I realized the other day that there is a misconception in the way we think about states of mind—that they are fixed, static, and once attained, never lost. Most of all, that they can be “achieved,” held, and maintained without any further work on our part.
My recent fluctuations in mentalities have proven all of this to be a complete myth. A “state” of mind is no more static and self-sustaining than a ruler balanced on end in your palm—look away or forget it, and it will fall.
Instead, states of mind must be actively pursued and constantly reinforced, built up again and again when they crumble or waver.
This… isn’t the best of news. When you finally seize upon the mentality that you don’t care what people think, you might be tempted to think you are done. Achievement unlocked! But the fact is that you can start to slip, feeling renewed doubts and insecurities, and you have to start that work of not caring all over again.
I think the negative mentalities we all face—in creating, in body image, in self-consciousness, in privilege and indoctrinated racism/sexism—are patterns our minds have learned and settled into, and it takes a lot more work than a single positive thought to undo them. I don’t know if they can ever be completely undone. Instead, you have to continue to tear these thoughts down, to build up your positive mentalities, over and over again.
In writing, I face a very simple cycle of anxiety and calm—I get anxious about length, pacing, and speed, I remind myself that these things don’t matter in a first draft, I calm myself… only to get anxious again in no time. I think it’s the same process that we face with separating ourselves from our desire for quality—we have to tell ourselves, again and again, that it’s okay that it’s bad, that it will get good later. But even when we can acknowledge these truths, we still fall back into doubt.
It’s why you can hear the same writing advice over and over again—write badly, write for fun, who cares?—and it can still fail to sink in. I think it’s because this whole idea of “sinking in” is either false, or takes far longer than a single positive experience. We have to constantly renew our knowledge, constantly go after the patterns of thought we desire, constantly deconstruct the negative mentalities that hold us back.
It’s not a one-time process, unfortunately. But once you learn the skillset of how to do it the one time—how to stop caring what others think, how to continue writing anyway—you can continue to do it. The key is not to get discouraged when the old thoughts remain, when they sneak back in, when they take over again. If you get angry or ashamed at them, you might lose the energy to fight them off. Instead, accept that they are a part of you, that you have defeated them before, and will do so now and every time that you need to.
Just focus on winning the first time—and on learning how you did it so you can do it again. And when you have to do it again, don’t feel bad or give up.
Win every day.