Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Challenging Self Downing- The Use of Imagery

The use of imagery is extremely important in the change process. While many have written about it, Arnold Lazarus made one of the most important, early contributions to the place of imagery in psychotherapy.

His model, Multimodal Therapy, is a fairly comprehensive approach to change that has a strong behavioral and cognitive slant. While traditional cognitive models of change typically focus on verbal cognition, words are not the only way that we internalize and process of beliefs. Lazarus contended that the use of imagery, or our thinking in pictures and images, could be an important vehicle for change and transformation.

Albert Ellis also reorganized the importance of imagery in his cognitively-based approach (RET/REBT); he and his colleagues developed a number of techniques which recognized the value of imagery  techniques. More recently sports psychologists and coaches, as well as organizational/leadership change agents, have come to realize the value of imagery techniques in the change process. I have found in my clinical practice, and my with coaching writers and scholars, that those who do not always do well with direct cognitive disputation my benefit from the use of imagery as a means if identifying and altering self-downing thinking.

While the aims and techniques are complex and varied, a key goal is to consciously create images or mental picture of yourself engaging in new and effective behaviors that challenge your self-downing beliefs. By consciously creating mental pictures of yourself effectually engaging in the behavior you wish to perform, you will begin to view yourself as competent and capable in that domain. These new images become challenges to your old, unhelpful notions of self.

So, here is a technique to try. Each day for a month (real change takes a while), I want you to pick one behavior/experience you wish to engage in that would challenge a self downing cognition. Take for example believing that you will never publish enough since you are too lazy (or another self-judgement) to write every day (this is but one, yet one that I hear each week).

Each day for a month, I want you to spend two or three minute visualizing yourself writing or some other task you wish to perform. For our purposes, I will use writing as an example. Imagine yourself sitting in your chair, with your computer, and really picture the small, sensory details around you. Imagine some familiar sounds and smells. Really place yourself there. Now, really see yourself writing. Imagine your fingers moving, imagine not feeling stuck, not being weighed down by anxiety or doubt, but letting go of these and writing.  Really imagine yourself looking satisfied, content, peaceful. Imagine yourself getting stuck for a moment, but allowing yourself to work through it without being blocked by fear and self doubt. Keep the image in your mind for several minutes. Do this each day for a month, or longer, each day before you write. Really spend time with the image, and work at viewing it and feeling it as clearly as possible. Try to focus on as many senses as you can. Really try to feel yourself experiencing a sense of competence and success.

Remember, none of the techniques here will magically change your self downing. You must work hard at it, and use multiple methods, over time.

Monday, June 29, 2015

What Are YOUR Questions for "Psychosocial Summer"?

This summer, or as I am referring to it as, "Psychosocial Summer," I am writing about the various blocks and barriers that stop you from thriving at your writing, publishing, and academic careers.

I am exploring the various issues that I have unearthed during my fifteen years of mentoring and coaching professors and doctoral students, from conducting workshops on writing and publishing in close to ten countries, and from my preparations for editing the third edition of my book, "Practical Tips for Publishing Scholarly Articles." My practice as a therapist and my own work academic work has not hindered my understanding of these issues either!

Still, I can't possibility know what is on everyone's minds! So, please let me know if you have anything you would like me to explore; I would be glad to do so! Drop me a comment here, or send me an email or tweet if you wish.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Challenging Self-Downing: Collecting and Analyzing Data

Analyzing Good academics hold opinions that are supported by evidence, right? They are willing to alter previously held ideas and theories based upon new information. This is the essence of the scholarly life, no? We teach students to respect a culture of evidence, and to be willing to change their very world views based-upon what they learn. I submit that the same goes for us, and most certainly should apply to the erroneous beliefs we have about yourselves that hinder our writing, our productivity and our very happiness.

As you hopefully have begun to realizing from reading this blog and from doing some of your own personal exploration and some of the exercises that I have posted, you may believe some erroneous and unhelpful things about yourself. You may hold negative self-evaluations about your writing, about your abilities, about your ideas, and about your efficacy as a person. You want to change them- not easy.

One of the first ways of beginning to change core beliefs we hold about ourselves is by really exploring them. I mean deeply; as we would engage in a qualitative study. We want to pull these ideas apart, see what makes them tick, understand their connections to each other.  Most importantly, we want to see how they influence how we preform our work and our lives.

After all, is that not what the essence of psychotherapy really is (well a piece of it anyhow); we engage in a process of learning about ourselves in a way that leads to insight and ultimately change.

So, what I want you to do is this. Identify one of the core beliefs you hold about yourself and look for evidence confirming it. Really dig, and spend a lot of time looking for it.  Now, assess if the evidence REALLY confirms the believe, or if it is suggesting something else. Be as logical and analytical as possible; pretend this is about someone else.

Once you are done (and I suggest you write this down), I want you to think of all the evidence that challenges the self-downing belief. Write these down too. Now, if you dare (and please dare), I want you to go to a colleague/friend that you feel very, very safe with and ask him or her to provide you with evidence either supporting or disconfirming the belief you hold about yourself.

While this exercise is not going to immediately alter your self-downing thinking, it will begin to help chip away at it. As you explore your thinking, you may find that your self-downing thoughts are more pervasive than you had previously believed; such is the risk of self-awareness.

Be patient; I am going to present a bunch of tools for you try over over the coming days and weeks. If over time you are not able to transcend your self-downing congnitions and their negative effects on your work and life, I suggest a good therapist or therapeutically oriented coach to help guide you through the process.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Self Downing Cognitions: Reprogramming

Maybe you don't know where your negative self evaluations come from. You worry that if you cannot find their source, you will never change them.

Not so. The origin of a problem and its solution are not always as connected. In the case of changing our beliefs, we can engage in reprogramming in spite of the origins of our beliefs.

Imagine that you have been kidnapped by a super secret spy organization or abducted by beings for the planet Stopyafromproducing. They drugged you and did their "thing" and now you believe some things about yourself that negatively impact your ability to write, be effective, be productive, and/or be happy.

You may not know what they did to you, and perhaps only have a fleeting memory, but regardless of what or where you learned it, those beliefs are now YOURS. You own them, and in a very real sense, it is your uncritically engaging these thoughts and preforming them that perpetuates them. The alien abductors have left the building, so to speak.

Theories and practice on cognitive change and restructuring, or reprogramming in this metaphor, are varied, diverse, and easy to practice. Easy to practice, but but that does not mean that change is quick and easy. You have been re-indoctrinating yourself for a long time, so change is going to be slow and demand a lot of work and practice.

Now you have the metaphor, some tools and tricks will follow.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Self Downing: High Functioning Brutality

Some of the most talented, even brilliant, scholars, writers and leaders that I know are brutal on themselves. The judge every move that they make, criticize every action.

"If only I could work harder" (a real____ would). "If only I could write more often! (others do, and I am failure because I can't). "My work is not (fill in the blank with superlative) enough!" (and it should be, otherwise I am worthless).  "My book is not______enough." "My research is not_____" enough. "______ (fill with person's name or 'standing') does much better work than I do; this proves it!"

These are but a few of the common ones.They all share a common origin; I am not good enough. I am not enough. I must do, and be, more.

Many high functioning people carry such self-downing cognitions, and in truth, there is a functional aspect to such beliefs, which make them hard to challenge and give up. They have helped push us, drive us toward excellence in spite of other doubts, limitations, and fears. In small doses, such self judgment and reproach may push us toward excellence. In small doses, and only under the right conditions, they may help. Yet even so, the costs are very, very high. Stress. Sadness. An inability to feel good about your career, your achievements, your accomplishments. Even depression. Immobility. Pain.

In spite of the costs, we may believe that these self downing cognitions help us, push us toward becoming who we need to become. Yet we cannot control them, and if things don't go well (read: perfectly), these doubts, fears and judgments are transformed into debilitating, anxiety producing, depressogenic, self-abuse. They take on a life of their own, and easily become semi-conscious internalized "tapes" which play endlessly on auto-repeat. That which served as fuel toward achievement now becomes our undoing. They get in the way of our good habits, rituals, daily writing processes.

You can tell yourself to write ever day, know that it is good for you, but when your mind is cluttered with these irrational believes, these cruel congitions, you will often become immobilized. This is why I frequently say that methods of writing productivity are of little value without an in depth exploration of the psychosocial factors that inhibit them.

Which brings us to an exercise. Spend ten minutes free writing and see if you can identify some of these beliefs. They may not be apparent at first, and often take a good deal of work to uncover (not to mention change- to be addressed in subsequent posts). If you know you have them, but cannot identify them clearly, ask yourself this question; what might someone who feels the way I do be thinking or believing about him or herself? This hypothetical answer often provides some early clues and hints for further exploration.

No get to work :).

Psychosocial Barrier: Self Downing

In my exploration of the psychosocial barriers to writing, publishing, and thriving in the faculty life, I am going to begin with self downing. Those of you who are not academics, keep reading. Self downing has a huge impact on many people's ability to thrive in their careers and lives. In these posts, I am going to explore each theme from various theoretical and practical perspectives, hopefully helping you explore each barrier and find tools to help you live more fully and have the kind of work life that you wish to have. 

My experience as a social worker, therapist and coach has taught me that nearly people engage in self downing to some degree. Those who struggle with clinical depression are riddled with it. Yet even those who are not depressed can be hamstrung by powerful internalized messages that feel overwhelming and painful. Those with highly developed, critical voices are often tormented by a sense of doubt and an overall sense of not being good enough. 

Check back often, as I am going to post frequently this summer on each barrier. Enough of my intro; some meet and potatoes coming soon (or tofu and tempeh for my fellow vegetarians).

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Psychosocial Barriers To Publishing

Over the next few weeks, I am going to start writing more on the psychosocial barriers to writing and publishing. As I have recently joined the "twitter" generation, I have discovered that there are many, many people who present overly simplistic explorations of writing and writing productivity. Some of this is due to the medium, yet even when I read some of the links I find a great deal of very cookie cutter advice. It is good advice, but it fails to really help scholars produce more.  It is akin to telling people to work out and eat better; sometimes possessing the information is not enough.

Yes, you should write nearly ever day. Yes, daily writing beats binge writing. Yet, it is our own "stuff" that gets in the way of following this and the myriad of good advice on writing that is available. Overcoming these barriers nudges us into the realm of personal growth, healing, change, and dare I suggest, transformation.

So, I will exploring this realm my summer focus.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Great workshop UWT

I want to thank the participants of our UWT writing and publishing workshop this year. As always, I think I learn far more than I "teach." Great work group- it is an honor to be part of a scholarly community that includes all of you.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Writing Workshop at @UWT

Today is the annual (well, the second!!) writing and publishing workshop @UWT. Two days for those who want to learn new tricks, tools and methods for improving their scholarly productivity. We focus on several interlocking areas:

1) methods of writing productivity
2) modes of academic writing and their application
3) articulating these tools to writing articles
4) deconstructing the article and methods of writing them efficiently
5) a relationship-based, practical approach to peer review
6) constructing an academic career
and most importantly....

7) exploring the psychosocial barriers that inhibit our thriving in the above six.

Its going to be a fun two days!!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Path to Thriving as a Scholar

There are many good sources that explore writing productivity, for scholars and other writers. I have not read a great deal that is new about writing productivity in a long time; the same may be for you. However, from my experience, it is not the rules that are hard, but their personal application.

Many of us know that daily writing beats binge writing, understand the role of rituals in writing productivity, and understand the pitfalls of editing while you write. Yet, what stops most from applying these rules is your "stuff"- your own highly individual, constellation of personal foibles, vulnerabilities and internalized messages. You know what they are, or at least have a sense; you know how and when they get in your way.

Transcending these are what writing productivity, and general productivity, is really about. No quick platitudes or accountability group (a good thing) is going to help you learn to maximize your own strengths in service of transcending your "stuff." This takes a far more individualized, personal, dare I say quasi-therapeutic path. There are many ways to begin to travel this path, but to thrive, we must each select one.



Wednesday, June 17, 2015


I have gone to the dark side. I am "tweeting." I was informed that if I want to really reach young academics who are not getting the support they need, to really be of service, I had to get with the program.

I am now with the program. Be afraid, be very afraid. I am :).

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Challenge: Commit or Let it Go

It feels like a good day for a writing challenge (every day is a good day for a writing challenge!).

Go into your computer files and look for an old piece of writing that you have not yet finished. Read it. Spend about 15 minutes considering whether this is something you will ever really want to finish, or if it is something you are finished with!

Whichever direction you take it, make it a conscious one. Commit to pushing it forward or letting it go. If you are going to push it forward, commit to a time frame. Make a plan. What resources will you need to make it happen? Now, spent a half hour on it, or if you let it go, write on your current writing project.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Bittersweeet Symphony of Write

Orange is The New Black starts tonight. It is one of the best (IMHO) television series ever. It hits my love of deeply disturbing and powerful, sad human dramas and this is so funny I am going to cry bottoms.

The bittersweetness of life; writing no doubt echos, mirrors and amplifies this duality. As a process, as something to struggle with and to find epiphanies within; writing exalts, frustrates, and titillates.

And just like a long tv series, you have to patiently be present for it to unfold. Sure, you can binge watch it, just like you can binge write, but you still have to wait for next next season, and that demands persistence, dedication, time.  And you've got time!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Good Morning Mr. Death

One of my all time favorite quotes is from Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage". My memory of it, at least, is this: "Good morning Mr. Death, what do you have in store for your bright eyed boy today?"

This notion of death as a life giving force is congruent with existential tought, which has influenced me greatly at different times in my life. The ever present specter of death, if we allow ourselves to be in fully in touch with it, pushes us to consider the importance of each day, each hour, each moment of our lives.

Good morning Mr. Death...Do I have time to waste spending hours THINKING about writing and not writing? Do I have time to not live according to my goals and dreams? Do I have time spending hours surfing the web? Do I really have time to languish in depression and inactivity and not do anything about it? Can I afford to not reach out for help when I know I need it?

Maybe..but...what would you differently in your creative life today if you were fully in touch with Mr. (or misses) Death?

Do it..now....at least for a half hour...go..

And if you can't, take one step to reach out to someone who could help...anyone..do it..

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Summer Job Hunting Package

Friends, colleagues and academics (and those who are all!),
For the first time in quite a while, I have openings for additional clients in my coaching practice! Given that this is start of the job-hunting season (or it better be the start, if you are looking), I am offering a job-hunting preparation package which includes well over ten hours of coaching at far less than my normal rate.   If you know of anyone who is on the academic job-hunting market, I would appreciate you forwarding this email to tell.
The coaching package includes:
1.     Seven hours of individual coaching sessions on job hunting skills and strategies, conducting your job talk, working together to identify and remove the psychosocial barriers that inhibit job hunting and interviewing, preparing for and role-playing interviews, and other topics individualized to your particular needs (including discussions of writing and scholarship)
2.     Three hours of individual consultation to review your CV and cover letter including in-depth feedback  (initial review and final review once initial changes are made)
3.     Two hours of follow-up coaching during the fall and interviewing seasons

$750 total!
I am also open to taking new clients who want to work on their writing and publishing for a similar package, if you know anyone. For those who don’t know, I have had a coaching practice for the last several years that focuses on helping academics thrive as publishing scholars. I do have special rate for scholars from developing countries and doctoral students in need.