The Psychology of failure?

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I have often pondered what this is, and always hoped it would never affect me.

Well, I have a cold at the moment and I feel it is beyond me to write anything intelligible.

Is this, I wonder, what people might consider a form of writers block? After all it is not that I cannot physically put pen to paper – no, my fingers still work – it is more the belief that I cannot write anything that will be worth reading.

And there I think is the nub of ‘writers block’, which becomes much more comprehensible if we rephrase it ‘the belief of not being good enough’.

Before I moved to Greece, in my psychotherapy practice, this underlying feeling of ‘not being good enough’ often accompanied presented issues, though it was seldom recognised as a problem in itself. Instead the individuals I am thinking of came with statements that suggested that ‘life’ was thwarting them and preventing them from getting where they wanted, and deserved, to be and that obstacles (often partners) stood in the way to the progress they expected to make.

There was a sense of frustration and hopelessness.

But these were capable, creative and intelligent people!

On closer investigation, and following a lot of hard work on their behalf, it was revealed that as they reached one ambitious target they would create another, each time setting something that they believed was just beyond their reach. This (subconscious) strategy confirmed  again and again that they were ‘just not good enough’ to succeed.

By the time they came to me they were exhausted by their own high standards and at a point where they felt that if I could not ‘solve’ their issues, they were justified in giving up. As if to back up these thoughts, the clients I am recalling stopped using every waking hour to struggle towards these out of reach ambitions and they suddenly found themselves with a great deal of free time which they filled watching television or endlessly walking the dog, or some other equally unsatisfying pastime.

But it did not take long for these hours to be filled more constructively. One took up dress making, another took to dabbling with inventions in his garage, constructing ideas that had been roaming around in his head for some time.

You can probably see what was going on now…

It only took a small amount of investigation to find that their ambitious heights had never really been self motivated. One was a ‘mothers dream’ as well as an attempt to keep up with a sibling.

Another was a spouse’s expectation and both were (worse and worse but increasingly common), a social expectation in order to live the ‘glamorous’ modern life.

Once these internal constructions began to crumble they quickly recognised that their own, more heartfelt dreams were very different, much more easily achieved, and far more satisfying. Feelings of not being good enough disappeared and they said goodbye to me as they set off to follow new and remarkably different life styles.

So, back to my writers block that I have because of this cold. It is true that I do not feel up to the focused work it takes to live through a  character’s eyes and write down their story as part of a novel.

Today that is firmly beyond my reach. It requires energy that I do not have. But if I moderate my expectations and instead ask myself what I can manage, (like a six hundred word blog entry perhaps?) somehow I no longer feel that the world is overwhelming me, my blocked nose does not seem to be the inconvenience I thought it was, and the words have flown through my pen and culminate with a satisfactory full stop.

7 thoughts on “The Psychology of failure?

  1. Dear Sara

    An interesting email. I think that having a cold prevents logical, intelligent and creative thinking anyway: don’t feel you have to struggle on, take a day or so to recharge your batteries, especially if you’re in beautiful Greece!

    Should your creative juices continue to flow though, I (and all your fans) will be delighted!

    Margaret x

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Dear Sara,

    In spite of having a cold, which would block anyone’s thoughts about productivity, you have written an amazingly thoughtful message about not being able to achieve goals. You are to be complimented!

    Among other things I do with my life, which include a small retail store, Japanese garden design (when I can find the time) and CEO of a non-profit organization, I have taught ikebana for the past 30 years or so. This is the art of Japanese flower arranging. One thing I explain right at the beginning for my students, is the concept of “ma” which is the “space between”…the empty space…the space to think (in music it is the space between the notes). Without the empty space in the ikebana design, the composition is out of balance. I think with all busy, creative people who have so much they want to accomplish, there is the need to find “ma”, the “space to think”. One of my students recently said to me, very delightedly, “the empty space is the place to let the butterfly fly through”. I thought is was a wonderful way to put it!

    We need to give ourselves “downtime” and then miraculously energy and new ideas happen!

    Very best,
    Mary Burnett de Gomez

    • Dear Mary,
      Thank you for such a interesting and thought provoking comment. I very much like the concept of the “ma” and the idea of the “butterflies of the ideas” flying through and around taking shape is one that will remain with me. It the the space between that I most want to capture as a writer, the words that entice the imagination to fly and create and make the story real and unique to the individual.

  3. Wow I couldn’t have attempted this when well never mind when poorly!

    Take care and rest up

    Happy writing when fully recovered.

    Susan x

  4. You are sick. Take a break from writing. Relax and concentrate on getting well. The words will come to you as your health returns.

  5. Here I am very far behind in reading my emails. I remember seeing the posts on Facebook that you were not feeling up to par; and I am assuming that you are much better now. If I lived near you, I would have raced over with homemade bread and a pot of chicken noodle soup. Matter-of-fact, I have a loaf of homemade bread rising right now; which will be in the oven within an hour. It is a made from scratch pumpkin bread – not the sweet dessert type, but the soft and fluffy yeast style. I wish I could overnight you a fresh loaf. Thank you for all the wonderful books you have written and the ones coming in the future. PLUS – the Greek Village Tote bag you sent me is being used every day. I love it. Take care of yourself, dear lady. We all love you.

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