My computer screen and I have been embroiled in a staring contest for the past 15 minutes. Strike that — 30 minutes.
I have writer’s block.
Let’s evaluate my typical response. I belittle my mind, slink around the apartment, and ransack the empty refrigerator. My cheerful disposition devolves into a caustic impersonator.
Returning to the scene of the crime, the words trickle out like a leaky faucet. I have an overwhelming desire to hurl my MacBook Pro into the Puget Sound.
Writing can be a torturous, laborious process.
But only if we make it. Just like life.
Yes, my writing example may be overwrought. But the bigger message is how our judgmental mind can derail us.
Striving for a more balanced approach, I apply DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) principles to achieve mental equilibrium. Describe, don’t disparage. Express, don’t evaluate.
Let’s return to my writing example, apply these tenets, and distinguish between objective and subjective facts.
The neutral facts: It has taken me 30 minutes to compose an introductory paragraph.
The subjective facts: Everything else.
Yes, everything else represents evaluative norms. I am judging my writer’s block, characterizing it as unacceptable. I am judging my demeanor, characterizing it as caustic. I am judging this example, characterizing it as overwrought. Even writer’s block is a subjective, emotion-laden term.
The effects of these scathing self-recriminations are pernicious. When I apply emotional terms (frustration, anger) or personalize the task (lack of competency, adequacy), the neutral mind devolves into an emotional ember. My temperament changes; I vacillate between standoffish and biting. The emotional whiplash drains me–and my loved ones.
Yes, our minds constantly evaluate, probing for information to validate our self-identity. We judge ourselves and others, labeling thoughts as “good” or “bad.” For those battling depression or anxiety, we have a heightened sense of self-appraisal. The sad irony: those subjective labels are wildly inaccurate.
Here’s another real-world example of subjective self-flagellation. You failed an exam. As soon as your professor returns your red-coated exam, the battering ram of distressing thoughts hammer aways. Here’s the unassailable truth: you failed an exam. The mean-spirited invective about your intelligence, worth, or competence? Completely untrue. If you battle depression or anxiety, these subjective thoughts are imprisoning — and likely torturing you. You feel inferior — like a cheap imposter masquerading as a competent human being.
Depression and anxiety squash hope, turning us into passive, cynical observers. But we — all of us in the throes of depression and anxiety — can challenge cyclical thinking with one fundamental rule: describe, don’t despair. When you are anxious, practice describing your anxiety with factual statements. “There is sweat trickling down my forehand; interacting with Robert worsens my anxiety.” When you are depressed, practice describing your depression. “I become tired at 4:00 PM everyday.” And when you have writer’s block, practice describing your writing impasse.
“Writer’s block is a misnomer; it is my judgmental mind short-circuiting my wise, descriptive mind. I will observe without judgement.”