it happens?
Let’s say your thought is “This article might not get accepted.”
1) It’s not helpful
2) It is entirely possible.
BUT, possible does not automatically make it probable. Again, when you sit down to work and a potentially true (in the future) and out of your control not so helpful thought pops up, what are you going to do?
Start your investigation!
- Is this thought helpful?
- Nope. You can’t convince me that telling yourself over and over that you might not succeed is remotely helpful.
- But it could happen! Indeed it could, so let’s investigate!
- What do I want to do with potential barriers?
Use your investigative skills to build a plan for the inevitable rejection.
NOTE: You WILL have work rejected. It is inevitable. That’s not the issue. The issue is what are you going to do when it happens. Are you going to quit? Are you going to submit it somewhere else? Are you going to work on it? Are you going to get feedback?
Focus on options rather than the dead end.
One last note: If you are struggling to offer yourself that kindness, turn your investigative skills toward examples where you have been able to offer encouragement to someone else.
- What would I say to a friend?
- What would I say to somebody I was taking care of?
Use that same kind of kindness.
Today’s JOT practice: Investigate your thoughts!