I’m not talking about the ones you’re writing. I’m talking about the ones you’re thinking, the ones that have become such a part of your life and belief system that you no longer even think to question them. They are “what is.” End of story, as it were. They’re not a problem in and of themselves, but if they are holding us back from doing our best and most fulfilling creative work in the present, it’s time to take a good hard look at them to see if we can move beyond them.
We all have them. Usually they are based on events that happened to us, or things people said to us, so long ago we may not even remember exactly who or when or what. But we internalized a belief because of it, and that belief hardened into a story that we tell ourselves again and again. Sometimes it’s not one event, but a series of experiences that harden into steadfast beliefs, that then become stories.
The thing is, many of these stories are based on fears. Writers who have yet to be published for example, may have the sneaking suspicion that “If it hasn’t happened yet, maybe it never will. Maybe it’s not meant to. Maybe I should be doing something else…” (Yeah, this example is from my life, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.)
Notice what that does to your energy. It’s like an anti-energy torpedo, sinking any desire to do anything toward your goals. Why try, if it’s not going to happen anyway? Oh, sure, you might put in some hours here or there, but it won’t be purposeful action, with energy and intention behind it. It’ll be half-assed in some way, because you’re second-guessing the chance of success to begin with. It’s like tying a horse’s back legs together, saying, “He probably won’t win the race,” and then trying to make him run it anyway.
Another: “It’s hard, and only a few achieve success, and only a long slog of hard work will make it happen - maybe.” Discouragement sets in. You can hardly comprehend there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, let alone see it. This is where you need to turn it around and say “I get to…” instead of “I have to…” I get to write today. I get to research the next round of agents. This is where you instill the belief that baby steps, taken each day, will add up to something big. Then that becomes your story: “I am someone who works steadily and consistently toward my goals.”
A bigger story may stem from an event or person in your past that sowed the seeds of doubt in yourself. Someone your admired wasn’t impressed with your work, or said maybe you didn’t have what it takes. (Again, one of mine!) And as I was writing this, I realized I don’t even remember the name of this teacher from twenty years ago. So why does her opinion of my work then, matter to me now? Sometimes dragging the story into the light of consciousness enables you to see it for what it is: a shadow, a mirage, that does not need to define you in the present.
So, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to begin to become aware of the beliefs and stories you tell yourself, that may be holding you back from fully committing to doing your best work. It may be difficult to identify them if you sit down and try to do it head-on (but you may be surprised by what you come up with). You can start to recognize them when they arise in your mind, and try to turn them around. Ask yourself if that belief is really true. Why, or why not? What is the payoff for continuing to believe it? Be honest. Does it keep you in fear? Does it let you off the hook for not really trying? Have you outgrown it, but don’t have a new story in its place?
What different belief can you start to tell yourself, even if it doesn’t feel fully true yet? Let that become your story. It takes practice and commitment, but will pay huge dividends in terms of happiness, energy, and motivation. The stories we tell ourselves do help define our thoughts, beliefs, and actions, so consciously choosing your story gives you powerful agency to move beyond the past and do your best work in the present.
What beliefs or stories do you have around:
- Your own writing or other creative work?
- Creativity in general?
- Work in general?
- Publishing, or otherwise putting your work into the world?
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