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Hidden paradigms and how they affect your writing goals for 2021

Advanced tips for writers

The story so far

Over the last few days, I’ve been posting about creating a writing plan for 2021 and how to approach the whole goal setting thing in the first place. In my last post I talked about taking a writing goal and writing it as ‘I want to do x because y’. I suggested doing the want / because test on any writing ‘shoulds’ you have flying around your head. I also suggested writing down your want / because writing goal and coming up with reasons you don’t want to achieve the goal. Why? Find out here.

The reverse want / because test

There’s a third stage to the want / because test. It’ll take you deeper and can be uncomfortable to do, but the results are definitely worth the discomfort, in my opinion. This third stage is called the reverse want / because test. If you haven’t done the first two stages yet, read this first.

This is how the reverse ‘want / because’ test works. Write out your writing goal as ‘want / because’. Then rewrite it, but this time express it as ‘I don’t want to / because’ or ‘I can’t / because.’ For example:

I don’t want to eat more healthily because I’ll have to say no to treats. Or:

I can’t eat more healthily because it will cost too much money.

Then ask either: ‘Is it true?’ (This is one of Byron Katie’s four questions.) Or: ‘How could I make this possible?’

Here are the examples again:

I don’t want to eat more healthily because I’ll have to say no to treats. Is this really true? No, because treats don’t have to be edible and anyway healthy eating is about balance not particular foods.

I can’t eat more healthily because it will cost too much money. How could I make it possible? By saving money elsewhere or by cooking from scratch more often.

(You’ll probably find – as in this example – that there are several reasons why the statement isn’t true along with several ways to make it possible. Pick those that resonate with you the most.)

How does it help?

How does the reverse ‘want / because’ test help? Firstly it helps you to see the kinds of excuses you’ve been making subconsciously. I find that bringing these out into the open is half the battle.

But more than that the reverse want / because test enables you to root out hidden paradigms (Jinny Ditzler talks about this idea in her book Your Best Year Yet). Hidden paradigms are often non sequiturs – they contain ideas expressed as ‘X therefore Y’ that don’t necessarily or logically follow one from the other. For instance, I believed the non sequitur: traditional exercise increases my hip pain therefore I can’t do any ‘proper’ exercise. It took me a long time to realise that this one was holding me back.

Tricky hidden paradigms and identity

These hidden paradigms might be to do with identity. I believed the above non sequitur partly because having hip dysplasia and therefore being ‘rubbish’ at sport is part of my identity. Never mind the fact that I’ve got to know other people with hip dysplasia who do play sport and exercise, I still believed it. If a hidden paradigm is related to your identity, you’ve got to be super-honest with yourself to decide whether it’s something you want to carry on believing.

To get over my hidden paradigm about my hips and exercise, perhaps it would help if I stopped caring what other people thought of me? But that’s tough. The work around I discovered during lockdown was doing yoga in my lounge on my own (usually!) accompanied only by YouTube. Enough about me and yoga! Now for the million dollar question: How does all this – hidden paradigms, non sequiturs, identity – relate to the writing life?

How does this relate to your writing?

Sometimes we believe these kinds of non sequiturs:

  • I’m a beginner (identity) I could never (do the thing you want to do).
  • I’m a creative person (identity) I could never make money from (current project).
  • I’m a (poet, novelist, nonfiction writer – writing identity) I can’t write a (non fiction book, poetry collection, novel – different project).

How do you know these are non sequiturs? When you read them objectively, the second part of the sentence doesn’t necessarily follow on from the first part of the sentence. And sometimes these beliefs are hidden paradigms. In other words, we don’t realise we believe them until we bring them out into the open. I know from personal experience that hidden paradigms can be very hard to let go, especially if our identity is involved. Doing the reverse ‘want / because’ test can be literally life changing in these circumstances.

Catch up on the other posts in this series by going here.

I’d like to ask you some questions

I’ve been writing a lot about planning in the last few posts because I’m creating a masterclass on planning your writing life for 2021, setting achievable goals, and how to quantify your writing without losing site of your values. I’m putting the finishing touches on it right now. You can help me out by answering some questions about it here.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Louise xx


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