Mindfulness is the state of being aware or paying attention to yourself and your surroundings, and the practice of mindfulness is exploding through the business world to enhance everything from productivity to stress levels. Fortunately, mindfulness can also lend a helping hand to creative types, whose livelihood may depend on productivity AND low stress levels. Far beyond being a buzzword for yoga teachers to preach and executives to throw around, mindfulness is a hugely beneficial practice that can help you get your creative juices flowing.
But what does it mean to be mindful? Mindfulness, at its most basic, is the practice of paying close attention in any particular moment. The beautiful thing about mindfulness – for the time-starved people that we are – is that mindfulness does not have to be a practice separate from regular life. You don’t have to sit and be mindful 10 minutes a day. Being mindful just means putting all your attention on the present moment, no matter what you’re doing. For example:
A mindfulness exercise for sitting at your computer
Spend a few minutes and notice: How does your keyboard feel underneath your hands? Does the skin on your hands feel dry or smooth? Can you feel movement from your breath moving in and out of your body? Are you clenching your jaw or furrowing your brow? How does your chair feel under your body? Are you comfortable? Does anything hurt? Are your shoulders tense? Can you feel what is underneath your feet? Do your feet feel hot or cool? What happens if you take one deep breath? Do you need to pee?
You can notice all of these things while continuing to read, type, or browse. Mindfulness simply gives you a window into how you’re feeling in the moment.
You can practice mindfulness while walking down the street, trying to fall asleep, working on your novel, cleaning your kitchen, or hanging out with friends. The practice of mindfulness is the start of self-exploration – when you notice that you’re physically reacting in some way to a situation, you can explore why that might be. Remember: if you find yourself reacting in ways that worry you or you find that mindfulness causes you stress, consider talking to a therapist before continuing with the practice.
In terms of creativity, a regular practice of paying attention can pay dividends in terms of getting past writer’s block. Here are a few ways in which mindfulness can help in your creative life:
Mindfulness can help you manage depression and anxiety
Don’t take this the wrong way: mindfulness is not a “cure-all” that can “fix” depression or anxiety. Instead, paying attention to how you feel from day to day can help you target when you are feeling depressed or anxious and can help you take the right steps to manage it. Often, we are lost in our feelings and it’s easy to attribute feeling “down” to a fight we had with a loved one, or feeling “stressed” to a pressure-filled email from our boss. But when you pay attention to your regular patterns, you can notice what triggers you to feel a certain way and use breath, exercise, or other coping mechanisms like therapy to manage them long-term. That can have a huge effect on your creativity as you even out your highs and lows, which can free up energy to work on the projects you’re most passionate about.
Mindfulness can help you recognize aversion
We all know that feeling: “Hmmm, I could write for the next couple of hours. Wow, this stove is filthy! And we’re out of cleaner! I guess I’ll go to the store, buy cleaner, clean out the stove, and while I’m at it, I’ll clean the rest of the kitchen. Maybe the whole house.”
When you’re really paying attention to yourself and your thoughts, it can be easier to recognize this pattern as aversion or avoidance. The blank page can be a scary thing, and in the age of Snapchat, it becomes very easy to avoid. However, confronting the blank page head-on is part of being creative. Try this: next time you notice yourself avoiding a blank page, sit down in front of your computer, look at that white screen, and notice how your body feels. Does your heart rate go up? Do you have the irresistible compulsion to head for Facebook? Do you want to run away? Try writing about it!
Mindfulness can help you find effective inspiration
It’s great to come across something that inspires a story, a poem, a painting, or even simply an idea. It’s another to pursue that speck of inspiration to complete your project. When you are being mindful, particularly in moments of inspiration, you can begin to recognize what makes you feel inspired and excited to work on your current or next project. Personally, I notice that when I read about the art of writing from other writers, I’m inspired and ready to tackle my novel. When I binge-watch Netflix, I’m inspired to do nothing more than lay on the couch and continue watching.
Remember that being mindful about inspiration is not about trying to endlessly create the initial spark of creativity that started the project. Instead, this kind of mindfulness is about helping you recognize what excites you to work. Which brings us to the next point…
Mindfulness can help you develop conscious creative habits
Writer Julia Cameron swears by Morning Pages, 3 pages of longhand writing done first thing when you wake up. Other prolific writers have their own habits that allow them to publish one or more novels per year. When you are mindful about what makes you feel inspired and what makes you feel down and listless, you can consciously choose activities that prepare your body and brain for daily creativity. This includes things like food and exercise: have you ever noticed how you feel about writing after yoga? After the gym? After a healthy meal spent with a friend? After an entire pizza eaten in front of the TV? (Sidenote: I am not dissing pizza. I love pizza. I just wouldn’t eat a whole one right before a marathon writing session.) This also leads us to our last point:
Mindfulness can help you develop healthy habits
Being a writer or artist should not mean abusing your body, and that means healthy food, exercise, and going outside on a daily basis. If you want your brain to function at a high level, your body has to as well. Paying attention every day to how food, exercise, and nature make you feel can pay off 1000-fold for your creative career. It’s easy, when you’re feeling a bit crappy, to get a burger on the way home and crash on the couch (guilty!). But when you know that burger will make you feel worse, it can be easier to choose a healthier alternative. We all have days when the path of least resistance needs to be the one we take, and you should NOT beat yourself up for having those days. But the more you pay attention to the effect of food and exercise on your body and mind, the easier it will be to make choices that make you feel vibrant and creative.
Mindfulness is a simple practice that can be easily incorporated into your daily life. Give it a try!
Do you already have a mindfulness practice? Has it helped you in your creative endeavours? Let me know in the comments!