This post was part of my bud Sarah Martin Hawkins’ Mindful Habits Blog Tour, a virtual visit with 13 women posting about the power of habit for running a business, being healthy, and getting creative over two weeks. Check out the full lineup here.
Seems everywhere you turn these days someone is talking about mindfulness. There’s mindful walking, mindful yoga, mindful coloring; doctors are prescribing mindfulness meditation to their patients, and corporations are offering mindfulness as a leadership practice.
It’s a thing.
But what IS it, really? And WHY is it such a thing?
I mean, we’re mindful a lot of the time, aren’t we?
Our brains are always working … checking stuff off the to-do list, watching the clock so we’re not late for this or that appointment; thinking schedules, when did the dog last get walked, have I checked in on the parents today, and what am I making for dinner?
And that’s what our brains were designed for: practical matters; taking care of business.
For many of us, they also keep busy narrating our days, like an internal voice-over, commenting on our activities and interactions, judging us and others, obsessing over past mistakes, and future tripping about all sorts of stuff.
The mind is a meaning-making machine. It tries to make sense and meaning out every durn thing, and that often winds up tying you up in mental knots, making you ineffective with your work, stressed out, distracted, and generally crankypants.
And that’s where mindful writing comes in.
With mindfulness, you practice paying attention in the moment, observing your thoughts, and the stories your mind makes up without judgement … bringing more awareness and understanding to your life.
With mindful writing, you just do that on the page.
Journaling is a powerful practice that can help you turn down the noise in your mind (and yes, i did just quote carly simon).
A lot of people talk about it taking up the practice, but … they don’t. (there’s no time; i wouldn’t know where to start; what am i going to write about?)
The great thing is: there’s no perfect way to do it (remember, it’s practice), no perfect time, and no one looking over your shoulder telling you what’s important to write about or not. It can be done almost anywhere … and it doesn’t take fancy, expensive equipment. And the practice has such powerful benefits.
Here are a few tips to get started:
Start with your to-do list. Really. I’m not kidding. Sometimes our heads are so mucked up with all the stuff we have to do, it’s hard to see clearly.
Write about things that need your attention, or a written exploration of what’s on the docket in your day, and your most pressing tasks or deadlines.
Giving yourself 10 minutes to write down all the things that you need to do – the immediate and the long-range – can free up you energy, and give you space to just be present. (that it helps you manage your day-to-day a bit better? bonus.)
Keep your hand moving. If you stop to think about whether “commitment” has two m’s or two t’s (or is it one m and two t’s?) (oh, no; two m’s and one t … ok), you’re stopping the flow, and the point is to open up your mental faucet and let it all out.
A note about typing vs. handwriting: while a lot of us are really used to typing these days, writing with pen and a paper adds a whole other layer of focus to the process. (it’s science.)
Ignore Julia Cameron. Sort of. Julia Cameron’s book The Artist Way got a LOT of people writing with her prescription to do 3 handwritten “morning pages” every day. Inherent in the morning pages process was a permission slip to write whatever came up without judgement. Designed to get people – “writers” or not – to just get stuff out, and not be attached to any sort of perfection, “right-ness,” or product.
It was all about writing for the purpose of clearing the cobwebs, anxiety, and internal chatter to make room for inspiration.
As much as I loved how Julia Cameron got people writing, morning pages pissed me off because: MORNING pages. MORNING. She was really, really attached to that morning thing. But: what about folks who get up super-early to work and have a long commute? What about people who have full plates managing careers, dealing with aging parents, juggling all the household chores, and trying to find time to work out and cook dinner?
I say toss out the rules. Write in the morning. Write at night. Write in the office, write while you’re waiting for the cable guy to show up.
Just find a time that works for you, and start writing.
Start small. I always suggest that people new to the practice start in 5 minute increments so they don’t set themselves up to fail by thinking they need to write down nearly everything that’s happened to get them to the page.
Just write one thing. Five minutes.
This is also a great exercise if you’re angry, impatient or frustrated:
Pick one small thing to write about. Your dog’s chew toy; your hangnail; a flower. Don’t write about the whole garden, or the weeding you need to do; don’t write about the flowers you still have to pick out for your daughter’s wedding … just. one. flower. Observe and write what you see. Write about the color; the way the stem goes from a pale to a deep green as it gets closer to the top; the water beading on the petals.
When you slow down and focus on just one thing instead of stewing in your emotions and frustration, you’ll notice the difference physically: your stomach may start to unclench, your shoulder relax. It’s kinda magic.
Be patient. Writer and writing teacher Anne Lamott says: “Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.” With writing, just keep coming back to the page.
Experiment. Try stream of consciousness writing. Write out the voices that loop in your head, holding you back.
When this practice becomes habit, you’ll reap so many benefits.
You’ll catch yourself in negative self-talk patterns: I never should have ___; I’m not ___ enough; why didn’t I ___ … and when you do, you’ll ask yourself: am I making something up here, or is it true? is it helpful to me, or can I let it go?
You’ll see patterns emerge, and you’ll notice the ebb and flow of your life and its challenges. You’ll become more aware of the obstacles in your path and the steps you can take to deal with them. You’ll gain perspective, clarity and self-compassion.
Not too shabby for a pen and some paper.
If you’d like more support with this work, go snag my free ebook … and catch up with the rest of the mindful habits blog “tour guides” on Sarah’s blog. There are a whole bunch of tips and suggestions to help improve the quality of your business and your personal life with mindful habits.
Here’s a taste of a couple of the other “tour guides”: Check out the video by Karyn Kelbouth, Project Coach and Business Teammate. She talked about how we can transform fears into inspired action in your business.
And then there’s Lara Heacock, Certified Life Coach who wrote about the benefits of self kindness, in all aspects of life.