"I'm Not Talented and I Don't Have a Chance!"
Hi, Dr. Maisel: I find that my own thoughts—thoughts like “I’m not really that talented” and “I don’t stand a chance”—get in the way of my ability to create. I could use some help! – Marcia L., Seattle
Sure thing, Marcia!
There are many extremely useful tactics available from the cognitive-behavioral school of therapy that you can use to get a better grip on your mind and help yourself think more productively and positively. Here’s one technique that I’ve created.
What typically happens is that you have a productive thought (like “I’m ready to paint!”) and then you immediately follow that productive thought up with an unproductive thought that stops you in your tracks. This sounds like “I’d love to practice the piano” followed by “I’m much too old to learn complicated piano music.” Or “I want to get a good grade on the exam” followed by “There’s too much material to learn in the next few days.” Or “If other people can teach online classes, I can too” followed by “But they probably have tech help and know some secrets that I don’t know.”
This cognitive sabotage happens all the time. It is almost what we do best as a species. What I would like you to do is to notice how this dynamic works in your own life. Look at your own defensiveness, self-unfriendliness and self-sabotage when it comes to those things that you claim matter to you. Too often we say that X matters and then we follow that thought with any number of thoughts that do not help us accomplish X. The discounting or self-sabotaging thought might be ‘I’m too tired to do X,’ ‘It’s too late in life for me to do X,’ ‘I’m too busy to do X,’ ‘I say that X matters to me but really it doesn’t,’ and so on.
Complete the following, filling in the X and Y with your own responses: “I say that X matters to me. But I often follow that thought up with Y thought, a thought that does not serve me. I no longer want to countenance that thought. And here’s what I’m going to do!” You may have more than one self-unfriendly Y thought—you may have lots of them! Include them all. The clearer you are on the things that you say to yourself that don’t serve you, the better your chances of extinguishing them.
Your exercise response might sound like the following: “I say that painting matters to me. But I often follow that thought up with ‘I have no talent,’ ‘The competition is too fierce out there,’ ‘I need to make money, not play at painting,’ and ‘I don’t have enough time to paint.’ I no longer want to countenance those thoughts. From now on the moment I hear one of those thoughts that don’t serve me I’m going to shout right back at it!”