Thursday, January 4
One of the best things about winter vacation is the time for reading and reflection. I started by actually reading the book for my reading group (which means that I am allowed to speak - a written rule, one must read to speak - at the upcoming meeting, unlike the last one), and then read a few books tangentially related to my research and teaching that I've been putting off, and today I revisited an old self-help favorite, Loving What Is.

The Work is a process where you analyze a stressful belief by reflecting on four questions. A belief like, "I'm a failure" (hey, some fleeting beliefs we have are this outlandish). You ask yourself:

1. Is it true? (Uh, this paper got rejected for the third time. That sucks, but does it mean I'm a failure? Nah.)
2. Can you absolutely know it's true? (How does one measure "failureness"? If that can't be done, then I can't absolutely know I'm a failure.)
3. How do you react when you think that thought? (Well, it makes me want to go home, or close my work window and open Napster, or, most importantly, gives me an excuse not to send out this other paper I've been working on.)
4. Who would you be without this thought? (If I didn't have this nagging, negative self-belief I would be a confident academic, who could focus on their work and not on their faults).

My favorite part of the process is actually a fifth step (although it's not called a step), the turnaround. In the turnaround you do something to turn your thought around. You turn the thought around to yourself or another or to the opposite or to realizing it's a simple thought. So, if you choose the opposite option, "I'm a failure" becomes "I'm a success" (you could also turn it into "The paper is a failure" or "I only think I'm a failure" or something else). Then, as the second part of the turnaround, you ask yourself. Is that statement true, or truer? Using my own fleeting thought, and my own personal experiences, I have many important successes that trump my failures, and the turnaround is actually the truest of the two.

Sometimes we're so good at beating ourselves up that the more "comfortable" thought is the immediate one and the turnaround it a tough pill to swallow. It's worth it, though. When you're thinking to yourself, "I can't finish this paper," and it's actually that you know that you can finish the paper, it's both liberating and scary at the same time because you have to do it, and you know you can.

I went back and forth about writing this post, but I think that academics spend a lot of time in their own worlds, and that those worlds can sometimes get depressing and self-defeating, and for me The Work works to get me through some of those times (ice cream sometimes works too).


Dandelion said...

That sounds pretty helpful. Thanks for posting it!

fraud, in denim said...

You're welcome, Dandelion. :)

It works well for relationships (both personal and professional, too): "He treats me like crap" becomes "I treat myself like crap" or "They have no confidence in me" becomes "I have no confidence in myself" or "I have no confidence in them."

Writing the process down makes it all the more potent.

Turquoise Stuff said...

Thanks, Fraud (although now I feel like I should call you not-Fraud or Denim or something). This is definitely helpful to read.

Also, I'd like to add that I found your description of the process much more helpful than the original Web site so I'm glad you picked your own examples and story for passing on this advice. Thanks!

R. said...

I agree...this boils it down well. I read that book and was a bit...disillusioned. I need to disrupt my own negative messages but my first reading of The Work didn't help me do that at all. And I always wonder...where would we be without our self-doubt, self-recrimination, and self-deprecation?

fraud, in denim said...

"...where would we be without our self-doubt, self-recrimination, and self-deprecation?"

Well you're addressing someone who calls themself Fraud, so clearly I've got a balance of that in there too. I think that cognitive psychology (and the other books I've recommended on this subject are Feeling Good, or The Feeling Good Handbook, by Burns) is most exciting when there's that juxtaposition of self-doubt and deprecation with self-confidence and optimism.

There are lots of times when I think that my cognitive realignments paint a rosy picture of reality, but it's a nice balance with the pessimism of my immediate thoughts.

You also get to pick and choose when you use The Work (and you'll see I do this if you read some of my old posts!).

I'm glad it might be helpful. :)