The buzz around “mindfulness” keeps growing. Therapists, teachers, and vulnerability gurus are saying things like, “practice mindfulness” and “be more mindful,” but that’s not helpful if you don’t understand what mindfulness is, or how to apply it to your life.
Mindfulness is just the practice of focusing your awareness on the present moment. NIH researchers claim this practice of being present is helpful in dealing with stress and anxiety, but additional research proves it also boosts productivity and memory. As a writer, I’m definitely interested in developing a practice that can increase my productivity and relieve my stress. There’s nothing as daunting (in my world) as a looming deadline, am I right?
What I discovered are four mindfulness techniques that benefit writers. There are many more, of course, but I’m starting a daily practice with these four simple techniques ASAP!
1. Engage Your Five Senses
This first mindfulness technique is an opportunity to stop everything, no matter how busy, and engage your five senses. How does the desk feel where my arms are resting? How warm and creamy is that coffee as I take a sip? Is my nose detecting floral notes in that glass of wine? What is that soft rustling sound in the next room? Is that paint color on the wall more blue or green?
Focusing my awareness on the data provided by my senses sharpens my mind and activates the parts of my brain associated with memory and creativity. Guess what writers need to engage often? I use this mindfulness technique to power more vivid and engaging writing.
2. Observe and Appreciate Nature
Moving beyond awareness of my senses, this next technique asks me to take a few moments to quietly observe and appreciate something in nature. I might choose to take five minutes to watch the way leaves twirl and fall gently from a tree, or the way a squirrel dashes frantically to and fro. It can even be something as simple as focusing on my dog’s steady breathing during his afternoon nap. My goal is to let nature observation be the only thing I am aware of during that time and let my brain savor the experience.
The power of observation is one of a writer’s greatest assets. Writers have to observe and report on the world around us, from describing a customer’s products to the retelling of events and news. Choosing mindful observation is a form of meditation which also increases focus and attentiveness.
3. Take a Deep Breath
We all carry stress in our bodies. I carry mine in my neck, shoulders, and jaw. I am also aware that for a majority of the day, my breathing is too shallow. Mindful breathing invites me to release that body tension through deep, calming, focused breaths.
This technique can be done anywhere, at any time, in just one minute. Take deep breaths in through the nose, out through the mouth. Focus the brain on the breaths coming in and going out. Focus on the releasing tension in the body with the release of the breath. Counting the breath is also helpful. I like to count to six as I inhale and again as I exhale. Easy, right?
It’s simple but powerful. Taking a minute or two throughout the day to focus on breathing can reduce stress, increase focus, and possibly prevent cognitive decline due to aging. I need all my faculties working at peak performance to write. Deep breathing has become my favorite mindfulness technique!
4. Tame Your Wandering Mind
There used to be an idea in meditation circles that to effectively meditate, one must “empty the mind” of all thought. News flash: it’s impossible to empty the mind. We can focus on simple things, like counting our breaths, but inevitably our minds will wander. Learning to recognize the mind’s wandering is one of the best parts of a mindfulness practice because it brings awareness. Each time my brain drifts off-topic during a mindfulness technique, it gives me an opportunity for self-awareness and a chance to refocus. Like a muscle, this self-awareness grows along with my ability to focus. Taming my wandering mind is not exactly a stand-alone mindfulness technique, but is part of every mindfulness practice I undertake.
I, like many writers, can drift into tangents, unexpected stories, side plots, and wayward characters. This wandering is not always a bad thing, but it can detract from the work I need to accomplish. By learning to recognize this wandering, I can harness these mind drifts and bring my attention back where it’s needed. Again and again and again.
As a writer, I call that a win.