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 :).

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