Friday, May 2, 2008

Preparing for Feedback (2): Worst cases

We don't really want to dwell on the worst cases, but we do want to recognize that we can develop a practice that helps us deal with stories that we tell ourselves that make us feel bad--like worst case scenarios.

But that is a place for intervention. As described by David Burns (in the book Feeling Good-forgive, please, my use of pop psychology for a reference), there is a form of therapy that puts a great deal of focus on our ways of thinking. Burns refers to the work of Aaron Beck, and his theory known as "Cognitive therapy", which is also commonly called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (or CBT). Burns writes: "Beck's thesis was simple: (1) when you are depressed or anxious, you are thinking in an illogical, negative manner, and you inadvertently act in a self-defeating way."

As described by Burns, a great deal of the practice of this therapy is about keeping a journal, writing down negative thoughts and thought patterns, and analyzing them for logical errors such as exaggeration of the gravity of situations.

I think that if an academic were to write down their worst fear about submitting a work to another, and then were to examine that statement and look for logical errors or errors in reasoning, they could probably find them. And if the logical errors are not there, there is probably some associated claim which is filled with logical errors. (Incidentally, my use of "their" as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun in the first sentence of this paragraph is intentional. I understand that there is some debate over whether this is "proper" English; this is my choice as to how to use English. I have no fear of being misunderstood. To those who are offended by my grammatical choice, I will say only that I respect your position without agreeing.)

You might imagine "What if I'm told I'll be kicked out?" But if you examine that, you can see how unlikely it is. There is, of course, some population for whom this risk is real, and that population then, ought to look for other aspects of his/her thinking that are creating distress.
You might imagine "I'll be told I'll never finish or my work is no good." But how likely is your reader to do that? And if you have good reason to believe it is likely, doesn't that indicate as much about the reader as it does about your work?
You might fear "I'll have a lot more work to do." This is a realistic fear, but I would wager that one doesn't get depressed just thinking "I have a lot more work to do", one gets depressed when one starts thinking "I'm overwhelmed with all the work" or "I'll never get all the work done on time." But such thought patterns are exactly the kind of thing that CBT, as described by Burns (who calls it "Cognitive Therapy", as I noted earlier), is meant to handle. Using ideas like "being overwhelmed" or "never finishing" are the sorts of cognitive patterns that Burns focuses on defusing with the practices of CBT.

So if the prospect of getting feedback is stressing you out, write down the fears, and then try to write down some alternative outcomes that are better, and are also equally likely or more likely.

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