Someone posted a link to six strategies that have quickly improved my writing today. While it was generally interesting, there was one passage that jumped out at me.

“Research shows that people tend to cheat only as much as they can without realizing they’re cheating [Mazar, Amir & Ariely, 2008, Jour. Marketing Res.]. This is a remarkable phenomenon: Part of you is deciding how much to cheat, calibrated at just the level that keeps another part of you from realizing it.”

I’ve long suspected this. I’ve long suspected that as hard as part of me tries to do things, there’s another small part lurking unseen altering expectations, adjusting attitude and generally undermining the rest of me.

It’s like an invisible wall that I come up against, and when I hit it I automatically think that’s it, that’s as far as I go, without consciously even noticing the wall. It reminds me of a part of one of my favourite Orson Scott Card series, the Ships of Earth series, where they are exploring to find the missing ships, and every time they hit the barrier their path changes slightly without them noticing, so they think they’ve been everywhere, whereas in fact there is a big clear area in the middle that they’ve been avoiding.

So now I need to figure out just how I am sabotaging myself and figure out a way around it. Self-affirmations play their part, I think, as covered in the first chapter of The Artist’s Way. I believe we have an internal setting for all sorts of things – happiness, weight, wealth – and we tend to behave in a way to tend towards that setting. There’s little point in struggling above it, because as soon as we relax we head straight back towards it; what needs to be done is changing the setting itself.

I see it in my art; I know in my heart that my drawing isn’t brilliant, so I’ll avoid it, because there’s no way I’ll ever get it to the standard I want. It’s the same in my writing – I find myself in a continual struggle to avoid the page. In reality, I know that I’m not as bad as I make out and that both these activities will improve the more time I spend at them, but my inner saboteur doesn’t believe that, doesn’t believe that I deserve to put the effort in, because the setting is too low to make it worthwhile.

On the other hand, I’m seeing in my running that I can enjoy it as I am, but I can also steadily improve. Now I need to get past the idea that my place is at the back, and that I’m not fast, but the more I train, the more I see the results for myself. Maybe that’s the secret: to ignore the settings on my system, to keep going anyway, and to let the setting self-adjust. Kind of like dragging a big weight behind me – it won’t move as quickly as I’d like, but the more effort I put in, the more it will eventually move.