6 Attitudes of Highly Productive People

We’ve been exploring the power of positive thinking for a few weeks. It’s such an important topic because one of the biggest roadblocks to becoming a super-productive writer is poisonous negative thinking.

Writing for life is a hard road, with lots of curves and bumps and giant walls that suddenly appear on the horizon. if writers can’t learn to change the self-talk and transform negative thinking into productive, positive thinking, all the free time in the world won’t help a writer crank out great books.

Positive attitudes have been called “the undo effect” (Barbara Fredrickson, Positivity). They help us to quickly recover from negative emotions. When we generate a positive perspective, it helps us bounce back. And that “bouncing back” brings motivation or impetus. Which is what we need to be productive. Wallowing never got a book written.

Think of it this way: negativity is like a vise grip that squeezes and constricts our creativity. Negative emotions such as fear, anger, blame, and resentment narrow our focus in a way that obscures options.

Worry, especially, paralyzes us. We worry our books will get bad reviews. We worry that our plot is stupid. We worry that we’ll never sell a copy, so why waste all this time.

Studies were done with highly stressed students about to give speeches. In under a minute, their cardiovascular system relaxed (heart rate down, blood pressure lowered, artery constriction lightened) when these students were shown a movie clip of peaceful ocean waves and puppies frolicking. Other studies show that the more people entertain positive emotions, the quicker they can let go of negative ones.

There are lots of occasions when we need to “bounce back.” When something upsets our carefully planned schedule. When relationships invade and bring stress. When world events get us down. I get so discouraged by the news that it drains me of all motivation. If I have projects I want to get done, I have to stop looking at the news. (We’ll look hard into distractions in later posts, because that’s a curse we are all under!)

So when these things come at us and bog us down, we want to bounce back as quickly as possible. Changing the picture (literally, by looking at uplifting scenery or images) can help us do that.

When you adopt a positive outlook, you are open to processing new information and your awareness expands. That’s what we writers need when trying to come up with scenes and plots and characters.

One researcher determined that we need at least three positive emotions to lift us up in a way to be able to counter every single negative one that drags us down. And these positive emotions don’t have to be huge or profound; they can be subtle. They just need to be frequent.

And, of course, the best positive attitude to have is gratitude. When you’ve learned the secret of how to be content in life, it goes far toward productivity.

I have the entire (full version) of the famous Serenity Prayer pinned to the wall next to my computer. One part of that prayer reads “Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.”

Sometimes we feel we must change our situation before we can be positive and plow ahead on our projects. But there are times when we can’t change a darn thing. In that case, we can either “accept the things we cannot change” and adopt a positive attitude of gratitude, or we can wallow in the mire of negativity and unproductiveness. Our choice.

The Attitudes of Successfully Productive People

Let’s take a look at some of the attitudes of super-productive people. Essentially, these attitudes are manifestations of positive thinking. But I’m going to present them in negative terms: in what these successful people don’t do.

  1. They don’t let others’ opinions of them affect their joy. If your sense of self-worth and general mood are greatly affected by others’ opinions or treatment of you, you are no longer the master of your happiness. Everyone is different, and some people are more sensitive to criticism or another’s bad mood. If you are one of those thin-skinned types, try to work on this.

Successful productive, self-motivated people feel good about their accomplishments, and they won’t allow another’s opinion or accomplishment take that from them. While it’s impossible to turn off your reactions completely, you don’t have to compare yourself to others, and you can step back and put a negative comment at arm’s length.

When you put your work out for public viewing, you’re not going to please everyone. That one-star review is a badge of honor (we all get them—even the most successful authors in the world). Don’t be overly sensitive to others’ negativity. Rise above it.

  1. They don’t demand perfection of themselves. Successful productive, self-motivated people don’t aim to be perfect—because they know such a goal is impossible. We all fail sometimes; that’s being human. If you expect perfection, you will always end up with that negative feeling of failure, and you’re back to wallowing instead of producing.

This is something I see often. Writers spend years on the same manuscript, lamenting that it’s just not right yet. They may have had numerous editors help them, and they’ve been told they have a great novel. But they can’t let go of it. It’s not perfect, and the fear of failure prevents them for taking the next big steps (submission or publishing). They are stuck in a rut, and they’re certainly not being productive.

Highly productive writers know a book is never going to be perfect. But it can come close. Experience helps a writer determine when good is good enough. I know this with my own books. And once I determine I’ve done my best and the novel or nonfiction book is worthy of publication, I get it ready and launch it. I won’t put out shoddy work—I take pride in everything I publish. Each book has to meet my very high standards. But I know my books aren’t perfect and will never be so.

This is such an important factor in becoming a productive writer: learning when done is done and it’s time to let it go.

  1.  They don’t dwell on their failures. Failure erodes self-confidence—that goes without saying. But I’m saying it anyway, because we need to be reminded. You are going to fail sometimes. Just face it. You’ll have books that flop or get some bad reviews. Failure often comes from taking risks, trying something new. Every time you publish a book, you take a risk.

I know one best-selling author (who sells millions of copies of her suspense thrillers) who cries every time she finishes writing a new novel and turns it in to her publisher. She’s sure it’s the worst thing she’s ever written and that it will ruin her career for good. She goes through this with every book (some therapy might help here). Sure, she’s highly productive, and what pushes her to be so is her contracted deadlines.

We all have our emotional issues we struggle with—some of us have more or worse ones than others. But successfully productive writers know that their success lies in their ability to keep moving ahead in the face of failure (or possible looming failure). And if they’ve suffered big failures in the past, they don’t dwell on them. Like the apostle Paul says in the Bible book of Philippians: forget the past and look forward to what lies ahead.

  1. They don’t dwell on problems. We’ve already talked about this a bit. If you dwell on the negative, it hinders your productivity. When you adopt a positive mind-set and focus on actions to better yourself and your circumstances, you will be able to get your best work done. Highly successful people know they’re most effective when they focus on solutions.
  1. They won’t hang out with people who will pull them down. While we can’t live in a bubble and separate completely from negative people, we can try to limit our associations. Highly productive people surround themselves with others like them. No surprise that a whole lot of productive people are positive, encouraging, and upbeat (most of the time).

When we hang with complainers and those in the throes of a pity party, it’s going to drag down our mood. We might feel we’re being rude to excuse ourselves from such company, but often it’s the healthiest thing (for us and the complainer) to do. You may not want to be rude or callous, but there’s a difference between offering a listening ear and being pulled into the mud with them.

  1. They won’t say yes unless they really want to. One thing I’ve learned about being a productive person is it draws people to me who want favors. Remember that saying: “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it”? Problem with busy, productive people is they sometimes can’t say no. They overcommit. And that can cause stress. Saying no is a challenge for most people, I think. But no is a word we should all feel comfortable using (and not just with our kids).

Highly successful people avoid hemming with phrases like “I’m not sure I can” or “I don’t know if I have time.” Saying no honors your existing commitments and frees up the time needed to fulfill them. You should never feel guilty for saying no in these situations. Or for disappointing someone because of your decision.

So as you begin to examine your attitudes and see which ones are blocking your path to productivity, keep these points in mind. Work on that positive outlook. Catch yourself when you slip into negativity that keeps you from getting things done. Change the picture and repeat those positive affirmations to flush out the tendency to dwell on the negative.

These are all things that will help you mold the mind-set needed to become a successful, productive writer.

Next, we’re going to look at some practical steps you can take to become the kind of writer that can crank out great books. And the first place to start is in exploring our biology, the “B” in our Productivity ABCs.

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