YOU ARE NOT BROKEN
You are not broken.
There is nothing wrong with you, no deficiency to overcome.
Let me tell you what you don’t need.
You don’t need “self-help” gurus.
You don’t need vision boards or acronyms.
You don’t need a life coach.
You don’t need a 5-year plan. Or a 10-year plan.
You don’t need the new productivity app.
You don’t need trendy diets.
You don’t need to join the outrage culture.
You don’t need more webinars.
You don’t need pharmaceuticals.
You don’t need to be fixed because you are not broken.
MY BROKEN SELF
I thought I was. Multiple times, even more so now that I make myself more vulnerable than I’ve ever been.
A recent rejection had me putting my head in my hands and taking deep breaths. How? How could this person I’d admired and respected discard me?
At first, I felt a slow pressure in my abdomen, and I ran to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet, taking deep breaths and groaning from the pain. But my discomfort wasn’t physical and even though I knew that I couldn’t deal, I convinced myself that I suck at writing.
Why else would someone walk away once they saw my work? It had to be my fault. I was confident that I wasn’t good enough, not smart enough, completely defective, and not worthy of the time to invest in a project.
I tried to cry, but I couldn’t because I’m a middle-aged white man and we’re not supposed to show weakness, to show our feelings. Besides, I have all of the accumulated cultural advantages. How dare I complain about anything?
My lip bled, and I could taste the salty copper in my mouth as I bit down on it. Maybe physical pain would mask the emotional pain. It didn’t.
Responding immediately would have been a mistake, and I was able to let the message linger for a few hours, but there was no way I could last until the next morning to reply.
This is rejection. This is what it feels like, every time. No amount of drugs, counseling, or therapy will ever dull that razor’s edge. Rejection’s knife always cuts to the bone. It’s going to hurt no matter what you do to try and prevent it.
Because I’m broken, I thought. There’s something wrong with me, and they can smell it.
Fight or flight. Biology. It’s pure, simple, visceral, and brutal. You can’t ignore hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. When you are attacked, you either fight or you run. And in some rare circumstances, you freeze, but only until you’re then forced to fight or run. You can’t escape that decision.
Although it’s not helpful, I had to ask myself how I’d managed to get myself into this situation. I’ve done it many times. It goes something like this:
I’m fascinated by what someone is doing. I imagine that their skills and knowledge are far beyond what I could hope to acquire. I put them on a pedestal and then begin the process of building the shrine around it.
It starts innocently with a short message. I introduce myself, fawn over the person, and then hope the interest is reciprocated.
If I’m completely honest with myself, I do this because I fantasize about the potential for advancement. I’ve sent emails thinking, “If I can only get them to pay attention to me, all of my problems will disappear. My career will take off.”
Whatever that means.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve sought out creative partnerships solely because I believed I would benefit from them. It’s only natural for humans to be self-interested, and I’ve always delivered on my promises. But I’ve succumbed to this selfish approach many times.
And guess what? It never works that way.
You might have considered hitching your trailer to my wagon. You may have thought that if you could just partner with me that all of your problems would disappear.
They won’t. It never works that way.
But I’m not broken, and neither are you. That’s the truth we’ve yet to embrace.
Having my name on the cover of a book along with someone else’s has never moved the needle in the way I dreamed it would. Not once.
PICKING MYSELF UP
I take the day to wallow in it, but I try not to blame myself. That’s the truth. Rejection always hurts, but I force myself to reframe it, to remind myself that I can’t possibly know why I was rejected, even when the rejector tells me explicitly why. Humans are complicated creatures. What we say is not always what we mean.
After dealing with the pain and rejection, I accept the fact that I’m going to feel rotten for a day or two. But then my habits take over, and I can quickly recover.
This won’t cost you a thing. No need to buy a book, hire a life coach, or seek out an expensive therapist.
Everything you need to be happy and fulfilled is inside of you. It always has been.
Train your mind and your body, and you’ll realize that both have a tremendous capacity to heal and protect.
Erratic. Frantic. Hurried. That’s the state of your brain. You can’t focus, and yet, you can’t unfocus—falling deeper into a downward spiral of the negative feedback loop.
What if this happens? What if that happens? You repeatedly ask yourself questions that you can’t possibly answer.
This is anxiety.
So start with 5 minutes. Literally. Sit in silence with your eyes closed for five minutes.
Meditation is not the act of clearing your mind and reaching a moment of “Zen.” Charlatans sell that experience to those who haven’t tried meditation.
Your monkey brain will explode.
You’ll hear songs.
You’ll relive conversations you’ve had.
You’ll fantasize about the future.
That is meditation. You can’t ignore it. You can’t stop it from happening. You don’t need a yogi, or an app, or a special cushion. You just need a reminder: clarity.
Meditation is the act of forcing your mind to think about nothing, no matter how many times it tries to distract you. The benefit isn’t in the altered state, it’s in the pursuit of the altered state.
Five minutes. Every day as if your life depends on it because it does. As you become more comfortable, slowly increase the number of minutes you spend trying to quiet the chimp chatter.
You can’t walk to the bathroom without sucking wind. Your knees hurt from walking—that simple activity that humans need to be able to do their entire lives.
You’re better off smoking than sitting at that desk all day long. And don’t fool yourself into thinking a casual, nightly stroll before happy hour is a workout.
Exercise is like sex. If you can hold a casual conversation in the act, you’re doing it wrong.
Start with five minutes. Find some stairs and walk up and down them for five minutes. Or four. Or three. Or take four steps. Whatever you can do to create movement.
You don’t need an exercise bike connected to a studio in Los Angeles.
You don’t need a monthly gym membership.
You don’t need a basement with a set of free weights.
What you need is to move every single day.
Five minutes. Every day as if your life depends on it because it does. As you slip into the routine, and, time permitting, slowly increase the number of minutes you spend trying to keep your thighs from burning through your pants.
The day’s events ripple through your head like the sound of a radio dial caught between stations. Noises, sharp and loud, keep you from falling asleep or wake you from a fitful one.
Or worse yet, you proudly say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” because the perception of busyness has been a badge of honor in the Western world.
Staying up late or getting up early, cheating yourself of the necessary respite from life. Cutting into your sleep time is why you need that third and fourth cup of coffee in the morning.
Morning person. Night owl. It doesn’t matter. We’re all different, and some of us are more productive at night, while others do their best work in the morning.
But the undeniable and irrefutable science says that we all need adequate sleep. It might be five hours a night or possibly ten, but statistically speaking, it’s 7-8 hours a night for a relatively healthy adult.
Put down the phone at least two hours before you go to bed.
Use an alarm clock instead of your phone.
Block as much light as you can from entering the room.
Lower the temperature to a point that you can handle.
Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every night.
You don’t need a sleep study.
You don’t need an app to lull you to sleep.
Seven to eight hours. Every night as if your life depends on it because it does.
We do what’s easy, what’s convenient. We all know that the crap we shove down our throats is killing us, but we do it because it’s cheap, easy, convenient, or all of the above.
The single most important factor that affects your body is what you put inside of it, and yet, we’re constantly eating from a wrapper—food that we know is damaging our body and our mind.
You’re overweight, exhausted, depressed, anxious, and sick. But…
You are not broken.
Your body knows what to do if you give it what it needs.
I’m not saying you won’t ever need a doctor or prescription medicine. But I am saying that if you put clean fuel into your body, you might not.
Cut the sugar. Immediately. All forms and all types—organic, natural, synthetic. That craving is an addiction. Sweetener is not a biological necessity.
Eat low-glycemic fruits such as blueberries or strawberries.
Cut the complex carbs. Bread, pasta, rice, corn—most of this is nothing but sugar to your body below the neck.
Eat fresh sources of proteins and vegetables.
You don’t need a nutrition coach.
You don’t need to count points, or calories, or portions. Nobody ever developed diabetes from overeating broccoli.
You don’t need a trendy diet or a food-tracking app.
Eat whole foods. And eat less of it.
Every day, eat as if your life depends on it because it does. As you detoxify your system and readjust your palate, you’ll rediscover the gems that nature provides for us.
DOOMED TO REPEAT IT
But this is all preventive. It will help my spirit to make a quick recovery in the same way that my body will when I incur a physical injury.
I’ve trained my mind to process rejection and pain through meditation, movement, sleep, and nutrition.
But it won’t stop the initial blow. It won’t prevent me from falling into the same patterns of desperation and rejection.
I can’t even count how many times I’ve thought my situation would be improved “if only” I was able to write with such-and-such or collaborate with so-and-so.
I’m not broken.
You’re not broken.
In many circumstances, I could have avoided the pain in the first place if I had only trusted my intuition.
It felt wrong in my gut.
So I ignored that feeling or I temporarily convinced myself that it was nothing when it was something.
OUT IS IN
The way out is deep within you.
Your intuition works if you listen to it.
You are not broken.
We all share instincts. We feel an instinct even when our brain insists it’s nothing to worry about.
When I look back on my most painful rejections, I can see the seeds of it planted far in advance. And I can also remember the feeling in my gut, and how I refused to acknowledge it.
I’m not always a good listener. But I’m not broken.
So how do I convince myself to listen to that internal voice more often?
In the same way that you take care of your body, you can train your mind so that not only do you not have to convince yourself of anything, you don’t have to even think about it.
In an article for Psychology Today, Al Pittampalli seeks out the source of our intuition.
“When Should You Trust Your Gut? Here’s What the Science Says” begins by explaining where human intuition comes from.
“Intuition comes from patterns we’ve identified in our past experiences. From the time we are born, we constantly seek out patterns in our environment. We see 2+2 consistently paired with the number 4. We notice that spotted, long-necked animals are called giraffes. We learn that every time someone — our spouse, our boss, our parole officer — says ‘we need to talk,’ what usually follows is never good news.”
He goes on to cite Daniel Kahneman and Gary Klein, who wrote a research paper titled, “Conditions for Intuitive Expertise.”
“Intuitions come with what Kahneman calls the illusion of validity: a subjective sense, often misleading and dangerous, of truth,” writes Pittampalli. “Instead, in order to assess the reliability of an intuition, we must evaluate the person who is experiencing the intuition and the environment in which that person operates. We can do this by asking two critical questions.”
1. How Much Quality Practice Have You Had?
2. Is It a High-Validity Environment?
Let’s look at the first question.
As it turns out, we can improve our intuition through practice—practice at pattern recognition.
You are not broken. You simply need to get better at identifying patterns.
The way you get better at defining patterns is experience. The more you do something, the better you will get at it because you will begin to identify trends and themes—patterns.
If you’ve worked through hundreds or thousands of scenes, looking for story elements that work or don’t work, you’re recording a tremendous amount of trial and error, which will begin to reveal patterns to you. So, when you write a scene and it “feels right,” it’s because you’ve refined your intuition. It sees the pattern of “working scene” and releases the endorphins to reward you for the “intuition.”
But when you’re new to the page, a struggling writer trying to figure out how to write a scene, you simply haven’t seen enough manuscripts, or stories, or chapters. There is no pattern for you to detect because you haven’t created enough data points yet.
You are not broken. You haven’t had enough experience to sharpen your intuition.
The article continues, “But while the quantity of practice is important for developing reliable intuitions, just as important is the quality. The highest quality form of practice, the one that most reliably leads to accurate intuitions, is known as deliberate practice. Deliberate practice isn’t just rote repetition — it involves constant adjustment based on feedback.”
You are not broken. You need feedback.
“These adjustments are critical, because the patterns that we initially recognize are often slightly off the mark, or just simply wrong. Feedback helps us to know when, allowing us to revise those patterns accordingly.”
Therefore, the second question we need to ask is, “Is It a High-Validity Environment?”
Kahneman and Klein define high-validity environments as ones where an outcome can be predicted after many experiences.
If you are constantly reminded that your scene needs an opening Conflict, and you get feedback on whether or not you’ve identified it correctly, you’ll improve your ability to recognize that story element in the future. With a constant feedback cycle, you’ll be able to predict where and how that Conflict should appear in the scene—and when it feels instantaneous and natural, that’s intuition.
Pittampalli concludes the article with a summary.
“Intuition is a highly sophisticated process. We notice patterns through past experiences, store these patterns and associated information into long-term memory, and then retrieve the information when we see these patterns again in our environment.”
He goes on to say that we trust these patterns in a high-validity environment after we’ve had enough practice to recognize and learn the patterns.
I felt something was off. There was a concern voiced in a message, and I managed to talk my way out of the situation. I was able to satisfy their concern, and at the same time, I’d dampened that feeling in my gut.
I’m not broken. I ignored my intuition.
I’d recognized this pattern before, the way the concern had ballooned from an innocuous line in the message. A person triggered by little things has a sensitivity that can lead to confrontation. This is a pattern I’d seen and yet, pretended that this time, it would be different.
An extended period of silence between communications usually leads to a disagreement or a parting of ways. I’d seen this pattern before, and yet, I pretended I wasn’t seeing it now.
You are not broken.
Everything you need is inside you.
Listen to and trust your gut.
I didn’t, and because of that, I faced rejection yet again.
But it won’t happen anymore. This I can say with certainty.
And this is key. It’s the critical observation that we’re all capable of doing—pattern recognition. You already know how to do this, and now, you just have to practice that skill.
You’ll continue to make mistakes. I guarantee it. But that doesn’t mean you’re broken or that there’s something wrong with you. It only means you haven’t identified the pattern—yet. But you can, and you will.
Once you’ve locked in the pattern, you’ve now trained your intuition. It’s not some hippy-dippy magic. It doesn’t require a medium, an Incan crystal, or aromatherapy. Your intuition is already inside of you. All you have to do is train it.
My intuition says that I am the only one responsible for my success, that I can’t expect others to deliver it to me.
If I find myself in a similar situation, I need to reframe my expectations to be in alignment with the patterns I’ve recognized.
There are no free rides. Your readers won’t become my readers simply because we put both of our names on the cover.
I’ve got to earn those readers, just like you do.
You are not broken. But you can accept help.
Sometimes we’re not able to see the patterns.
We all know that person. Maybe you are that person.
You struggle with an eating disorder, a chemical addiction, or a recurring habit of undesirable behavior. You haven’t identified the pattern, which means you might not even be able to articulate the problem. And you certainly can’t ask for help, let alone accept it.
Addiction counselors know that no amount of therapy or counseling will get a person clean until they decide to own the problem and face the challenge. And they can’t face the challenge if they can’t see patterns or are ignoring their intuition.
In the next essay, I’ll offer you a gift. Quality practice in a high-validity environment that will teach you how to become a more intuitive writer.
You are not broken.
I’ll prove it to you.
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