Right mind is not happy mind and where it leads is to work, not to ease.

–Eric Maisel

Last week I began a series about Negative Thoughts. I will continue by discussing ways to confront destructive thoughts in a healthy way to improve our writing life. In this post, I am referring to negative thoughts that we all struggle with at times in our creative lives.* Get your waders out, we are going into deep water today to do some hard work.

No doubt, change is challenging. But, isn’t it worth it to improve our emotional health and creativity? Eric Maisel insists, in Write Mind:

You want to write more often and more deeply: you want to create some beautiful things. To meet these goals, you must improve how you communicate with yourself and strive to acquire a right mind or a better mind – or, to be a little light-hearted about it, a “write mind.”

We all experience stress from life events we can’t change, but I think many would agree, we can be our own worst enemy in our response to situations. Our self-talk can often be more destructive than the events themselves. The messages we repeat in our minds comes from years of habits, messages programmed in by others and by ourselves throughout our lives.

This is sometimes called adding suffering to our pain.

Life is full of pain, it is part of the experience of being alive. We will never escape it and suffering will often be our companion.

So, what can we do to reduce the suffering that comes with the pain? Most of us were not taught practices for managing our own mental health. I think it should be taught as the most important class in school in every grade!

Affirmations

Managing our emotions is a lifelong pursuit requiring several skill sets, but we must begin somewhere. As mentioned by Maisel, let’s begin with techniques from cognitive psychology – thought confrontation and thought substitution.

Affirmations is one technique. Eric Maisel uses the term, affirmations, a very different way than the New Age positive thinking movements. He states:

Affirming is not the same thing as speaking to yourself in a kind and friendly way. When you affirm something, you solemnly declare that you are equal to a challenge or that you intend to grow equal to that challenge.

You announce that you mean to better yourself and move in a new direction. Your affirmations support you but they do not let you off the hook.

When practiced consistently, affirmations can be a very powerful thought and mood shifting technique. It is possible to become more aware of our thoughts (reactions to events and situations) in our mind as they occur. This is necessary because once the negative thoughts are out there in our mind, they gain energy and momentum developing into negative emotions.

Once negative thoughts are identified, it is important to challenge them with realistic substitutions that move us towards health.

How to Practice

If you can enlist the help of a partner, friend or group, it will be more effective. But when that is not possible, and you don’t have a coach or therapist to help you in this process, something I found helpful is to read Eric Maisel’s book, Write Mind, to identify negative thoughts and find ideas for thought substitutions. Here are a couple examples from Write Mind:

WRONG MIND: “I can start things, but I never finish them. I have no stamina, no discipline, and no courage.”

RIGHT MIND:”There is no doubt that I am troubled by my own personality, but from this day forward I will begin to complete things.”

WRONG MIND: “Writing depresses me. Therefore, I shouldn’t write.”

RIGHT MIND: “Depression is a real problem for me, but am I really sure that writing is the source of my depression? Or might it be part of the cure?”

Identify Negative Thoughts. If you are like me, you already have a long list of negative thoughts that you can easily list. But there are still more to find. I also use meditation practices to support the task of noticing my thoughts. It is not necessary to have a formalized practice, but some quiet time needs to be consistent. Taking the time to be with ourselves each day, sitting quietly, making notes about our thoughts or writing in a journal will increase awareness of what our mind is doing.

Soften your awareness and do not judge what thoughts arise. Write down the worries, fears, anger and doubts. Write negative thoughts that float by in your awareness throughout the day. Spend a few moments crafting thought substitutions that are reasonable, removing the comments that only serve to make you feel bad about yourself. The entire practice could take five minutes a day or up to twenty minutes on days when you want more time.

Create Substitutions. When you have thought substitutions ready, start with just one or two, read them each day, try them out when you hear the old familiar negative thoughts returning. Are the substitutions working to calm the mind monkeys? Give it some time to sink in. Try working with just one substitution, consistently. Rewrite a substitution that is not working. When you are overwhelmed or frustrated, it is easy to dismiss the power this practice can have over time. Take it slow. Don’t give up. If you forget, begin again.

It is important that you do not attack yourself with more negativity as you are doing this practice. Approach yourself as you would a child or pet, with loving attention and patience.

Many of you already know another technique to help identify negative thoughts – writing morning pages –  suggested by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. This technique involves writing all your thoughts (in a stream of consciousness without censorship) before doing your work of writing to get mind noise out of the way. However, I think morning pages (anytime of day) could also be a powerful tool to help identify negative thoughts.

Questions to Contemplate

What is the most menacing thought you have about your writing? What could you say to yourself instead to honor your struggles and preserve your creativity?

What are your goals for mood improvements in your writing life? Are they realistic?

Can you see the difference between painful situations/events and the suffering you add to it with your own negative thoughts?

In two weeks I will continue the series about Negative Thoughts with a discussion about how anxiety affects the writer’s life. Continue the series on Negative Thoughts with the next post that includes examples of Affirmations I wrote for myself.

*Special Note: This article, and all articles on my site are not meant to be medical advice. If you are suffering from severe depression or symptoms that are affecting your daily functioning for an extended period of time, please seek professional help from a therapist.