Sometimes—too often—my brain wages war on me.
It goes a little something like this:
Me: Today’s writing went well. Some good scenes.
Brain: Let's be real. Today’s writing was amateurish and clichéd. You won’t be able to use any of it.
Me: Maybe parts of it need work, but the section with Callie and her mother made me smile. I think I did a solid job developing their relationship.Brain: It was shallow and trite. The humor fell flat. No amount of revision can save it. Face it, you’re wasting your time. This writing thing is not for you. You might as well go watch another Dateline rerun.
Me: I mean, I’ve already published five books…Still, I guess you're right. You’re my brain, after all. W
hy would you lie to me?
But it does. It frequently spins positive into negative, reality into disaster.
The lies my brain tells me are not unique to my pursuits as a writer; I’ve experienced similar exchanges in my head for as long as I can remember. In my mind, I’ve never been productive enough or as disciplined as I should be. This mental tug-of-war can be as debilitating as any disease, and it has a name.
On the surface, perfectionism doesn’t sound like something to fear or fight. I mean, what’s the problem with striving for perfection?
Other than the fact that It doesn’t exist—not in real life.
My brain tells me that for my life to have value, I must do more, more, more, better, better, better. It plays this message on a loop I am often not even conscious of, beating against my psyche like erosive waves.
Remember the movie Terminator? The plot revolves around androids created by humans to enhance their lives. Ultimately, though, the robots take over and declare war on their creators. My brain is like that—a useful tool when it lives under my control. But when I sit back and allow the brain to take over, destruction reigns.So how do I win this war? To quote another favorite oldie, War Games, “the only winning move is not to play.” With mindfulness, I become aware of the messages my brain is sending me and refuse to allow them to shape me. I replace those lies with a sense of gentleness towards myself, an acceptance that I am exactly who I need to be at this given moment. My value becomes attached to who I am, not what I achieve.
Easier said than done, yes. Too often, I still trek down the dark and fearsome path my brain lays before me. It takes vigilance and awareness to realize when I’ve headed in that direction, along with the determination to choose a different trail. I find I get better at it with every passing year. Patience and persistence are required, especially since these patterns have been with me for decades. My brain craves continuity and resists change.
When I was a kid, my mother used to say, “Your reach should always exceed your grasp.”
That sounded like such an honorable pursuit that I subconsciously dedicated my life to it. But now I understand it can lead to a life of self-doubt, dissatisfaction, and exhaustion.
What if, instead, I set an achievable goal? What if I relax and allow myself to actually grasp it?
That is not to say I shouldn’t push myself. If I don’t, I’m likely to give in to inertia and procrastination. I need goals. But those goals don’t have to be disproportionate to my ability and desire to achieve them. And I can nudge myself towards their completion instead of thrusting myself towards them with an intensity that leaves me wrung out—and destined to fail.
I’ll never be Shakespeare. Or Stephen King. Or JK Rowling. And if I examine my true aspirations rather than the ones my brain tries to convince me I should have, I don’t even want to be.
These days, it’s enough to be me.
Thanks for joining me for this self-therapy session. Feel free to chime in. What wise advice has helped you find more contentment?
Lori Roberts Herbst writes the Callie Cassidy Mysteries, a cozy mystery series set in Rock Creek Village, Colorado. To find out more and to sign up for her newsletter, go to www.lorirobertsherbst.com