Mindfulness and writing

Like a lot of people I’ve embraced the virtues of mindfulness in recent years.

I first became aware of the term when I read a mews paper article about a Buddhist trained monk called Andy Puddicombe who had created his own meditation app and business called Headspace.

I learnt that mindfulness is about being in the present in terms of our minds and thoughts. Through the act of meditation, mindfulness is about remaining in the present by focusing our mind’s attention on our breathing.

It sounds simple enough but like so many people, when I attempted to sit still for a few minutes and count each breath I was taking, my mind quickly wondered off onto other thoughts. The key to mindfulness is that when your mind begins to wonder you recognise this and you bring your attention back to the present; back to your breathing.

Since reading that first article, mindfulness and meditation has gone mainstream. It’s a key component of the health and wellbeing industry with mindfulness techniques being used by people to cope with the stresses and demands of modern day life.

When so many of us are distracted by our thoughts, constantly thinking and worrying about past or future events. It got me thinking about how our thoughts can affect the day to day jobs and activities we all have to do. I started to think about how mindfulness could help when it comes to the writing and editing process.

How can mindfulness help with writing?

Mindfulness is about being in the present but how many of us have tried to write a piece of content, only to find that we can’t focus.

Our thoughts are elsewhere, we procrastinate and find reasons not start the writing process. And of course we have so many things to distract and disrupt us from doing stuff, like the internet, our mobile phones, social media, checking emails etc.

I’ve had this problem many times in my writing career. I think it’s important to acknowledge that no matter how much we may enjoy writing – writing can be hard.

It’s difficult to get started if you’re writing about something that is quite complex to understand or if its a topic you’re not particularly interested in. There’s a part of our brain that says it doesn’t want to focus on this because it’s too difficult and it’s much easier to be distracted by something else. Being mindful is about recognising these thoughts and being aware of them.

This thought was echoed in a recent blog post I read by one of my favourite bloggers Leo Babauta, who writes the Zenhabits blog.

Bring Purpose & Mindfulness to Your Work

He writes about the fear that we have when faced with a difficult task and also the many distractions that are available to us which give us an excuse not to focus on something.

I’ve always found that in these situations, the most difficult thing to do is write the first sentence. Once you’ve written your first sentence, you may not like it. It may not be grammatically correct but the important thing is, it’s a start. You can then write another sentence and another sentence and before you know it, you have a paragraph.

When you can see that you’ve written something down, it slowly begins to make the task seem easier and your spirits, motivation and focus begin to increase.

Admittedly, I may find myself being distracted again by reading some emails or looking at the internet but the efforts to re-focus become easier.

It’s important to work yourself into focus, to get yourself into ‘the zone’ where outside distractions are ignored. I always feel you’re in a good place when you find yourself in that zone and I guess this is what mindfulness is about – its being in the present where your focus and attention is only on one thing.

Maintaining this type of focus for significant periods of time is hard and in my own experience with writing, I find that it’s good to give your mind a break, not in terms of being distracted but in doing something else. It could be going for a lunch time walk, reading a book or magazine. It’s taking your focus somewhere else for a period of time before bringing it back to the work you’re doing.

Sometimes it can feel that our mind and thoughts are independent to ourselves to the point that we have little control over them. Of course we do have control over our thoughts and actions.

When I think of mindfulness and writing and in fact any type of work, it’s about having awareness. It’s about knowing that our minds do wonder, that we will get distracted and inevitably procrastinate at times.

Mindfulness is about being aware of this, and knowing how and when to regain focus and understanding how we like to work and how our minds operate. I’m certainly not an expert but I’m always trying to improve.