Friday, July 31, 2015

The Intersection of Psychology and Writing: Biases

Today I taught my last class of the semester. Nowadays, whenever I’m teaching, I can’t help but see all of the overlaps between psychology and writing. I don’t usually point these out to the students because most of them aren’t writers, but I thought I’d write here about one that had me thinking.

It was based on a lecture about self biases. (Or the nicer term is positive illusions.) Basically, I spent the entire lecture talking about how people want to like themselves and have high self-esteem. There isn’t anything wrong with that, except that sometimes we start twisting reality to make ourselves look better. We only take credit of our successes and blame failures on others, we think we’re better than average in most every category, and we refuse to acknowledge that have these biases (though we’re happy to point out when others are being unrealistic).

I always teach this with a self-deprecating tone, but also point out how faulty this logic is. Research in psychology shows that these thought processes can have a lot of negative outcomes. People get annoyed when we do this, for one thing. No one wants to be blamed for someone else’s failure!

Then there’s this other problem...

My lecture slides literally say, “People will try for things that they cannot achieve. This can lead to heartbreak.”


Now, I wouldn’t teach that if there wasn’t support for it. BUT, I don’t like applying that to my writing life. After I taught that, I started wondering: Is that me? Am I reaching for something that’s too lofty? Am I biased--unrealistic--thinking that I can make my dream come true when plenty of other talented people are out there right now trying to do the same thing?

I don’t know. Probably.

I do know that I’m not alone. And I know I’m going to keep being ridiculously unrealistic if that keeps me writing. Because there are also some important positive outcomes to these biases. One is high self-esteem and high self-efficacy, meaning that you like yourself and believe you can accomplish the tasks you're focused on. And you don’t give up. Even though the odds are stacked against you.  Even though you can look at the stats of how many people query every DAY and how many actually get an agent, let alone a publishing deal.

I’m glad that I’m living in my happy little bubble of grandiose ideas and biases. In this business, I think you have to assume you'll succeed where others have failed or you'll just give up. 

Still, I do feel a bit hypocritical after giving that lecture.  ;)

In other news, I have my July calendar update. I did…okay. Not great. But, speaking of blaming failure on others (hehe!), my husband had pneumonia this month and everything else came to a standstill until he was feeling better. So, I’ll say I did the best I could under those circumstances. I did a lot of reading at least!  

Here’s to productivity in August!