Don’t be bullied by your thoughts

You don’t have to let your thoughts lead the way. Find out what’s important to you, what truly matters to you, and let those values guide your actions.

The Writers Journey by Christopher VoglerTom Dunson, played by John Wayne in the classic Western Red River, makes a terrible moral error early in his career as a cattleman, by choosing to value his mission more than his love, and following his head rather than his heart. This choice leads to the death of his lover, and for the rest of the story he bears the psychic scars of that wound. His suppressed guilt makes him more and more harsh, autocratic, and judgmental, and almost brings him and his adopted son to destruction before the wound is healed by letting love back into his life.

A hero’s wounds may not be visible. People put a great deal of energy into protecting and hiding these weak and vulnerable spots. But in a fully developed character they will be apparent in the areas where she is touchy, defensive, or a little too confident. The wound may never be openly expressed to the audience — it can be a secret between the writer and the character. But it will help give the hero a sense of personal history and realism, for we all bear some scars from past humiliations, rejections, disappointments, abandonments, and failures. Many stories are about the journey to heal a wound and to restore a missing piece to a broken psyche.

Christopher Vogler. The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition.
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Often we know full well when we’re making excuses—we just need to be honest with ourselves. But if you’ve set a valued goal, and your mind gives you a reason not to attempt it, sometimes it’s not so clear that this is just an excuse. So if you’re genuinely unsure whether the thought is merely an excuse for inaction, or a statement of fact about something that truly is impossible, just ask yourself this question: ‘If the person you care about more than anyone else in the world were kidnapped, and the kidnappers told you they will never release that person until you take a particular action toward your goals, would you then take action?’ If the answer is yes, then you know that any reason (for not taking that action) is merely an excuse.

‘Ah, yes,’ you may be saying, ‘but that’s just a silly hypothetical question. In the real world, the person I love has not been kidnapped.’

Right you are. But what’s at stake in the real world is something equally important: your life! Do you want to live a life in which you do the things that are really meaningful to you? Or do you want to live a life of drifting aimlessly, letting your demons run the ship?

‘Okay,’ I hear you say. ‘I agree that I could attempt this goal, but it’s not that important to me.’

The question here is, are you being honest with yourself? Or are you just buying into another thought? If the goal you’re avoiding is truly unimportant to you, fine, don’t attempt it. But make sure you check in with your values. And if this goal really is something you value, then you are faced with a choice: either act in accordance with what you value, or let yourself be pushed around by your own thoughts.

Russell Harris. Introductory Workshop Handout.

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