Help me focus less on my fears and more on my dreams.
October 4, 2013 4:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm struggling with a lack of self-confidence and undercurrent of doubt, and hoping that I might be able to shift my attention more towards what I hope for the future than what I fear from it. What are some simple techniques that I can use to gradually move the spotlight over to the positive? Looking for very concrete exercises or practices. Something like: “start each morning writing a vision of what you want.” Would that actually work? I'd think it might just freak me out more, make me feel guilty that I'm not there yet. But something concrete like that. Thanks.

I've noticed that I spend a lot of my time worrying about “ending up a failure” and/or regretting how I've “already wasted my chances.” I can guess that this comes from childhood, hearing my mom talk about her own life that way. While I tried my best to reject that view of the world, I can hear it in my own thoughts all the time. Maybe because my plan to escape that sense of failure was to be a world-wide success by age 18. When that didn't happen (I literally remember crying on my birthday because I hadn't become “successful” yet), I pushed it to 22, 25, 30. Well, I'm 30 now and I haven't even hit the first rung of success in my field (publishing a book). And now I have a full-time job and split my free time between guiltily playing video games and writing while sentiments like “if you were really talented at this, you'd be a success by now,” and “maybe if you played less f***ing video games you'd be a success by now and wouldn't have to whore yourself out to the Man for a paycheck” whirl through my head. When I can tamp down the self-criticism, sometimes I remember that the reason I wanted to be a writer is because I like it! But those are rare times.

((And before you suggest it, yes I've tried CBT, which I understand is meant to deal with just these sorts of “thought disorders.” I felt like it just made me more neurotic about my own thoughts.
And before you suggest it, yes talk therapy, I has it. But it's slow, I don't go that often, I don't get to talk about everything, and when this comes up it usually spirals into talking about my mother, not ending in concrete exercises or techniques I can use.
And before you suggest it, yes antidepressants, I has them too.))
posted by Calicatt to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I have two suggestions that work for me:

1. Tell the negative voice to shut up. Every time it speaks up.

2. Focus on the here and now, and what is good about it. Notice if you feel rested, if your rug is soft, if your teeth feel great because you just brushed them, if breakfast is tasty, if the sun is shining or the rain makes everything smell good . . . . seriously. Just look around for what is good right now.
posted by bearwife at 4:27 PM on October 4, 2013

something that gets in the way of a lot of things is focusing on the finish not the steps to get there. You see a big overwhelming task or goal and it seems overwhelming and impossible for someone like you (and you know you better than anyone) to accomplish. But the way ANYone accomplishes something is in tiny little steps.

a quick aside - a technique I learned to learn the technique in CBT is to take it slow, expect setbacks but never accept defeat. It is a matter of learning new habits AND unlearning old ones. You have to do this at the same time. If you don't displace the old habit you will inevitably flow back to the learned habit under stress and if you just unlearn the old habit something random and probably undesirable will fill the void.

The best way to gain confidence and break down the overwhelming dread and defeat of the inner voice is to do tiny little tasks toward a larger overarching goal that builds on one another. A written outline is useful, especially early on, but as you progress it will become less and less important. It is, in essence, putting in a habit of success, or at least progress. It is the strategy personal trianers use to get you to do one more repitition in your exercise set, one more situp is doable right? and then one more and then one more and pretty soon your tired mucles managed to do 20 but if you start off going 20, than, uggh, crap I am out of shape and can never do that and sure enough you can't. Just how you implement this depends on your inner voice but it works well for most.
posted by bartonlong at 4:56 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

One thing I do sometimes when fear or self-recrimination strikes is to sit there and simmer in it. Example: I was feeling a lot of shame where the leading thought was "I've let everyone down." I sat there and repeated it to myself while my stomach lurched repeatedly. "Everyone! I let them all down!" After a bit, I got used to the idea. "Okay... I guess I did let everyone this instance at least." "Everyone was counting on me! They believed I would X!" "... uh, but basically, I did. That and more. I did all I could do, actually." Ultimately, I went from "Everyone should cast me out!" to "I tried my best and yeah, this was a tough situation. Sorry, guys."

Try sitting with "I've already wasted my chances." Maybe you have. ... Or have you? What are "your chances," anyway? And what did you do with them actually? Did you "waste" them? Maybe you did. Maybe you need to start getting used to the idea so you can figure out how to live with it, I don't know. With thoughts like this, sometimes the only way out is through. When you look at something long enough, you start to see it from all sides. Once the idea of failure scares you less, I think it will be easier to work on your projects, so I'd sit with that one too.
posted by salvia at 6:38 PM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't know if you'll find this helpful or not, but here goes.

I'm an editor. I freelance now, but spent quite a few years at various companies, first passing manuscripts to editors, and eventually contacting authors and offering to publish their book. The thing that struck me, especially when I was starting out, was how old many of these people were. I'd always sort of assumed that Capital-A Authors started selling books when they were in their early twenties, at the latest, but I can count on one hand the number of times the person I signed was under, say, 25. The number of times I signed people well into their thirties, forties, seventies... well, it was a lot higher. I signed more people over fifty than I did under thirty, and that seemed to be pretty much par for the course.

The reason we hear so much about so and so publishing their bestseller at 22 is because those people are weird. I say it with love and respect, but they're outliers. Many people start writing in their thirties. Nora Roberts, she of ten billion novels, published her first at 31. JK Rowling was 30. Harper Lee was 35. Connie Willis was 37 when she published her first novel.

But I'm already thirty, you say? No worries! Angela's Ashes, his first book, was published when Frank McCourt was 66. Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65. Raymond Chandler's first novel came out when he was 51. Madeline L'Engle wrote the glorious A Wrinkle in Time when she was 42.

Those are just examples of people who are both well-known and who I could name off the top of my head. (I had to check the ages, but I knew that they weren't prodigies.) It turns out that the average age of a first-time novelist is forty-two. You haven't failed--you, like many other extremely talented authors, haven't even started yet.

Remind yourself that that not doing anything is a path that guarantees failure, and that many people have found great success by being brave enough to risk failure, regardless of their age.
posted by MeghanC at 7:00 PM on October 4, 2013 [12 favorites]

Even the very, very best people fail all the time. But they don't stop. That's what makes them successful.

Take Michael Jordan, one of the greatest if not the greatest basketball player ever:

I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Steve Jobs, prior to the iPod and iPhone, failed to the point that Microsoft(!) had to invest in Apple to keep them solvent.

David Bowie prior to becoming "David Bowie" spent years making albums that didn't sell and playing in bands that didn't go anywhere.

Even a lot of the guys and girls that seemingly rocket to success out of nowhere actually spent years grinding it out and paying their dues. Read Stephen King's book On Writing (which is useful for a writer anyway) where he talks about the ridiculous number of rejections he got and even when he started selling things, he was still working in a godawful laundry plugging away.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:36 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think it helps to hold on loosely. Millions of people have dreams that they won't fulfill for a variety of reasons - fear, lack of education and opportunity, lack of ability, poverty, having kids too young, injury. What do you think about those people? Does their time on earth have less meaning? Do they matter less? I don't believe that.

It seems like you're pinning a lot of your self-worth on publishing a novel. You're worth something whether you never write another damn word. You don't *have* to write a novel. It's perfectly ok if you don't. But you'd like to, and that's valid. So if you want to try, you should.

"Morning papers" is probably a concrete step that would help you. It's a tip from The Artist's Way: you write every morning, stream of consciousness, letting it all out. The idea is that this gets all of the crap and self-doubt out of your head so you can let it go and get on with your day. Check out

Among artists there's an idea of "wrecking the first page." You have a beautiful new sketchbook and you can't bring yourself to draw in it because your drawing might not be good enough for the sketchbook. The way around this is to purposely wreck the first page. Scribble, use garish markers, whatever. Then anything else you do to the book is uphill from there.

So maybe you can try writing the most ludicrous story you can think of, just to get it out of the the way. Then write something better.

NaNoWriMo might be another way to jumpstart your writing.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 8:36 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've wanted to be a musician since my teens. I'm 43. I am finally taking steps to make it happen. I wish I could say I have the magic answer, but I don't. I tell myself all the same things you do. I am seeing a therapist, and it helps. But it's a slow process.

The main thing? To just show up every day (or almost every day). I have a small portable keyboard I play on my commute. I still waste a bunch of time online and watch dumb tv shows as a way of not dealing with my shit. And when I make music I still tell myself I'm worthless, that all I do is make stuff that sounds like other people, that I'm never going to be as good as X. And of course "it's too late." Some days it feels extra hard. And other days it feels a little easier. And I just keep chipping away at it bit by bit.

I'm not at the point of fully realized songs, but I have a lot of raw material with good potential.
posted by O9scar at 9:08 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

'My great concern is not whether you failed but whether you are content with your failure.' -- Abraham Lincoln

This quote helps me sometimes.
posted by dinosaurprincess at 12:07 AM on October 5, 2013

I have found this technique invaluable for fostering both positivity and self-confidence:

Every night before bed, sit down with a pen and paper and write down three good things, however small or large, that happened to you that day. Then write down your role, no matter how large, small, or peripheral, in making them happen. For example, if you had a delicious lunch that day, give yourself credit for picking the restaurant and resisting the urge to eat peanuts at your desk instead of going out.

Over time, you will develop quite a list, and you will start to see that you play a major role in making good things happen.

On a practical note re:writing and creativity, you might enjoy Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way." She offers a number of ways to get over your inner critic and just get on with it.
posted by rpfields at 6:51 AM on October 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, all. these suggestions are really great actually and just what I needed.
posted by Calicatt at 5:37 PM on October 5, 2013

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

- Winston Churchill
posted by armoir from antproof case at 6:59 PM on October 7, 2013

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