It took me a while to climb aboard the mindfulness train. I viewed mindfulness with suspicion.
It seemed like a flimsy buzzword, something that I had seen pedaled by privileged elite who seemed like they were trying to work backwards and find a reason for their success (as opposed to an accident of birth, the more likely culprit).
“How did I get where I am?” these successful-by-default folks would say. “Why, it’s my mindfulness practice.”
But all of that changed when I met a fellow educator who was not only down to earth (and self-made) but also very much into mindfulness.
I tiptoed in cautiously and found that when I gave mindfulness practice an honest go that it drastically changed my stress management and distress tolerance — for the better.
The benefits were many: I was sleeping better. I worried less. Deadlines at my job seemed much more manageable. I spent more time in the present moment and not leaping forward to the future.
But it wasn’t until much later that I connected the dots and realized that applying the same principles to my writing were just the thing to help me with my struggles to produce work consistently.
Accepting What You’re Feeling, Thinking, or Experiencing — Without Judging It
There’s one specific mindfulness principle that has benefited my writing more than the rest: Nonjudgment.
Many of my mindfulness activities revolved around paying specific attention to noting what I was feeling and thinking, without passing judgement.
A famous analogy in mindfulness teaching is that it’s like sitting on the side of a road and watching cars drive by. You note each one as they pass. But you don’t get in any of the cars. You simply observe them.
As a writer, I find that if I judge ideas, they go away. Cursed with a very pesky and persistent inner critic, I would fritter away my writing time sitting there rejecting ideas over and over again, mentally wadding them up like balls of paper.
And when I did eventually find an idea that passed muster, I’d only find myself returning to that cycle of self-judgement and self-rejection as I put my words down — on the sentence, or even phrase, level.
Practicing mindfulness when I sat at the keyboard broke me out of that cycle. It wasn’t that I stopped feeling self-doubt, but instead I didn’t let myself get carried away with it. I would note the doubts but push on through the work anyway. Once I started to do this, I found myself able to be much more productive.
These days, I still allow myself to be judgmental about my own writing but try my best to limit it to when I’m editing a draft and not during the rough copy.
Separating Efforts from the Results, Feeling Fear But Doing It Anyway
I also find utility in mindfulness when it comes to pitching ideas and approaching editors. Mindfulness allows me to acknowledge my fear but not get swept away by it, to feel the fear but do it anyway. Take a chance.
I found myself setting goals that were about efforts and not results. I challenged myself to pitch a certain number of articles per week. To write an article on my own blog every day. To write a certain number of words.
But I didn’t set limitations on how many of those articles needed to be accepted. Or how many times the posts I published on my own site should be read.
I just put the work out there without concerning myself about success or failure — forms of judgment.
Before I knew it, I had amassed a broad readership, published three well-selling books, and became a regular paid contributor to several other websites.
More on Mindfulness
I talk more about my journey with mindfulness as well as four specific exercises I’ve used to great effect in the past in my book Dealing with Difficult Metamours in a chapter titled “A Crash Course in Mindfulness.”
But essentially, your goal when practicing mindfulness is to make sure to check in with yourself many times a day, because frequency is more important than duration when it comes to retraining your brain.
All of my favorite exercises involve asking yourself what you’re sensing, thinking, or feeling — and simply accepting that without judgment. This can involve sitting with your eyes closed and listening to the sounds that surround you, somatic exercises where you sit and direct your attention to different parts of your body and how they feel, or emotional check-ins where you simply ask yourself how you’re doing (I do the last one whenever I get a thirsty text).
When you first start practicing, it will feel like nothing is happening (because the process and results are very different any time you’re building up a strength), but if you stick to it, you’ll notice results over time.