That’s rubbish: positive vs negative thinking

I'm British and a journalist, cynicism comes to me a lot more readily than happy happy joy joy thinking. But the kicker for me is that it's quicker to think positively.

You know this already: when things are bad, you spend an awful lot of time brooding. That's too feeble a word: worrying, fretting, chewing, pondering, hating. When things are good, you get on to the next job.

I have also realised that it's true: I shouldn't make decisions and I definitely shouldn't act on them when I'm depressed. I still struggle with the concept of telling myself everything is wonderful all the time but I like the idea of head-down getting-on-with-it-all regardless.

Which is what I take away from this piece on The Simple Dollar about negative thinking:

You have to recognize when you’re telling yourself to make poor choices. For me, the best way to counteract this is to have a checklist of the things you’re working on and review it several times a day.

Small moves, Ellie.

You already know that making too big a statement at the start of the year ain't going to work. I will go to the moon, salvage all the junk that's up there, bring it back and sell it. Or even just I'm going to lose three stone in weight by Tuesday. But there are also apparently small resolutions that you give up on because they are out of your control: I will get an agent this month, that kind of thing. There is a huge amount you can do toward getting an agent if that's what you need and you can do a gigantic amount of it right now, but the final step requires them saying yes and offering you a deal you want. You can't control their schedule, therefore you can't control yours. Not in this one case.

But if you pick smaller goals and ones that are within your control, you aren't just making life easier for yourself, you're helping to convince yourself that resolutions are achievable. If we never did the bigger ones we'd never do anything, but having small, concrete, possible resolutions that we then actually do and actually stick to, it helps a mile.

So says an article in Pick the Brain anyway.

Hat tip, as so often, to Lifehacker for spotting this.

Advice for the overwhelmed

Lifehacker has a suggestion for – wait, I’m forever telling you about good-to-great Lifehacker articles, have you bookmarked that site yet? – one way to cope when you’re drowning:

Try it. I have my own systems and they are in my book, The Blank Screen (US link, UK link). Mind you, I think this business of coping on bad days is so important and I believe what I can tell you about it is potentially so useful, I give away that Blank Screen chapter for free. Here it is: Bad Days from The Blank Screen.

I hope it and the Lifehacker article are useful to you.

You’re on your own and it’s necessary

“It just seems like, you agree to have a certain personality or something. For no reason. Just to make things easier for everyone.”

Angela Chase (Claire Danes) in My So-Called Life

pilot episode by Winnie Holzman

Maybe you were the class clown in school. If you run in to someone from there today, you still are. To them. You’re somewhat older and you’ve been through the wars but that doesn’t matter. You’re the clown, they’re the ones who were your best friends even though you now cannot see what you had in common with them. She’s the one you fancied and, god, if you aren’t still tongue-tied talking to her.

We are slotted into types and categories by everyone and we do it to them too. This is true, this has always been true, and it has always been interesting when you run into more than one set of friends at the same time. And it’s hugely more interesting now that we have Facebook and you can see the strata of your life reflected in those friends who knew you here, who knew you there. 

But there is one result of all this that actually holds you back. That stops you doing things.

It’s this. Call five friends and tell them you’re moving to New York. You haven’t got a job there, it’s just something you’ve got to do and you hope to find somewhere cheap to stay at first. I hope that at least one of your friends will be excited for you but you know that at least four, probably all five, will try to talk you out of it.

They’d be right to. No job? Nowhere to stay? They’re looking out for you, they care for you. This would be why they are your five closest friends that you can call about this stuff.

There’s a part of them, too, that reckons New York is a long away and they’ll never see you again. You can’t object to that, that’s lovely.

Only, there is also this unconscious part of them that says you’re not the one who goes to New York. You’re not the one who starts a new business, you’re not the sort to do anything they haven’t already seen you do.

Consequently, unless they are very unusual people – and you hang on to them if they are – you will forever find them holding you back. Their concerns for your wellbeing coupled to this locked perception of what you are and what you do means your friends will invariably hold you back.

So you can’t take their advice. You just can’t. If you did, you’d never do anything. I sound like I’m criticising your friends but really the only thing I dislike is what they do afterwards. After you’ve moved to New York, after you’ve started your business. Then they tell you they always knew you could do it. Sometimes they take credit. That, I criticise.

But the rest of this is just practical: no advice from friends, just don’t do it.

If you want to do something, if you want to start something new and your friends cannot give you the advice or help that will get it going, then you’d think that you would turn to strangers.

Unfortunately, if you find a stranger who knows all about New York and starting businesses, the odds are that they sell relocations to New York and they sell services to new businesses. They don’t see you the way you were because they’ve never seen you before. But they also cannot be looking out for you as well as your friends are. 

Which means, sorry, you’re on your own. It’s a horrible place to be because you are a composite of your friends and these strangers: it’s easier to stay where you are and it’s easy to find falsely rose answers too.

Look for people who have done or who are doing what you want to do. Work with them. I believe now that this is why writers’ groups can be so useful: writing is an illness and nobody understands that more than other writers. I say I believe it now because I’ve only recently found a kind of group that works for me. Proper, traditional, meet-every-Friday groups have never done it for me: I’ve not fitted in or the group doesn’t want the same things I do. (Example: I’m a professional writer, I write to be read, but two groups I tried were more into the cathartic nature of writing for oneself, writing for pleasure.  Fine, but not for me.)

Earlier this year I earned a place on Room 204, a programme run by Writing West Midlands. It’s a programme without an overt agenda: they even say there are no meetings and sessions, but there end up being meetings and sessions and they are terrific.

I come away from those enthused, fired up, certain that I can do whatever mad idea I currently have – and then I do it.

Thereafter, I’m the guy who does that mad thing. 

I’m being fairly specific about Room 204 here when I wanted to talk in much vaguer generalisations. I’m talking about all of your friends and everything you do.

But hopefully there is one friend who both wants what’s best for you and sees that it is this new mad idea you have to pursue. If you also see both what’s best for her or him and you see that it is their new mad idea that they have to pursue, marry them.