Winning Mind Games with Yourself

I have no problem giving advice, on topics in which I have varying degrees of actual experience. I try to make sure the advice is asked-for; I save the unsolicited advice for family members.

It turns out there is a lot of overlap in the advice for dealing with kids, managing employees, and motivating yourself.

This particular solicitation for advice came from an author, C. S. Carrig. We were discussing character motivation and reader preferences (with me representing all of readerdom). His work-in-progress [now complete: The Hall of Mirrors Effect] has it all: sci-fi, fantasy, megacorps, fiefdoms, multi-layered protagonists and antagonists.

After we talked about one of the antagonists, he told me about the mind games he was playing with himself. “Ever since I first encountered Game of Thrones,” said C. S., “and realized that George R. R. Martin did with medieval fantasy what I was trying to do with sci-fi… my resolve just hasn’t been the same.”

Arguing with other people can be taxing enough, but beating yourself up is doubly so—you’re playing Ironman football against yourself, running offense and defense simultaneously. And advice like “well, stop doing that” is as useful as it is original: not at all.

Vector illustration of Tomoe-nage Judo throwing technique by WikiCommons user Jdcollins13.

Illustration by Jdcollins13 on WikiCommons, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

If your mind is already “warmed up” and has your motivation on the ropes, try some judo-style moves on it instead. Use its energy in your favor. Give it a new place to go.

In this case, I advised C.S. to replace it with a useful mind game. The book has been published, and an interviewer is asking you to answer the critics who claim you just dropped Game of Thrones into a sci-fi setting. What do you want to say to them? How is your already-published novel not a direct port? Then take that answer back to the present, and make sure your book supports it clearly.

I don’t know what the outcome of those mind games are (yet). But the change in approach was helpful—C. S. got his groove back. His writing was getting derailed, so he took it down another set of tracks temporarily, rather than try to wrestle it back in place, since that wasn’t working.

This is good advice for writers, but also for parents, managers, engineers, and anyone whose mind starts second-guessing and gets in the way at times. Sleeping on a problem is good advice, but when you can’t nap in the middle of the day, try giving your inner saboteur a new target.

I’ll close with C. S.’s words, since I’m shameless: “I’m sure you’ve been told this, but you’re a pretty helpful guy in a pinch.”


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