Signs of a Negative Mindset

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I met with my life and business coach a couple of weeks ago and she brought to my attention the fact that my perspective had become tinged with negativity. My initial reaction was to deny and disagree and point to exhibit A, B, and C as the real culprits for my poor attitude. But a quick reflection of the days and weeks prior to that meeting was all it took to remind me of an essential truth: My outlook is my responsibility and I had been choosing a crappy one.

“How do I keep forgetting this?” I asked myself. “And more importantly, why didn’t I see it myself?” The answer to both questions is simply that I wasn’t paying attention. We humans are a silly bunch. Most of us are fully aware of all the unhealthy habits and patterns that harm our minds and bodies, yet we repeatedly fall into the same traps. It takes so much more energy to break out of these vicious cycles than it does to exist on cruise control in the safe confines of our comfort zone.

So, in order to avoid another long-term stay in the land of negativity (or at least become more intentional in immediately recognizing when I have checked in there), I have made a list of what it looks like when my mindset takes a pessimistic turn:

  • I become overly critical of myself and others
  • I focus on lack
  • I avoid journaling, praying, and reading anything that requires me to examine life too deeply
  • I constantly feel exhausted
  • I have the urge to numb out on mindless TV or mild fiction books
  • I procrastinate in addressing difficult, more involved tasks, and take more time than necessary to complete simple ones

How about you? Have you ever been stuck in a rut of negativity? What does it look like for you?

A Purposeful WIP Navigates Negativity

Several weeks ago, as the idea for The ABCs of a Purposeful WIP series began to develop in my mind, I put pen to paper and jotted down notes regarding the different areas that had led to my own progress and personal growth over the last year. When I got to the letter N, I knew I wanted to discuss negativity.

At that time, I was sure this week would be all about negating negativity. According to my Merriam-Webster dictionary app, negate means to deny or cause to be ineffective or invalid. And that’s exactly what I thought was necessary to be a purposeful WIP: Turning my back on negativity. But now I realize that isn’t possible. Negativity is everywhere—on our televisions, in our social media newsfeeds, in our relationships—and its prevalence is difficult to ignore. Even if we are fortunate enough to somehow avoid subjection to or absorption of the negativity from any of these external forces, we’d still have to deal with the often inescapable power of our own internal voices of pessimism and self-judgment.

And while we may not always be able to disregard that inner critic, I do believe we can navigate it. We can steer a course away from its progress-blocking negativity and toward a confident, uplifted mindset that will ultimately deliver us—in celebration and gratitude—to the summit of our sometimes seemingly insurmountable goals.

How do we do that? Here are three steps that I have found to be valuable in navigating my own negativity:

  1. Be aware of and take responsibility for your own negative mindset. Sometimes negative mindsets can sneak up on us. We can sink so gradually into a well of bitterness and resentment that we can no longer see the light of day, yet we are so busy blaming our circumstances or another person that we become blinded to our own responsibility in the matter. Case in point: Just last week I met with my life and business coach and rattled on for a good twenty minutes about my dissatisfaction and frustration with a number of things in my life. After a while, she settled her knowing gaze on me and said, “Sandy, what do you think is the real issue here?” It only took a few seconds for me to realize that the problem wasn’t everything and everybody at which I was pointing my finger. It was me. My attitude was in the toilet. And simply being aware of it and taking responsibility for it was enough to set my pathway straight.
  2. Uncover the root cause. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen overnight. Nor is it easy (or comfortable). But doing the work to become more self-aware and understand why we do the things that we do is a great way to prevent a complete and total submersion into negativity. Once we identify our patterns, we can recognize and therefore, thwart, those unhealthy and unhelpful backslides and slumps. (On a side note: I’ve recently began reading about the Enneagram, which is a personality typing system, and it has been eye-opening, to say the least. If you’re interested in learning more about it—and consequently, about yourself—check out the book, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile.)
  3. Adjust your focus. Earlier this week I was listening to Pastor Steven Furtick’s sermon on the Elevation Church podcast and he talked about our tendency to collect evidence. If we are down on ourselves, believing the lies that run through our heads telling us that we don’t matter or we’re not enough, we will zip through the worst memories of our past and collect evidence to support those claims. If we want to talk ourselves out of pursuing our big dreams, we can find a plethora of excuses to let ourselves off the hook. But if it’s true that we can easily find the negative in any situation (and in ourselves) just by looking for it, so, too, can we find the positive. All we have to do is adjust our focus. So rather than letting that negative inner voice take over every time you look in the mirror or sit down to write or step on a scale or take that next step toward your goal, flip your focus and let the affirmations flow.

So what about you? What tools do you employ to navigate negativity in your life?

The Anatomy of a Writer

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Wonder. Most story ideas begin with a little wonder and a simple two-word question: What if? What if a great white shark terrorizes a small New England beach town? (Jaws by Peter Benchley.) What if a man stumbles upon a time-travel portal through which he is given the opportunity to prevent the assassination of JFK? (11/22/63 by Stephen King.) What if there is a Santa Teresa P.I. whose mishaps and misadventures span several years? (The Kinsey Millhone series—aka the alphabet mysteries—by Sue Grafton.) A writer’s wonder creates a tough—and sometimes strange or seemingly impossible—situation, throws a few characters into it, then sits back and sees where all the wondering takes them.

Resilience. Writing a novel is often compared to running a marathon. Having experience tackling both—well, technically I’ve only run a half marathon, but I did do it twice and two halves equals a whole, right?—I will say they do have a lot in common. They both require a ton of preparation, training, self-motivation, and a whole lotta time. But the biggest requirement for both novel writing and marathon running is resilience. Stamina. The fortitude to keep going even when there is no one but yourself to hold you accountable.

Insight. The nuts and bolts of the human condition are super complicated. How are we wired? What makes us do what we do? Becoming astute, insightful, and tuned in to answering these questions is essential for a writer to develop realistic characters with genuine motivation and emotions.

Truth. Whether writing stories about average people, aliens and vampires, or superhero characters with abilities far beyond typical humans, writers have the added challenge of instilling in them elements of truth. Themes like the tenacity of love, the power of good versus evil, the need for connection and compassion and understanding, these are simultaneously simple and complicated truths that create the backbone of nearly every story.

Emotion. Talk about a challenge! In order to pull readers into the story, writers must draw on their own emotions to create relatable characters. They must convey believable, well-rounded feelings—anger, sadness, enthusiasm, etc.—using literally only flat words written on a two-dimensional surface.

Resourcefulness. This is the side of writers that gets down and dirty with details, finding out everything they can about the important components of their story—settings, character professions, etc.—so when readers pick up the book, they feel as though they are transported to another world even if they’ve never been there. It’s the curiosity that takes an author to a real-life jail cell just so she can write an authentic portrayal about the experience of being imprisoned. (I read somewhere once that Jodi Picoult did this…now that’s dedication!)

A Purposeful WIP Makes Mistakes

As you might have heard me mention a time or two, I am a perfectionist at heart. I like being in control and doing things right the first time around because I absolutely, positively despise redoing things. It’s only natural, then, that I became a writer. Side note: It’s difficult to denote sarcasm in the written word, so let me just point out that that last sentence was brimming with it. Writing is probably the worst profession for someone like me. Getting it right the first time around is nearly impossible—as of the writing of this post, I am at work on the fourth draft of my novel manuscript—and the entire writing process involves oodles of rewriting and revamping and re-editing.

And yet, here I am. Rewriting and revamping and re-editing on an almost daily basis. But rather than grumble with loathing over the constant redoing aspects of writing, I find that I’m actually beginning to enjoy them. Not only that, but I’ve started to let go of some of my perfectionism tendencies. I’m learning that in writing (and other goals), and often even in life in general, mistakes are a necessary part of making progress. It is through trial and error in the novel-writing process—writing and rewriting—that I get to know my characters and it is through trial and error in life—mistakes and missteps—that I get to know my own character.

Here’s what I’ve learned about mistakes:

  1. Constantly trying to prevent mistakes keeps us stuck. Doing the right thing, saying the right thing, making the right choices. These are all noble efforts for sure. But none of us is perfect and turning ourselves inside out to try to be that way can suck the fun out of life, leading to exhaustion and sometimes even debilitating fear. In the case of my manuscript, I had become so afraid of making mistakes—worrying about what others would think of the story, of me and my abilities—that my progress came to a screeching halt. I knew that if I never took the next step, if I never finished the manuscript, then it—and therefore, I, as a writer—could never be rejected.
  2. Mistakes create growth. Nobody wants to make mistakes. They’re often embarrassing and inconvenient, and depending on the details, they can make us feel downright shameful. But they can also be enlightening. And when it comes to mistakes in the midst of our goals, we really have two choices: pay attention and learn from them (“Well, that experience didn’t go as planned; what can I take away from it?”) or brush them off and let them stunt our growth (“Well, that was a terrible mistake; I’ll never try that again.”). The caveat to growing from a mistake is that we have to actually take responsibility, because the ability to own up to our part in a mistake and take the time to flesh out the lesson it offers to us is the impetus to great progress.

So what about you? Have you ever let a mistake or even the fear of making mistakes keep you from pursuing your goals?

A Writer’s Gratitude

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In the six-and-a-half months that I’ve been blogging about writing and what I’ve learned while writing, I may have mentioned a time or two how difficult it can be. Writing is often a daunting and solitary activity, filled with insecurity and uncertainty and frequent attacks of creativity-squashing doubt. But while all of that is true, it’s not my focus today. Today, I am basking in one of the biggest perks of being a writer.

Literally.

As I write this post, I am decked out in a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, chilling on a patio chair with my bare feet and arms soaking up some end-of-summer warmth. It’s a balmy seventy degrees out here with an intermittent light breeze and enough cotton candy clouds passing occasionally in front of the sun to keep me from getting too warm. (In the words of one of our local meteorologists, it is a Goldilocks Day—not too hot, not too cold, and not too windy. It’s juuuust right.)

I have a can of cool sparkling water cozied up in a koozie on the table next to me and every breath in brings with it the lingering scent of my neighbor’s freshly mowed lawn. The insects and birds have been kind enough to provide the soundtrack for my afternoon writing session, serenading me with their chirps and buzzes, along with the sporadic honk of a male pheasant somewhere in the distance.

I lift my eyes to the sky, take in another deep breath, and all I can think is: How incredibly blessed am I to have the opportunity to enjoy this beautiful, beautiful day?

What about you? What are you most grateful for today?