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The Crippling Voices of Criticism

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“You used to write?  I didn’t know that.”  That’s what my close friend said to me last week.  And it got me thinking…

The truth is, I did used to write.  I used to write for fun.  I used to write as a way to connect with people.  Teachers and professors used to tell me I was good at it.  An English professor took me aside once after reading a story I had written for an assignment and told me, “You are a writer. You will always be a writer.  Even if you never put another word down on paper, you will still be a writer inside.”

I used to write stories for friends.  I loved making them laugh.  When friends were away on church missions or at school, I would send them stories with characters based on people we knew as a way to keep them posted on the happenings at home.   I wrote a long story for my Singles-Family-Home-Evening group, which I would share with them as a serial, one chapter at a time.  

I decided to take all of those chapters and put them together to make a book.  It wasn’t something publishers were interested in because it was really only meant for my friends.  However, with modern publishing technology, books can now be printed one at a time, as they are needed.  I discovered there was a division of Random House that offered this service and it wouldn’t cost me a dime.  People could buy the book if they wanted to, and the publisher would just take a large cut.  Did someone say free?  Perfect!

So I put together two books this way.  Now friends could buy nice copies of my stories.  The problem was that other people bought the books, too.  And the books weren’t ready for that.  They were little more than rough drafts.  No editor had ever worked on them, and all writers know that a good editor is just as important as a good writer, maybe even more so, if you want a book to be good.

My books weren’t ready for strangers to read them, and neither was I.   

At first I was amazed that people who weren’t my friends would actually take the time to read a story I wrote.  I got a fan letter from a man in Costa Rica, for heaven’s sake!   But then the criticism started.  At first, I could explain away the negative comments.   “There are so many spelling errors.” (Of course there are. It’s just a rough story.)  “How dare you portray a Bishop of our church in such a negative way.” (If you don’t think Church leaders have faults, you haven’t been around many of them, and you will someday have a harsh awakening.)  As the criticisms piled on, I couldn’t explain them away fast enough.  

I suppose there are some people who would have developed a thick skin from this, but I didn’t.  The callouses never formed.  I was left with tender open wounds.  

Those books became an embarrassing symbol of my lack of talent.   I stored away the outline of the novel I’d been working on and I stopped writing completely.   Most of the times  I would try to write anything, the words simply wouldn’t come.   On the rare occasions when the words came, I would rewrite and erase the same sentences over and over again, each time declaring them to be terrible.  My life as a writer was over.

I took up painting.  I loved painting!  It was fun!  I’d paint pictures for friends and family.  I was told I was pretty good.  Then I entered some paintings in contests and they were rejected and criticized.  I didn’t paint again for weeks.  I probably never would have painted again if I didn’t have to teach students.  Even now, I don’t paint for fun anymore.  I paint to earn money, but the fun is gone.

Do you see a pattern here?  I do.

Whenever I find something I am good at and enjoy doing, I let the trolls of the world criticize me until I can’t find the joy in it anymore.  

A couple of months ago, I was cleaning my parents house and I ran across a copy of my book.  I tossed it in the trash without even cracking the cover.  I couldn’t look at it without feeling sick to my stomach.

However, finding that book sparked enough curiosity to make me look online to see if my books were still for sale.  Sure enough, The Junction and A Shadow From the Past were not only selling, but available for Kindle as well.  With a few clicks, I found myself at another site looking at reviews of my books.  And I was stunned by what I read:

A Shadow From the Past is a fun story. Classic tale of boy who comes home and battles his past. The LDS background is just that… background. It doesn’t play a big part in the story, but it would be enjoyable for Mormon readers. Nothing really objectionable for younger readers. Overall, it reaches the level of a good book, but there are parts of this book that are truly magical and unforgettable. It’s a heartfelt book. For those parts alone, this book is worth reading.

 

The Junction is a very interesting story. It’s unlike any other LDS novel I have read. The author isn’t afraid to show the realities of mission life. This isn’t your typical rose-colored view of mormon missionaries. Yet it isn’t critical of the church or negative — just realistic. It’s an easy, fun read. It’s good to see something like this come out of the LDS community. I would compare it to Brigham City in style and feeling.

Okay, when I say I was stunned, that is not an exaggeration.  I had convinced myself that there wasn’t anything good that could be said about anything I’d ever written.  But here were a couple of people who actually enjoyed reading those books!   

Look, I know there are always going to be people who find fault in what I do.  I also know that constructive criticism can help a person grow as an artist.

In his book, “Look at the Sky”, George D. Durrant tells the following story:

     I recall the first art class I took, way back in my early college days.  It took all the confidence I could muster just to enroll.  I knew that everyone else in the call would be Leonardo da Vincis and I’d suffer much self-inflicted humiliation as I compared my meager abilities with theirs.

      I did my first painting for the class in watercolors.  It turned out a little better than I thought it might when I first put the paint on the paper.  Even so, I was shocked and filled with fear when the teacher announced, “I see that most of you have completed your first painting. So let’s all put them up here along the wall.  When they are all in place we will criticize one another’s work.”

     I thought to myself, I didn’t know I’d have to put my picture up to be criticized.  If I had known that, I would have never taken this class.

     But having no choice, I reluctantly put my picture on the far right of the display.  I hoped that the criticism would begin with the pictures on the left side and maybe the class time would end before it was my turn.  Or I hoped at least they’d use up all their criticisms on the other paintings before they got to mine.

     As the discussions of the first few paintings were taking place, I didn’t say anything about anybody else’s efforts.  I hoped my silence would indicate that I had no desire to criticize their work, and then, if they were Christians, they wouldn’t say anything about mine.

     But the clock moved so slowly and the discussion so rapidly that with five minutes remaining, all eyes except mine focused on my work.  My insecurities made it so that I could not muster the courage to look up.  As everyone looked at my painting there were several seconds of silence.

     Then I heard a girl’s voice.  In a quiet, kindly tone she said, “I like the sky.”  Those four words gave me a small feeling of confidence.  I lifted my eyes and looked up at the painting.  To myself, I said, By George, that is a nice sky.

     From the other side of the room, a fellow spoke up. “but he has go the foreground all fouled up.”

     In my mind I responded, Why don’t you look at the sky?

     And then I thought, Next time he won’t be able to say such a thing, because next time my foreground will be as good as my sky.

Why can’t I be more like George D. Durrant?  Why can’t criticism give me the determination to be better and prove them wrong, instead of just giving up and losing all confidence? 

What if I had continued writing?  What would I be like now, having an additional 15 years of writing experience under my belt?  I can tell you one thing, if I had kept writing, my close friends wouldn’t be saying, “You used to write?  I didn’t know that.”

 I looked for that old outline of a novel that I stored away all those years ago.  I found it and skimmed through it.  Guess what, it was pretty good.  But I don’t know how to write it anymore.  I self-edit to the point that nothing comes out.

So here is my question to you, dear readers:  How do you do what you do?  How do you writers get the negative voices out of your head?  How do you artists ignore everyone who says you are no good?  How do you creative people go on creating when people tell you your creations are worthless?  How do you not give up?  How do you continue enjoying what you do?

I really want to know.  

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That Can’t Possibly Help My Addiction — Part Two — Positive Affirmations

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Preface:

Every once in a while, someone in a 12-step meeting will confidently testify of a treatment for addiction — something that changed their life and gives them power to get through another day.  My first reaction to these suggestions is almost always a cynical one.  Come on, it can’t be that simple!  However, I am learning to not discount the effectiveness of something just because it doesn’t make sense.   I started trying some of these crazy ideas and discovered that they actually worked!  I’ve decided to make a series of blog posts about a few of these counter-intuitive actions that make recovery a reality.

Positive Affirmations

ImageThe whole concept of trying to change your life by repeating positive statements about yourself seemed like a joke to me.  Admittedly, my opinion was probably shaped a great deal by Stuart Smalley, the effeminate Saturday Night Live character created by Al Franken in the 1990’s, who was a a member of many twelve-step groups and stands in front of the mirror in his powder blue sweater chanting, ” I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone It, people like me!

It all seemed so wimpy and New Age.  I could hardly even entertain the idea of actually trying it.  But then someone explained it to me in a way that rang true in my mind.  He pointed out the fact that almost since birth, everyone around me has told me what and who I am.  “You are adopted.”  “You are fat.”  “You suck at math.”  “Your handwriting is terrible.”  “You shouldn’t try that because people will laugh at you.”  “Nobody is as good a helper as you are.”  “You should stick with what you are good at.”

It didn’t take long before the YOU turned into an I and my inner voice was defined and my self-image took shape.  This wasn’t anything sinister or planned on the part of those other people.  It’s just a part of growing up.  And some of us are more susceptible than others to these external voices around us.

So doesn’t it make sense to keep reminding yourself of the person you want to be?  Shouldn’t we at least try to counter balance the external voices that have bombarded us on a daily basis since we were old enough to understand?  This is where positive affirmations come in.  And here is the amazing part:  They actually work!  And they start to work almost immediately!

So how do you make your own affirmations?  It’s not rocket science.  First, decide what areas of your life you want to improve.  In the case of addiction, you want to improve the parts of your life that LED to the addiction.  Get to the roots of the problem.  Remember, addiction is a symptom of other underlying issues.

Next, write out a few positive statements for each of the areas you want to work on. Your statements should be short, positive, and in the 1st person present tense.  And keep your list small — work on a few at a time.  Affirmations are most effective when they are few and repeated often.   Remember to focus on the goal, not where you are now.

For example, if you have a sexual addiction that developed because of your need to feel loved and accepted, your affirmation would not be, “I am not a sexual addict.”  It might look something like:

“I am more than enough.”  “I fully accept who I am.”  “Other people enjoy being around me.”

It’s that simple.   Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it’s prideful to make these statements about yourself.  These are worthy goals and eternal truths.  You are only helping yourself become convinced of their reality.

My list of affirmations changes and adapts.  I add affirmations and remove them, depending on my current need.  But but some of the more important ones, never leave the list.  My list of affirmations that don’t change are as follows:

I choose my behavior

I am a Child of God with infinite worth.

I am always taken care of.

God loves me and accepts me.

I am always more than enough.

The worth of my soul is great.

I now fully accept myself.

My body is now in perfect balance.

I am always healthy and strong.

Everything I touch prospers.

Other people feel their worth when they are in my presence.

Everything works together for my good.

I don’t fear, because God is protecting me.

I choose my actions based on long-term prosperity.

My Spirit and my Physical body are in tune and in perfect sync.

I enjoy physical activity

I eat only when my body needs nourishment.

Okay, okay, I am fully aware that I am not as far down the road of accomplishing some of these as I should be.  That’s why I they are on my list.  Some of them are simply factual statements that I need to be reminded of on a daily basis because I tend to forget them, and when I do, my life goes to hell.

So now that you have a few affirmations, how do you get them into your head?  There are many ways that people choose to do it.  Most of them aren’t something I could keep doing on a consistent basis.

1. Stand in front of a mirror and repeat the affirmations to yourself.  (Too much like Stuart Smalley.  I know myself well enough to know I wouldn’t do this.)

2. Write them down several times a day while repeating them in your mind.  (Way too much work for me.  I know I would give up after a couple of days.)

3. Subliminal recordings.  (I’m just not sold on this method for me.  I wanted something I could do myself and something that I could focus on with my conscious mind as well.)

I knew I needed a way to get these thoughts into my head without having to put in much daily effort.  That’s just me.

Years ago, I learned that classical music (especially Baroque music) stimulates the brain.  When I was in high school, I would sometimes play Handel while I studied for a test, in hopes that it would help the knowledge to sink into my brain.  I decided to use music to help me with my affirmations.

I simply recorded myself saying my affirmations clearly and slowly.  Then I looped them to repeat over and over again for 15 minutes.  Then I added a background of Bach and Handel.   So I have an MP3 that I can listen to each night as I fall asleep, because it’s believed that the human mind is most accepting of affirmations when it is at rest.  Sometimes I listen to it first thing in the morning, as well.  I also burned it onto a CD and sometimes I listen to it in the car.

I can tell a difference in my attitude, confidence, and choices when I listen do my affirmations on a regular basis.  It’s just another one of those wacky things that has to be tried to be understood.

Change your thinking and change yourself.

Below is a list of affirmations that I like.  Maybe they will inspire your own affirmations.  Good luck!

  • I feel God’s love for me each hour.
  • I trust him and I walk in confidence through life, knowing that he protects me.
  • I trust that everything that happens to me is for my good and long-term happiness.
  • My relationship with God is very trusting.
  • I know that He loves me and desires my happiness.
  • I am directed each day through the spirit as I seek His guidance in my life.
  • I clearly see and recognize God’s hand in my life as I take time to listen and be still.
  • It feels good receive promptings and be an instrument in the Hand of the Lord.
  • I feel peace and confidence knowing that God is with me each day.
  • My relationship with God grows as I have meaningful daily prayers and scripture study.
  • I talk with God as a friend and take time to listen for answers as I seek His guidance.
  • I feel uplifted, peaceful and strengthened after I pray.
  • I receive answers to my questions and inspiration for others as I search the scriptures.
  • I take time to apply what I read into my life.
  • I receive instructions from God continually for me and for those in my stewardship.
  • I live righteously enough to receive those messages when they come.
  • I see people’s lives blessed and my life blessed as well
  • I am always inspired in the council I give to others.
  • God puts me in the right place at the right time.
  • I ask God for what I need. He freely blesses me.
  • I know my prayers are heard.
  • I expect to receive inspiration
  • I take opportunities to ponder and meditate each day
  • I am still and know God
  • I experience now in this moment how it feels to have this connection
  • I see myself taking steps to connect with God
  • I am filled with his love
  • I see myself as God sees me
  • I am always aware of the help that surrounds me
  • I am a valiant son of God.
  • I have great faith in Jesus Christ.
  • My faith guides me every day.
  • I am calm and steady throughout my life, no matter what is going on around me.
  • I am an example to others.
  • I find joy in obeying the commandments.
  • I am confident with who I am, and how I live my life.
  • I have a kind and sensitive heart and genuine desire to help others in need.
  • I am creative.
  • God expects me to be a creator of things.
  • I am excited to try new things.
  • I experiment with new ideas and techniques.
  • I am artistic.
  • I love meeting new people and I am a friend to those around me.
  • I’m a positive person who looks for the good in everyone.
  • I respect myself.
  • I take care of my physical, emotional and spiritual needs so I am at my best
  • Others feel better about themselves and uplifted after being in my presence
  • I treat others with kindness and love.
  • I am calm and steady in the direction I’m going
  • All things work out for my good.
  • I connect with my higher self and learn from his wisdom.
  • My relationship with my wife, family and friends is one of love, respect and support.
  • People feel and know the love I have for them through my words and actions.
  • I have balanced relationships.
  • I give great service to others
  • I experience connection, camaraderie and fulfillment as I support them and they support me.
  • I contact my friends often.
  • I enjoy having friendships.
  • I am a supportive husband.
  • My wife’s callings are also mine.
  • I respect others for who they are.
  • I take time to savor my relationships.
  • I am a good listener.
  • I don’t try to “fix” other people or change them to suit my needs.
  • My outside reflects the inside.
  • I have an abundance of energy.
  • My body and mind are renewed each morning.
  • I enjoy starting my day by waking up early in the morning feeling rested and clear .
  • My body is in complete harmony physically, both inside and out.
  • I am in tune with my body.
  • My body tells me what kind of nutrition, exercise or rest it needs.
  • I take time to listen to my body.
  • I am attracted to the foods that help my body perform at a higher level.
  • I feel great!
  • I eat small meals, several times a day.
  • I eat when I am hungry.
  • My body is attracted to foods that serve me
  • I am always healthy and strong
  • My body is now in perfect balance
  • I experience myself doing the work of keeping my body strong
  • There is harmony and balance in all of my systems
  • I’m attracted to foods that allow my body to function at the highest levels
  • There is a bounce in my step
  • I take time to experience health
  • I experience vibrant athletic energy
  • I regularly exercise my body
  • I listen to my body and take care of its needs
  • My body regulates itself and works to be at my proper weight.
  • My body has perfect balance.
  • I live debt free.
  • I am in alignment with the spiritual laws of abundance
  • I have more than I will ever need.
  • I have more than enough to store away.
  • I have enough to share with others.
  • I live in a home that is paid for.
  • I always have more than enough
  • I spend my time and talents doing the most important things for my purpose
  • I trust that God will always provide for me, so I share freely and I know it always comes back to me 100 fold.
  • I Experience how it feels to have everything paid for, and several years of resources available.
  • I Experience how it is to have such abundance and tranquility in my life.
  • I Experience financial power and the ability to enact my vision
  • Our house has room enough to welcome others in need.
  • I feel secure because I know I have enough money to live on for years.
  • I have skills that make me very profitable.
  • I have investments and businesses that continually provide a generous income.
  • I am my own boss.
  • I pay my tithes and offerings with gladness and gratitude.
  • My prosperity prospers others. Their prosperity prospers me.
  • I constantly find ways to help people.
  • I leave everything more beautiful than I found it.
  • I make the world a better place.
  • I know that I deserve love and I accept it now.
  • I give out love and it is returned to me multiplied

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