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Day 19: Managing Your Beliefs

A major component of winning at NaNoWriMo is conquering the mental game. In fact, I’d clock it at least 50% of the challenge. What is hard about Nano is generating a lot to say and having the guts to sit down and say it.

So, today we’re going to focus on keeping you in the game by looking at the limiting beliefs that you may hold. For a deeper dive into limiting beliefs check out my workbook on the topic.

Donald Maass (agent and writer) says that what separates successful authors from the rest is confidence. “Our greatest storytellers are not born into money; they are not better educated, more tormented, or quicker studies. What they do have that others lack is the confidence that they can pull off improbable stunts on the page and get away with them. Their stories matter, they know that.”

But it is hard to conjure up that kind of confidence when we are being assaulted by the messages of our limiting beliefs. To tackle these pernicious little devils it’s helpful to understand something about their nature.

Why does our mind hound us? Our brains perpetuate limiting beliefs because our brains don’t judge them as being harmful. Our brains are interested in the status quo. But when you get a big idea like “I’m going to write a novel! And, just for fun, I’m going to do it in thirty days!” your brain freaks out. This the brain judges as a bad idea because it disrupts the status quo. “Wait a sec!” your brain thinks, “I just had your brain chemistry in complete equilibrium and you come in here with your crazy notions…”

Well – perhaps that’s overly dramatic. Your brain is invested in you playing small and safe because when you keep doing what you’ve always done, it can easily do its chief job, which is to maintain homeostasis. Limiting beliefs keep you playing in that small space where your brain knows how to cope.

So, how do we overcome our limiting beliefs? There are three simple steps that you can use to banish these beliefs:

  1. Make the Limiting Beliefs Conscious
  2. Counter the Belief
  3. Break the Cycle

Make it Conscious

The first step is to name your limiting beliefs. Become aware of the messages that you are telling yourself. By naming them, you are dragging them out into the light of awareness. They can no longer just hide in the darkness doing their thing. So, take a moment to write down some of your limiting beliefs around writing. I’m not trying to put ideas in your head, but some examples are: “I’m not good enough.” “Who would read my stuff anyway?” “This is a waste of time.”

Counter the Belief

Next, you want to counter the limiting belief. We can assume that you’ve accumulated evidence that supports the belief, but what contradicts it?

To “I’m not good enough,” you might counter, “Says who?” “Who determines how good I need to be?” “Writers write!”

For “Who would read my stuff anyway?” try “No one can read it if I don’t try.” “I want to read my stuff. Maybe there are more like me.” “As I keep getting better who knows what will happen?”

If you’re telling yourself “This is a waste of time,” turn it around with “I love to write, I’m doing this for me.” “I won’t truly know the value of this until I give it a try,” or “If I learn from it, I benefit.”

Break the Cycle

Limiting Beliefs arise in our conscious because they stop us from engaging in behavior that makes us feel uncomfortable. They keep us in a safe zone. If you’ve decided that you want to break free of your limiting beliefs, you have to break the cycle of feeling safe. But in breaking the cycle, recognize that you might experience some discomfort very much like the addict who gets withdrawal symptoms. (And believe it or not, there’s a chemical reason for that discomfort).

One powerful technique to break the cycle is Thought Stopping. It is pretty self-explanatory: whenever you catching yourself thinking the limiting belief, say “Stop!” Say it out loud. Yell it if you can. If you can’t scream then yell it internally. The point is to disrupt the process, so be as dramatic as you can.

Next, bring up the counter belief. Invite in the more positive feelings associated with your counter belief and really bask in those feelings. Like that addict, you might feel the pangs of withdrawal. In a very literal way, you’ve been addicted to the feelings associated with your limiting belief. So, if you feel discomfort just acknowledge that you are doing the difficult work of changing your belief system. If you persist, those negative feelings will diminish.

Again, for a much fuller treatment, you can check out my Limiting Beliefs Workbook.

In his wonderful book The Emotional Craft of Fiction, Donald Maass writes, “In some ways, the most important work you do in writing your novel is the work you do on yourself.” Think of Nano as an invitation into that space.

Visit the Countdown to Nano Program Site for a listing of all the articles in the series.

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Need someone to bounce your ideas off so that you're ready for Nano? I love to help Wrimos focus their writing efforts so I'm offering a free 30-minute consultation to help you structure your approach to Nano. You can sign up here.

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