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No one is perfect. But it doesn’t make sense to badmouth yourself. If you’re a writer, here’s why (and how) you need to stop putting yourself down…
When I was in high school and university, I saw myself as a procrastinator. Not inaccurately.
I usually didn’t start essays until the day before they were due, and I frequently had to stay up all night to finish them. At least I never missed a deadline. But I paid a price in terms of unnecessary stress and lower-quality work as a result of my procrastinating ways.
I was frustrated and embarrassed by being a procrastinator and couldn’t seem to help myself. But here’s the secret I didn’t know then:
Every time I called myself a procrastinator, I increased the chances that I would remain one.
If you have some writing bad habits that you’d like to change, stop putting yourself down. Calling yourself names won’t help you one iota.
- You’re going to start believing that change is impossible. Once you see yourself as anything — whether it’s lazy, incompetent, shrill, tyrannical or a procrastinator — you’re far more likely to continue behaving that way. The theory of cognitive dissonance suggests that we become uncomfortable when we hold thoughts that appear to contradict each other. So, we tend to accept just one of those two beliefs. If you call yourself lazy, it’s going to make the most sense to believe you are lazy and to continue to act in lazy ways. Is that what you really want?
- You’re more likely to accept the ‘put downs’ of other people. When I was a five-year old, the boys in my neighbourhood liked to call me Daffy Duck. They made me cry. And my mother’s suggestion — to say, “sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me” — did not help one little bit. I began to believe that Daphne was a really ugly name and pretty soon getting teased over my name began to seem normal to me and something I should agree with.
- You’ll end up creating a cycle of negativity. One negative thought begets another. You start by thinking something a little bit negative — say, that your writing isn’t creative enough — and, the next thing you know, you’re thinking you’re a bad human being. Constantly feeling unworthy, upset, and frustrated will start to affect the way you view everything else. Isn’t life too short for this kind of thinking?
- Clients (and supervisors) respond to confidence. Any time you see yourself as “lesser,” others will also start to doubt your ability to achieve. Don’t have false confidence, but don’t ever consider yourself a failure. Instead, picture yourself as a resilient writer – you can withstand criticism from others and respond appropriately. Being resilient is about being able to bounce back from hard situations quickly. Resilient people are able to learn from difficulty and grow stronger.
What you can do instead of putting yourself down
- Practice forgiveness. We’re all human beings and we all screw up from time to time. So, the next time you make a mistake, don’t exact punishment from yourself. Instead, take the radical step of forgiving yourself. THEN, figure out what you can do or what changes you can make so the mistake won’t happen again. If you are a procrastinator, this will involve starting your writing projects early rather than leaving them for the very last minute. And you’re more likely to succeed if you begin by making your writing time very small — say five minutes for the first few days, so the task doesn’t seem daunting and overwhelming to you.
- Celebrate what you do well! Do you spend as much time focusing on your strengths and positive qualities as you do criticizing yourself? Take the time to list your strengths. Are you a terrific researcher? An unparalleled interviewer? A skillful self-editor? Remind yourself that you already have some writing skills and you simply need to develop some others. Every half-empty glass is also half-full.
- Plan how you will improve. Failures are great, because they give you the opportunity to improve. Learn from the scientist who taught her young daughter to say, “today’s a great day to make mistakes.” (You can retrieve a link to her charming 4-minute video in here.)
To become a better writer, your plans might include: doing more preparation before writing; learning to keep a research diary; breaking the habit of editing while you write; incubating before writing; and writing in the morning.
But one thing is sure: putting yourself down is not going to help.
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Are you always putting yourself down? How do you stop yourself from doing that? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Sept. 30/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!