Friday, November 3, 2023

Eternal Infernal Internal Dialogue, by Lori Roberts Herbst

 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 clich├ęd. 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.

Perfectionism.

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 

19 comments:

  1. Great advice. I agree. It's patience and persistence!

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    1. And learning to give ourselves some grace, right?

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  2. I remember a ditty from my childhood that went: "Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better best."

    It's impossible to live up to all the time and so our brains figure out how to cope. Some don't bother since anything they do won't be good enough, why do anything? And some buy it 100% and are never satisfied. And some lucky ones -- and I've met a couple -- find a happy medium and ignore their childhood messages.

    Best of luck finding your way.

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    1. You are so right, Jim. Everyone "hears" such things differently. For some, it's motivating. For others, debilitating. But for me, insight continues to help.

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  3. It's hard to turn off the mental loops instilled in our childhoods. For me, it was "Don't start anything you can't finish." Implied was continuous immediate effort until the project was, in fact, finished. I struggled with that in the most mundane tasks until I found out, in my 60's, that I have a congenital heart defect that often sent my blood oxygen level into the 70's (it's supposed to be 95 or above.) A five minute break sitting down makes a world of difference.

    I've extended the concept that I don't have to toil away until the task is done to realize that it's okay to make a start that doesn't quite work out. Like the manuscripts that will quite justifiably never see light of day, and the beginnings of stories that have petered out.

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    1. Exactly! Learning to move at our own pace is vital. There are things about aging that are...well, challenging. But I can't tell you how much I love the experience and insight that comes as we get older.

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  4. I would say that you are doing pretty good. So push the self-doubt aside.

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    1. Thank you, Grace! You always give my self-worth a boost!

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  5. No great advice except if at first you don't succeed, try, try again....which tends to fly in the face of your point unless, as I have learned, to moderate it to the point of what the expectation is.

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    1. It's good advice. And try, try again actually flies in the face of perfectionism, which tells me if I have to try again, I've failed.

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  6. You write your books. Stephen King writes his books. You're both novelists. That's an amazing accomplishment for both of you! You might as well keep typing away, don't you think? That's what novelists like you and Steve do.

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    1. Me and Steve...love it! And you're right...just keep typing away!

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  7. I read over yesterday's brand new ten pages...total dreck. But I know how to fix them! Double win for me!

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    1. Exactly! The brain keeps working on the fixers, and that's pretty phenomenal!

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  8. Well, this feels familiar! Well said, Lori.

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  9. Lori, this is just what I needed to hear today. Thank you for the free therapy! xo Shari

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