So I got to thinking about Cognitive Therapy, a modality that helps people recognize and modify their harmful and unrealistic thinking – to change the “tape” they play in their heads. And I thought I’d offer up a version just for writers.
In a two-part series, this week and next, I’m borrowing the famous Checklist of Cognitive Distortions from legendary psychiatrist and cognitive therapist Dr. David Burns (When Panic Attacks, Broadway Books, 2006). For each of the ten forms of “twisted thinking” he describes, I offer a writer’s take and a suggested “reboot” to recast the thought into more benign, realistic terms. Hope I can help soothe the minds of my fellow writers (and my own).
Here are the first five.
1. All or Nothing Thinking. You look at things in absolute, black and white terms.
Writer thinks: I’m not on the best-seller list. I’m a failure.
Reboot: You’d have better odds of getting struck by lightning than hitting the best-seller list with your first book. Congratulations on taking the big first step of publishing. Now move forward and aim at more realistic goals, like building your fan base and getting reviews.
2. Overgeneralization. You view a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
Writer thinks: I got a lousy review on Amazon. No one will buy my book.
Reboot: Even successful writers get bad reviews. A bad review is better than no review.
3. Mental Filter. You allow one negative detail to spoil everything you did right.
Writer thinks: What good is a 5-star review when the reviewer caught all those formatting errors in my e-book?
Reboot: Savor the 5-star review and fix the errors.
4. Discounting the Positive. You insist that your positive qualities and accomplishments don’t matter.
Writer thinks: I may as well not have written my novel. It isn’t selling.
Reboot: Appreciate all it took to finish your novel and harness that energy to promote your book. Keep writing because you love it.
5. Jumping to Conclusions. You leap to unwarranted assumptions. There are two types.
a. Mind-Reading. You assume that others are judging you critically.
Writer thinks: If I try to do readings or presentations, people will think I sound like a dork.
Reboot: Anxious people typically believe they look more nervous than they actually do. Make eye contact with your audience and let yourself enjoy their attention.
b. Fortune-Telling. You predict that terrible things will happen.
Writer thinks: I’ll get lost trying to find my way to that writer’s conference.
Reboot: And never be heard from again? Not likely. Use your GPS and leave plenty of time to get there.
Next week, tackling the other five distortions – Magnification and Minimization, Emotional Reasoning, Should Statements, Labeling and Blame.