Yeah, we’ve all heard it before: the power of positive thinking. It’s so overused an expression, it’s corny. But we’re going there.
You can become that productive, resilient author by training your brain to stay positive when circumstances around you are seeking to drag you under. Learning to conquer challenges and threat of failure is an essential skill.
We have a bias toward remembering our failures and forgetting our successes. In one sense, that’s good for us, because we can learn from failure and improve. On the other hand, dwelling on our failures stymies productivity. Best-case scenario is that we learn to view our failures in a positive light.
I love what Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
Because he had that positive attitude, he kept trying. If he hadn’t, we might all be writing with pen and paper by the light of a candle.
“If I’ve learned anything through all of this, it’s that each day is a canvas waiting to be painted,” said Craig Sager, who, at the time of my writing this, just died yesterday. He was a much-loved sports announcer who always seemed to be cheerful and happy. Even during the last years in his struggle to beat his leukemia, in the news reports I saw him in, he still kept that same smile and upbeat manner. His positivity influenced and inspired countless numbers of people.
It takes a determined mind-set not to succumb to despair and negativity when life throws curve balls at us. But even in the best of times, some of us can’t but slip into negativity instead of counting our blessings.
Author Jessica McBrayer could have given up her writing dream, and no one would have faulted her. She’s a prolific author who’s published eleven paranormal novels. But right before her first novel was published, her daughter died.
“I had just published my first book two weeks before she died,” she says in an interview. “She was so proud of me. I’m not going to tell you that I used the grief to fuel my writing or to get through it because I did the opposite. I shut down. I couldn’t look at my computer. I was just devastated.
“But something amazing happened when I came out of the fog and started to write again. I found myself creating a character that was based on my daughter. It surprised and delighted me when I figured out what I had done. I used that character throughout my entire series. She was one of my favorites, of course, and even got her own novellas. The fans love her too.
“I think anyone that creates—sculptors, writers, painters, photographers—will agree that hard work is essential. But that doesn’t mean we can’t love our job. We may set our own hours, but we put our blood, sweat, and tears into that time. I love my job, but it is work.”
We can all learn a lot from Jessica’s positive attitude.
Gratitude Is the Best Attitude
You might say that being grateful for your health and your nice car doesn’t impact your productivity. And you’re right. As far as it impacts directly. But if you take on a grateful attitude in life, in general, you will think positively, not negatively, of so much around you.
So here are some tips to help you train your brain to ride on the positive railway:
- Express gratitude. As I mentioned above, when you are facing difficulties or hard challenges, thinking about your blessings can balance that bias toward negative thinking. The more you dwell on good things in your life, the more present they will be in your brain and short-term memory. Maybe keep a log or journal in which you write each day a list of the things you are grateful for.
Little things as well as big things. Such as right now, my kitty Thelma is curled up and purring on my lap. She makes me smile as she tries to tuck her head under my armpit. Things that make us smile lighten our hearts and seem to obliterate boulders that block our way to getting a project done. If it makes it any easier, use an app for your iPhone like Day One, or OhLife, a free email-based journal program, to help you do this.
- Repeat positive affirmations. We all know the power of the message. I grew up with the popular book The Medium is the Massage, by Marshall McLuhan (yes, that is the correct title, though the result of a typesetter’s error), which pounded home how messages can affect us emotionally. The more we tell ourselves positive things (remember what I said about “I think I can, I think I can . . .”?), and the more often we repeat them, the more likely we’ll believe them.
My pastor has a saying: “Faith it till you make it.” It’s not so much we’re faking it—lying to ourselves. It’s more that we are acting in faith—that if we keep telling ourselves we can and will be productive and overcome any obstacle in our way, and then act in faith believing that, we will make it.
It’s as if we have to psyche ourselves into believing what’s good for us. So choose a few affirmations that will help you where you need it. “I can handle anything that comes my way.” “I am perfectly capable of writing a novel in three months.” Write them down and stick them next to your computer. Recite them until they become mantras that play in your head throughout the day. This is how we rewire our brain and eliminate the negative recordings we’ve been playing since childhood.
- Challenge those negative thoughts. Every time your brain derails onto that negative track, separate yourself from it and picture it as something “over there” that you can manipulate. Don’t ride that train; pull the track switch and move it onto another set of rails. When you tell yourself “I’m a failure. I’ll never get this book written,” say instead, “I haven’t failed. I’m facing a challenge and I will conquer it. I’m going to try again.”
Maybe that attempt was just one way of showing you what won’t work. Like Edison’s lightbulb. If it took him ten thousand tries to get that invention right, should you complain and give up if your first attempt at a particular scene flopped? Or your effort in rescheduling your job and day care didn’t pan out to allow you time to write? I think not.
Your thoughts? What method helps you to turn those negative thoughts into positive ones?