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On pep talks and an increase of sanity - Input Junkie
August 16th, 2010
09:56 am

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On pep talks and an increase of sanity
I would have a problem with pep talks-- even reading pep talks directed at other people would leave me feeling angry and paralyzed. And yet, while I didn't especially seek them out, I wasn't avoiding websites that had them fairly often.

I recently found out what the process was, and just so that you can have the pleasure of guessing if you like, I'm putting the answer under a cut.

It felt like read pep talk => get angry => do nothing. What I couldn't see until it was obvious was that the pattern was read pep talk => not respond to it => beat up on myself because obviously the person doing the pep talk knew what people ought to be, and I was bad for not responding => get angry => not want to do anything. I don't know why that particular pattern. I've got it filed under hypertrophied shame reaction-- I'm assuming that some random pep talk person is the authority on how I ought to live and the only way I could be motivated to live that way-- but there's obviously something weird underlying that.

I don't know exactly why I suddenly saw that-- probably one of those overnight success due to years of work things. While this particular insight didn't happen while I was writing, I've been doing some poking around inside my head writing, and it helps.

This kind of thing sounds absolutely crazy when it's laid out. All I can say is that the crucial second and third steps in the process were totally invisible to me until I saw them. And I didn't realize it until I wrote it out, but there are some important missing steps between anger and paralysis. More research is required.

And while it's not fun thinking about this stuff, there's satisfaction to knowing what's going on rather than guessing or theorizing about it. There's a huge difference of actually following one's own consciousness. I do x and then y and z follow. So it's a matter of memory, but it's fairly short-term memory.

At this point, I'm wondering if pep talks work for anybody, or if it's just that it's satisfying for some people to give them. That's probably an over-generalization.....

It was an effort not to title this "creeping sanity" or something with "gradual" in it. However, there's no need for me to judge this process as slow. Compared to what? Oh, yeah, my fantasy of instantly clearing the crap out of my head, when I probably don't even know the details of what is crap and what isn't, and when there's no reason to think this can be done in a moment.

Anyway, comments welcome as usual, but I'm especially interested in thoughts about pep talks, and about what tends to increase mental clarity.

(12 comments | Leave a comment)

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From:bruceb
Date:August 16th, 2010 02:51 pm (UTC)
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I have the impression that pep talks work reliably for some people and erratically for others, but often enough that they feel it's unusual when it doesn't, and then that there's a hinterland of people for whom they don't work but feel guilty about it and sure it's a problem on their end.

Your analysis of the cycle seems completely dead-on to me. Thanks.
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From:xiphias
Date:August 16th, 2010 02:57 pm (UTC)
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I feel that pep talks have to be very specifically designed and targeted to a specific person in a specific situation.

If I'm giving someone a pep talk, I need to know that person well enough to know what's blocking them, and to have an idea of what I can tell that person to help deal with that specific block.

A generalized pep talk seems . . . pointless at best, and more likely to cause harm than good.
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From:bruceb
Date:August 16th, 2010 02:59 pm (UTC)
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*thinks* Yeah, it's true that I have gotten encouragement and motivation hearing from someone who knows me and the situation in particular. Possibly it says something about my personal lexicon that I think of those as not being pep talks. :)
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From:redbird
Date:August 16th, 2010 05:00 pm (UTC)
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That makes sense. The right person can often cheer me up or get me going a little, because they know what kinds of things do and don't work. Of course, often what I need or want to hear is some variant on "I love you, and I'm not going anywhere" or "We're in this together," and there are very few people from whom that will work. And saying that to someone you didn't mean it to would be worse than useless: they'd either feel mocked at the time, or do badly later when they tried to rely on that statement.
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From:sartorias
Date:August 16th, 2010 03:04 pm (UTC)
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I always hated pep talks because my pattern was "hear pep talk>feel guilty for being a screwup>feel more alienated and hapless than ever.

So I have gone out of my way to avoid them, and when forced into group situations at work, sneaked a book, or just withdrew and storydreamed.

The only thing that ever worked to get mental clarity was to get a few uninterrupted minutes (early morning, or in the shower) during which I could realistically assess what must be done that day, what I'd like to get done, and break it all into little units, with a tiny reward after each thing accomplished.
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From:siderea
Date:August 16th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
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Most of what people call pep talks are invalidating. That is, their point is you are wrong, you only feel negatively because you are mistaken about something(s). That is their presupposition, as ozarque puts it in her book.

Now, invalidating != morally wrong to do. (Though that's certainly the way to bet.) Invalidating it most typically ineffective for motivating change. Rather, it's naturally read as hostility. This is a reason why peptalks (also called sales jobs) are beaten out of us very deprecated in the school of therapy I was trained in.

The sorts of invalidation peptalks are has two dimensions of badness. To the extent that a peptalk is unspecific as to just what you're wrong about, it is actually insulting your judgment. It says implicitly, "it's not that you're wrong about this specific thing, it's just that I think/assume you're generally wrong about things." To the extent it is covert about its criticisms, it leaves the peptalked unable to rebut. "I think you're wrong, but I'm not going to come out and say about what or why."

To successfully invalidate someone's erroneous belief about sonething making them unhappy requires incredible delicacy and nuance. It must be done in a very polite, disinvested, intellectual way, when nobody is screaming, and must take the form of a formal argument (setting out explicitly the specific thing being contested and the evidence in contradiction -- "I think you're mistaken about X, and here is why") presented from a coequal stance (not an authoritarian one) and as a hypothesis inviting falsification. And it has to be delivered in the right moment, when the person you're arguing with can consider non-defensively what you're saying.

Which is pretty much exactly what a peptalk typically isn't.
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From:siderea
Date:August 16th, 2010 03:52 pm (UTC)
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P.S . The distinction between criticizing and insulting is useful here. It's possible to politely and helpfully criticise someone's judgment, but peptalks mostly just insult it.
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From:pyrzqxgl
Date:August 16th, 2010 09:48 pm (UTC)
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I like a good pep talk that puts things in a better perspective and counters the awful messages we are bombarded with, like the speeches people made at a local (Santa Cruz, CA) protest/rally right after Proposition 8 passed -- there was a lot of talk about what steps we could take next, and what resources we had, that we were not alone and would not give up and so on, and it was a very positive, constructive, and inspiring alternative to despair and the like. But maybe that's not the kind of thing other people would consider a "pep talk".
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From:captain_button
Date:August 16th, 2010 11:11 pm (UTC)
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I agree with the comments about vague and nonspecific pep-talks. They always strike me as one-size-fits-all setups. They always seem to imply knowledge about me and my situations that the speaker can't credibly claim to know about. And that knowledge is often wrong, to boot.

For an analogy, they feel like a doctor who as soon as you say "my stomach hurts" he scribbles down a prescription for you and then leaves.

While they may not qualify as pep talks, a similar annoying thing I see a lot are arguments that are circular and self-justifiying. "You are not a pathetic loser! Only a pathetic loser would think that!"
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From:firecat
Date:August 16th, 2010 11:11 pm (UTC)
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Pep talks work for me if I'm being encouraged to do something I actually want to do, and if the encouragement takes a positive form "Your contribution to this would be really welcome." If they involve "shoulding" or shaming or stuff I don't want to do or am conflicted about doing, then they don't work for me.

If they feel like an attempt to impose societal norms on me when I've already decided against following those norms, or if I'm conflicted about those norms, then not only do they not work but I get angry at them.

Also they don't work for me if they appear at the wrong time.

I don't think what you described sounds "absolutely crazy" at all.
From:documentn
Date:October 11th, 2010 08:56 pm (UTC)
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I've got it filed under hypertrophied shame reaction-- I'm assuming that some random pep talk person is the authority on how I ought to live and the only way I could be motivated to live that way-- but there's obviously something weird underlying that.

Possibly related: Do We Believe Everything We're Told?.
From:documentn
Date:December 3rd, 2010 04:36 am (UTC)
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A slightly more just-so explanation is that it has to do with report cards (under "lesson five"). (Link via RichardKenneway.)
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