How can negativity make it easier for you to write? Good question! When I’m doing a simple task, it’s easy to fall into negativity. Take this morning, for example. I had a great breakfast, but when I was doing the dishes, I had a host of negative thoughts about having to clean up the mess. No, I’m not Mr. Macho guy who can’t bother with doing the dishes. At the conscious level, I don’t mind doing them, but my mind would rather be doing something else. Who likes doing the dishes?
As I scrape food off into the disposal and rinse the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, I listen to my mind chattering away about how stupid it is to do dishes. It’s interesting how this kind of negativity creeps insidiously into my mindset. I’ll just be doing something simple like doing the dishes, and my mind decides that I don’t like something about the task.
Think of like and dislike as roadblocks. If I I’m could do the dishes without thinking about likes and dislikes I’d just do them and be done. Instead, though, I expend all of my mental energy on liking or disliking the task . . . literally thinking How did that dish get dirty? Look at that spot over there on the counter. Why is that spot there?
Such thoughts are extremely non-productive. They get in the way of our otherwise simple tasks. So, part of what we need to do is take a look at the places where we find ourselves non-productively thinking about simple likes and dislikes.
You see, like and dislike has nothing to do with life’s chores. I’m going to do the dishes. I’m going to clean the spots up off the counter. If I didn’t think negatively about the chores, then I would be thinking either neutral thoughts or nothing. Neutral thoughts about actions are simple narrations, like I am cleaning the spots off of the counter. There’s nothing good or bad about the thoughts, and they have a positive benefit: they take up the bitspace that the brain would otherwise fill with mindless negative chatter.
But what I I shut off the narration entirely? What if I find a way to not use the language processing portion of the brain at all? What if I just do the task with no voice narrating or passing judgment? That is far more difficult than it seems. People spend their lives trying to reach a state where thy can be free of the chatter.
There is a portion of the brain that wants to narrate what’s going on, and in the narration, I have a negative component that tells me I dislike a task. It says that I would rather be doing something else. This is silly. It is worse than silly because the negative emotion persists after the event. I carry it with me into the next task, and it colors that action just as it colored the dishwashing.
To tell the truth, I live in a wonderful home with a wonderful wife. I am glad that I have the dishes to do, that I have an air-conditioned home to do them in, and running water, soap, and scrub brush to do them with. I could be living in a hut without running water, nice dishes, and all the other comforts of home.
There are many good things that I could be thinking about instead of that negative chatter. I don’t have to be in a state of spiritual ecstasy thinking thoughts of gratitude, gratitude, gratitude, although that is certainly worlds better than negative chatter, but the fact is, I could be working on some other project I have. That would be productive thought. I could be enjoying what is going on around me. I could be basking in the luxury I truly live in.
Most of us live in a luxury that the royalty of a few hundred years ago couldn’t even imagine. We have refrigeration, heating, air-conditioning, running water, toilets, grocery stores, television sets and computers. telephones . . . truly amazing stuff that would have been only a wild fantasy to a medieval king or ancient pharaoh.
How do you get past the negative mind? The first thing you have to do is simply become aware of it. Ask yourself what part of the brain becomes aware of the negativity. You have a process running in your brain. It’s almost like living with another person. I’m not talking spirituality here, it’s simply a process, a voice that is narrating what’s going on and giving you and me the constant dose of negativity. We give a channel to that. If we opened up the channel, though, then we have the power to close it down again.
Where is it coming from? It’s the stream of words triggered by thoughts pouring out of the subconscious. So what’s going on in the subconscious? It’s looking at doing the dishes and searches all of our memories to see what it has to offer.
There is a vast store of knowledge that connects doing dishes to other chores that are not inherently pleasant activities, so it begins to say chore is something that we could do better than. It says I don’t like chores. It starts complaining.
Maybe there is a positive purpose to negative chatter, though. Maybe the purpose of that chatter stems from an ancient biological program designed to get us to move beyond unpleasant tasks. Maybe that was a good thing. Maybe, back in prehistoric, pre-language times, we needed a nudge here and there to push us to do more than just be hunter/gatherers. Maybe each bit of dissatisfaction pushed us to make positive changes. Maybe the complaint circuit was a positive, human attribute that kept us from doing negative things. It pushed us to look for better ways and steer us to what was good instead of staying in a complacent rut.
So the complaining mind serves a purpose in the same way that pain serves a purpose. Pain makes something bad clear. Pain overwhelmingly grabs our attention, serving to move us away from whatever is painful. The complaining mind is the mental/linguistic version of pain. It creates an avoidance using negative chatter to push us so that we go onto something different.
How does this serve a writer? The negative chatter tells us that we have longings for a better way to use our brains. If we love to write, negative chatter reminds us that we aren’t writing. When we hear the negative chatter, we should acknowledge it and switch focus to a writing project. We can still do the dishes and clean the counter, but we can do them with the mind of Shakespeare, Wolfe, Hemingway, or Angelou. The negativity is simply a signpost, telling us where we are in our thoughts. We can use it to consciously turn on the writer mind, clear out the necessary bitspace, and begin to write.
It’s okay to have negative chatter. Just recognize it for what it is. Get yourself to the crossroads. See the chatter as a sign, and choose the positive direction you want to go in. From that point, you take control of your mind and begin to write.
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