Mindfulness is the practice of slowing down and being present. It has been an important part of my work in helping people with anxiety and depression. Mindfulness has so many applications and it certainly has its benefits for writers.
“Slowing down and being present”
With origins in Eastern traditions, mindfulness is not a new concept. Introduced in recent decades to the field of psychology, it has become a standard technique in the therapist’s toolbox. It’s commonly used as a relaxation technique but its benefits extend to the regulation of thoughts, behaviours and emotions.
Mindfulness is the practice of self-awareness that involves staying in the present moment without judgement. In its most basic form, it requires deliberate attention of the breath. By tuning into the process of breathing you become attuned to the physical sensations of your body.
“Mindfulness is the practice of self-awareness”
Here are 5 things mindfulness can teach writers (and help with life in general).
Develop a non-judgemental attitude
It is no secret that writers are often plagued with self-doubt. Writing can be a time-consuming, lonely and challenging process. Self-doubt and negativity hinder the creative process.
If you have the thought “I’m never going to get published” it can inevitably lead to other thoughts such as “this is hopeless,” “maybe I’m not good enough,” and “I’m just wasting my time.” Negative thought patterns can leave us feeling unmotivated and dejected.
Mindfulness encourages us to check in with our thoughts and feelings without judgement. When you deliberately pay attention to that thought, you can acknowledge its presence and then let it go. The initial thought “I’m never going to get published” is probably accompanied by an emotion such as anxiety or hopelessness.
When you take a non-judgemental attitude, you acknowledge the thought and the feeling: I think I’m never going to be published and I feel hopeless. Instead of getting caught up in the content of the thought and continuing the path of negative thought patterns, you approach it with neutrality and accept the presence of the thought and feeling. After all, we are only human. Thoughts and emotions are what set us apart from other beings in this world.
The next step is to let it go. There’s no need to hang on to the negativity, let the thoughts float away. Re-focus your attention back on your breath.
TIP: This takes LOADS of practice! Your mind will inevitably wonder when you undertake mindfulness practice. This is completely okay. With practice, you will improve your ability to focus your attention and less likely to get caught up in the content of negative thoughts.
Writing is a very personal experience that requires us to be vulnerable, intimate with our internal experiences and share our thoughts, words and stories with others.
It’s much like being in therapy- and being a therapist for that matter. We must learn to be vulnerable ourselves, before others will be vulnerable with us.
Mindfulness helps us develop an awareness of our thoughts, emotions and sensations in the present moment. This can only enhance our creativity and improve our writing skills.
Trust the process
Trust the writing process. Again, I draw the parallel to therapy. It’s a process that not only the therapist but the person in therapy must also learn. When it comes to solving life problems or writing a book, there are no quick solutions. It takes time.
In my own writing experience, I have felt like I have no idea what I’m doing. I have no idea where my story is going. Somewhere along the line it just all works out. The story comes together. Solutions to the problems surface.
The development of trust in yourself is an integral part of mindfulness in practice. You cannot be someone else. You cannot be another writer. You are You. Trust in yourself and in the writing process. Trust is key.
Mindfulness encourages creativity. When we are familiar with our habitual reactions, we can learn to manage them in healthier ways. This opens up opportunities for us to have different experiences. Openness and curiosity are key principles in mindful practice. Embracing new opportunities and letting go of unhelpful thoughts patterns.
When we channel our energy into learning about ourselves, others and the world around us, the possibilities are endless. For instance, if you’re getting caught up in all the ‘shoulds’ of writing it can hinder the natural creative flow of your writing process. When you let go of the ‘shoulds’ then you can tap into the process that feels natural for you. Creativity will then thrive.
Focus your attention
If you’re anything like me, then you have so many ideas buzzing around in your mind that you don’t know what to do with them. I like to write down all of my ideas so there’s no chance of them being forgotten. Those thoughts can then be ‘let go.’
We may lead busy lives, but we do have a choice in how we use our time. We can make an effort to slow down. Even if it’s only five minutes a day.
Mindfulness involves focusing your attention in a deliberate way. It can be directed toward the breath or to different parts of the body. When the mind wanders, you simply redirect your focus to the present moment. This becomes easier with practice.
Have you practiced mindfulness or meditation? Please share your experiences in the comments below.