4 October 2018


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How to defeat your inner critic and keep writing

By Catherine Pope

October 4, 2018

Posted in Writing

Most of us start out with good intentions to get some writing done. Then we hear the unwelcome voice of our Inner Critic: “You’re not really a writer” … “Who on earth are you, anyway?” … “Have you seen the state of the kitchen floor?” Sometimes this adversary can be silenced with a chocolate biscuit, but often a more robust method is necessary. It starts with ABCDE.

ABCDE is a tool developed by Professor Martin Seligman, one of the founders of Positive Psychology. His books Authentic Happiness and Learned Optimism are indispensable for unpicking the stories we tell ourselves and how that affects our lives.

Here’s how you might use ABCDE to overcome your writing challenge.

A is for ADVERSITY – Consider the situation you’re in right now and describe it in as much detail as possible. But here’s the thing: you have to do so using only facts. So, it’s OK to say “I didn’t get any writing done today,” or “I missed my deadline,” but not “I’m a useless piece of baggage.”

B is for BELIEFS – What did the situation say to you? Did it confirm any long-held beliefs, such as “I’m not really a writer,” “I simply don’t have time”? Look out for any absolutes, e.g. “I never get anything done,” or “This always happens”.

C is for CONSEQUENCES – How did that make you feel? And what were the consequences? Did you abandon all hope of getting anything done and eat a tube of Pringles instead? Note, these are the consequences of your beliefs and not of the situation. If you’re familiar with Cognitive Based Therapy (CBT) you’ll probably know that our thoughts cause feelings that then determine our actions. Once we’re aware of what’s going on up there, we can intervene.

D is for DISPUTE – We’re not going to sit back and take this nonsense – it’s time to deploy some hard-nosed evidence. I probably don’t know you, but I’m willing to bet you’ve achieved a great deal in your life. This is unlikely to be the first time you’ve attempted a piece of writing. What’s your track record? Did you successfully complete a Masters’ dissertation, publish a book, or submit a journal article? If not, there will be other comparable achievements that seemed impossible at the time, yet you actually conquered. It shouldn’t take you long to establish that those Beliefs above just aren’t true.

E is for ENERGISE – Next, reflect on how you’re feeling now. What’s happened to your mood? Can you see any solutions that were invisible in that pit of despair? Are you ready to get going again in the knowledge that this writing challenge is completely within your capabilities? The Inner Critic won’t necessarily go away, but you’ll be able to vanquish it in moments.

This exercise is especially effective if you write down your responses. It’s then easy for you to whip out the document in moments of despond. Although it can take a matter of moments for our mood to slump, it can just as quickly move in the opposite direction. In short, trust the evidence, not your emotions.

You can download an ABCDE worksheet in either PDF or Word format.

Catherine Pope

About the author

Since completing her PhD in 2014, Catherine has supported thousands of researchers through to the finish line. Having enjoyed a varied career as a web developer, lecturer, and coach, Catherine now shares her skills and knowledge through PhD Progress.

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