Polarized thinking occurs when you believe that there are only right or wrong outcomes or views. When you view things in terms of pure good or pure bad it leads to unachievable standards and high stress levels. For writers, polarized thinking crops up when you find yourself basing your hopes and expectations on a single event or outcome such as a publication accepting your work, universally good reviews, a specific level of income, or even a certain level of satisfaction.

Here is an example of polarized thinking:

Poor self-talk: Finishing this book of poetry is going to finally make me happy as a writer. It will prove that I am a real writer. Every poem has to be my best work though. I can’t include any poems that I’m not completely satisfied with. The whole book has to be great from cover to cover. I want each poem to be a unique and special experience so that no one can come away without loving this book. Then, I will finally be happy as a writer.

Realistic self-talk: Finishing this book of poetry will be a great achievement for me, but it isn’t the sole justification for calling myself a writer. I’ve been sweating and fretting over these poems for a long time. I would love to say I’m completely satisfied, but that seems unrealistic. I like all of my poems, but if I waited until I loved each and every poem, I would probably never finish. I hope that other people like my work, but poetry is personal, and I know that some people will like it more than others.

Some ways to avoid polarized thinking:

  • Realize that there are a lot of levels between triumph and tragedy and that most things fall somewhere in between
  • Understand that no single accomplishment or failure is going to determine your future happiness.
  • Don’t expect that your values will never change or that other people will value the same things.
  • Try to figure out what the actual consequences of failure are, and have a plan for dealing with those consequences.

Note: The terminology I am using from an excellent textbook called Stress Management for Wellness by Walt Schafer.

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