The anxiety of writing expectations
Have you ever obsessed so much over success and perfection that anxiety caused failure? Most bloggers are familiar with this.
In 20 years of school, I received my only C in Mr. Bean’s typing class. He forced us to take timed tests and evaluated performance on total word count minus errors. My entire grade depended on weekly 10 minute assessments.
I thought my future writing career depended on typing skill, and I expected perfection.
I coached myself in preparation: “no mistakes this time and type faster than hell.” I poised myself for superhuman typing, posture erect, arms at 90 degrees, fingers quivering over the QWERTY keyboard. Mr. Bean blew his official exam whistle, and I pounded out the first line, my heart thumping in my fingers, sweat beading on my forehead.
I suffered the next 10 minutes, slowing with each mistake. By the time Mr. Bean tooted the stop whistle, I had stopped altogether. I allowed the task to shut me down.
Anxiety over perfect blogging performance
My expectation of perfection created intense performance anxiety. The anxiety lingered, creating persistent negative thoughts. I continued with unrealistic expectations through high school and developed an anxiety disorder, a lingering feeling of general stress and worry that has negative effects on health.
A huge population in the United States suffers from anxiety, and Google Trends for 2013 lists “anxiety” as the number four keyword searched in the category “symptoms” of illness, indicating that people worry about being anxious.
Anxiety often plagues bloggers, producing writer’s block, not only frustrating but potentially career ending. However, bloggers can do even better than cope with this anxiety. You can channel the physiological responses to improve writing and performance.
The evolutionary function of anxiety
In humans, anxiety evolved as a detector of and reaction to perceived threats. According to Thomas Swan, anxiety, unlike fear, uses the brain’s imagination and memory to engage a response before the actual threat. So we imagine negative scenarios, which engages the anxiety system to heighten readiness for future threats. Anxiety is initially a positive reaction to possible dangers.
When functioning properly, the emotion heightens the brain’s ability to learn, prepare, use skills, and problem solve before the arrival of danger. In the case of blogging, the brain prepares to write well to avoid the social dangers that accompany public failure.
The flaw in this cognitive response system? Your environment can trigger anxiety unnecessarily. Once engaged, unnecessary worry can persist and overwhelm you, causing negative effects such as writer’s block. For bloggers, potential failure and social humiliation can lead to unreasonable and debilitating worry, creating a blog post becoming cognitively difficult.
Writing rituals and controlled expectations
If anxiety becomes too intense, bloggers cannot channel the emotion to achieve success. You must exert partial control of writing anxiety levels. Ironically, you can blog best by lowering your writing expectations and performing rituals.
Excellent bloggers do not expect perfection. They anticipate flawed drafts, difficult revisions, and less than perfect posts. Bloggers who succeed realize that perfection, despite their best efforts, is unattainable. This attitude reduces performance pressure, and opens them to write less than excellent posts and possible failure as parts of the blogging process. They focus more on the process of writing than the product or the public response.
The reality is that your blog will not fail because of one wimpy blog post, and your success does not depend on being perfect. In fact, you will write better if you accept potential flaws and failure.
You will also improve as a blogger by establishing your own personal rituals to anticipate writing. In human evolution, rituals helped use and control anxiety by preparing one for future threats, focusing the mind on activities connected to the danger. Writing rituals are common among bloggers, and no matter how bizarre, if they help you to manage anxiety you should embrace them. Famously, Ernest Hemingway used to sharpen around 20 pencils as a ritual before writing, and many writers have equally odd practices.
Channeling your blogging anxiety into productive excitement
Controlling your anxiety level without trying to get rid of it allows you to take a productive writing step. Rather than trying to calm yourself down, Harvard research suggests that channeling your physiological responses is more effective:
Research participants who were asked to give an impromptu three-minute talk scored higher on persuasiveness and confidence if they first said to themselves “I am excited,” in comparison with those who said “I am anxious” or explicitly tried to calm down, says Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard Business School. … People who are in a “high arousal” state tend to believe that calming down will help them perform, but it can be better to channel that arousal in a positive direction by being energetic and passionate, Brooks says.
Key emotions that you should target to spin in a positive direction include: high arousal, excitement, positivity, energy, and passion. Trying to crush the anxiety will only enhance the negative effects, but redirecting your feelings in this way becomes an asset, preparing you for a heightened writing session.
Takeaways for bloggers
How do you put this into practice? Be mindful of the following strategies that draw on the positive impact of anxiety:
- Use positive aphorisms and mantras to limit your anxiety level rather than attempting to end it.
- Avoid concentrating on your writing performance, focusing instead on the blogging process.
- Tap into the writing zone by not thinking consciously of the act of writing, allowing certain parts of your brain to act on autopilot.
- Monitor your mental self-talk that is always present, to steer away from negative thinking that increases negative anxiety.
- Remind yourself that you simultaneously be anxious and perform exceptionally.
- Balance your goal as too much anxiety is negative, but too little leaves you cognitively unprepared to perform.
- Practice deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness daily to naturally regulate your anxiety levels.
- “Redirect … your mind, in the moment, to something other than how you’re comporting yourself, so you can allow the skills and knowhow you’ve worked so hard to acquire to automatically kick into gear and carry you through,” Scott Stossel.
- Tell yourself “I am excited” and not “I am calm,” even if you don’t believe it at first, Jeremy Dean.
- Accept that you feel anxious rather than trying to suppress it.
- Think about anxiety as a positive feeling rather than a hinderance.
- Remember that anxiety can enhance your ability to solve problems, think clearly, and write well.
- Enjoy the experience of writing and communicating through blogging.
If you employ these methods, you will recognize immediate and lasting improvement on your blogging attitude and ability to create. Pro bloggers are not free of anxiety, but they are experts at channeling the emotion to write with vitality and intensity. Embracing your anxiety will make your writing more authentic.
I would love to hear how you deal with anxiety in positive ways to blog. Would you please share your thoughts on writing and anxiety? And, I will respond with my reactions inspired by your ideas.