Today’s mini-mindfulness tool is perhaps debatable as an actual means of getting mindful. It’s simply writing.
Writing, in my experience, is not a very Zen activity. It involves a lot of planning, projecting & thinking ahead, as well as a lot of editing, reviewing & correcting. Kind of the opposite of living in the moment ….
In my previous career when I wrote creative treatments for Fortune 500 project pitches, I’d be given a theme & asked to write to that theme—for example, a racetrack. I’d brainstorm a list of theme-related words & phrases—crash, zoom, fast, speed, a hundred miles an hour—& then I’d pepper those terms into my writing, crossing them off the list as I went. That kind of writing act was intentional, but very much thought out in advance. Conversely (ironically, even?), the terms seemed to flow organically into my writing once I had them on the brain. It was suddenly second nature to craft a sentence like, “This project will speed along your product rollout, zipping the product off shelves at a hundred miles an hour.” In fact, I often found myself adding words to the list retroactively, just so I could feel the sense of accomplishment of crossing them off.
Creative writing is an art, & as such, it has a certain meditative quality. That quality is specifically called flow focus. It’s something brain study experts like Daniel Goleman are delving into of late (http://www.danielgoleman.info/putting-brain-science-to-work-in-your-company/) with books, in-depth studies, online courses, websites & articles. In a nutshell, the flow focus brain state is a “state of neural harmony, where only what is relevant to the task at hand is activated,” says Goleman.
Then there’s journaling ….
Journaling has a variety of different purposes, including but not limited to logging your daily activities; tracking your emotions through a difficult time of life; or even gaining an objective perspective to problem-solve. Some people write in their journals as if they’re addressing a trusted confidante (the cliché “Dear Diary” type of entry) while others factually spell out events or even write in code.
I fall into a mix of the latter 2 categories—& typically for the purpose of problem solving or dealing with emotions. Journaling is a tool I’ve used through much of my life, beginning at age 7 when I received my very first diary notebook as a Christmas present. It was pink satin material over cardboard with a gold-looking lock & ‘key’ to unhinge the lock clasp. I literally did write in code back then, so that my little sisters couldn’t figure it out—the primary crux of the code being initials & cursive writing, which I was just learning & neither of my sisters knew yet. I re-read that treasured old keepsake in adulthood once & laughed at my oh-so-serious entries: “J. sat next to me on the bus today!” (It was a 5-year diary & literally left room for one sentence per day.) I have no idea who “J.” was.
But there’s also something called writer’s block. The condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing (according to online definitions), it can be paralyzing when taken to extreme. Yet the majority of advice on how to break through it is to just keep writing. As Goleman et. al. can tell you, this primes the pump for flow focus.
And so that brings me to today’s exercise in mini-mindfulness: a journal entry assignment from my friend & life coach Dana (whom you can learn more about in my Day 6 post) to resolve some blocks in my business calendar that have been coming up lately. As a coach, myself, I give out the “journal about this problem” lesson relatively frequently. At the beginning of my coaching practice when many of my other tools were in development, it was my go-to. So, having a journal entry assignment of my own seems fitting.
I sat down with pen to paper today & absolutely no idea what I was going to write. So, I started with that.
“Dana has given me an assignment to journal about whatever is blocking me …. Since I don’t know what that block is, I’m going to free-flow write until something hits me.”
My personal journal is done via keyboard in 2016, the year of this post, but I’m far more old-fashioned when it comes to the handouts I provide to participants of my coaching workshops. In those cases, I want people to connect hand-brain activity to retain info & define neuronal pathways in the deep way that handwriting has been shown to do. So, for today’s problem-solving journal entry assignment, I took myself to task in the same way.
And I added a little something extra: Get meta. Not only did I need to plumb the depths of my soul to find inner answers to external problems, but I also needed to rise above & watch myself in some capacity, observing what it felt like to journal.
It happened. On both counts.
“What’s the solution?” I queried toward the end of the page. Then I continued, “I guess part of the answer is …” & the answer in its entirety poured from my pen.
I felt that flow focus in that moment. No blocks, no hesitations, just pure writing bliss—like a runner’s high for the soul. And I noticed myself noticing this & got even higher in every sense of the word.
Read about the correlation between flow state & runner’s high here: http://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/science-trying-decode-runner-s-high.
You know what else is interesting? I even started this post with a little writer’s block. But it turns out I’ve found quite a lot to say.
Day 12 Mini-Mindfulness Tool: Journaling. Stay tuned for a forthcoming bonus post on my favorite journal resources.