As writers, we are by our very nature, critical thinkers, but for some reason we don’t think too much about the ramifications of our own counterintuitive self-talk.
All too often we allow doubt to rule over us and take command of our gift to write words that matter. We tend to think that the harder we are on ourselves the better we will become. We challenge ourselves and, unfortunately, to do this most of us are drawn to using reverse psychology. Hey, even some of the greats have advised it.
But what if reverse psychology is one of the many tools doubt uses to cause you to stall, and even, give up?
Fellow writers, we may be incessant thinkers, but we are also the most doubt ridden people in existence.
We wouldn’t believe we could hold a pen between our fingers if we didn’t see it for ourselves and even then we might question it (I have).
By thinking such things as, our first draft is crap and our writing initially sucks, we hope to relieve the pressure of doubting ourselves and con ourselves into writing something meaningful.
Here’s the problem, what happens, if (and when), the opposite happens and we buy in to our own words, believing our first draft really is crap and our writing does suck? I know, I know, you’ve been told countless times to stop being so serious, but the advice given in replacement might not be as helpful as you think.
The reason counterintuitive advice is so attractive is that it appeals to our inner doubt, it caresses and sooths it. Unfortunately, it feels so right and so good, that we use it without questioning it.
The first draft of anything is shit.
― Ernest Hemingway
Do you know what doubt wants?
Doubt wants you to believe you suck and it wants you to believe your work is worthless. It will leave you alone if you believe the lies it tells you, or so it seems. So why in the world would you give in to it by saying words that essentially reinforce it?
Answer me this question, if you do not believe that your writing is worth something, then why bother?
In order to muster the motivation to overcome both doubt and well intended reverse psychology, you might need a good strong drink.
Interestingly, few of us consider that some of the great writers who originally gave such advice were also addicted to alcohol or drugs, or both.
I might catch heck for writing that last line, but it’s true:
If you have an idea of how an addict thinks and what motivates them, you’ll understand why they use counterintuitive methods to manipulate themselves.
Oh, and they sound so great, those methods, because they have an overall calming effect on our doubt. That’s why we are drawn to them like moths to a flame.
What Doubt Promises
“You’re not any good. If you give into this belief, you’ll be able to let go, write freely and create your best work.”
“You’re first draft is total shit, really. Don’t worry about it so much, let go and type words that don’t matter and they’ll turn themselves into a masterpiece. It will be the next Great American Novel.”
Yes, you’ll be able to let go alright, but it will be of your self-confidence and your overall self-worth. I’m no therapist, but my goodness, it’s no wonder so many writers become alcoholics.
Writer’s doubt is an insidious beast that will steal your gift to write words that matter!
(Tweet this if you agree.)
Here’s a sober quote from Mental Health Therapist and addictions counselor, Jim LaPierre: “To varying degrees, alcoholics live in denial of their destructiveness (self and others) and this further distorts what they are able to make sense of.”
So if using reverse psychology hasn’t worked for you, maybe that’s why. Just because someone is famous, it doesn’t mean all of their advice is helpful, especially if it may be what that person used to counter other demons.
Allow me to be clear, mentioning that some advice has come from some famous people who were addicts isn’t a dig on them (we are all human). Rather, I think it’s important to realize that their ways of coping are not as helpful as it might seem.
The biggest problem with using counterintuitive reasoning is that it typically works the first and second time, because anything new can provide motivation. But when we become stuck and continue to use it without realizing it’s repercussions we can end up worse off than we ever were.
I discovered the hard way that there’s a better way and that’s to practice truth through optimism and stop using reverse psychology.
3 Ways How I Stopped Using Reverse Psychology
1 – “My first draft is shit.” I replaced with: “My first draft is the most important draft and I will write it with full consideration of how relevant it is.”
This effectively redirected my focus to writing something that matters. It is impossible to care about something repulsive, but it is possible to care about something that is relevant and meaningful.
2 – “My writing sucks.” I replaced with: “My writing matters.”
It’s hard to care about something when it sucks.
What. YOU. Write. Matters.
Believe it. You need buy-in. You won’t create anything that matters to you unless you have 100% buy in. This simple adjustment had a profound effect on my attitude towards writing and I know it enabled me to become the prolific writer I am today.
3 – “I’m not very good.” I replaced with: “I am getting better every day.”
I used to say I wasn’t very good to save myself from letdown, and it worked. If I wasn’t very good then I didn’t need to expect what I produced would be worthwhile. But if I admit I am getting better every day, then I am getting better every day.
No Overnight Success
These changes didn’t happen overnight and what seems simple can be quite challenging. It took work and commitment, two words doubt absolutely hates.
Doubt wants you to believe everything should be easy. It’s so much easier to give in to the self-degrading subterfuge. Don’t do it.
Whenever we use a strategy to overcome doubt we need to realize it’s probably too good to be true if our doubt quickly becomes calm or even, silent. Like a good shot of whiskey, it will initially settle your nerves, but it only lasts a little while before you need another.
On the other hand, if you use a strategy that makes your writer’s doubt scream and rage in protest, you’re probably on to something legitimate. Doubt has a sinister way of making what’s possible seem too exhausting, and it will do everything in its power to get you to give in to it.
It becomes obvious how sinister and deceptive doubt really is when you finally shine truth on it, don’t you think?
Consider at least one thing you constantly say to yourself that is intended as reverse psychology. It doesn’t matter if it is about writing or not, just something you know in your heart is not true, but you tell yourself it anyway.
Got it? Now, if you’re feeling brave, write it out in the comments and then write an opposite, optimistic version next to it. Then intentionally choose which version you are going to stick with.
There’s something about writing out the reverse psychology we use that helps expose it for what it really is. Go ahead and try, even if you’re not ready to share, consider doing the exercise for yourself.
Your. Words. Matter.
They really do.