Some nine months ago I started meditating; it came about as a result of taking an eight-week cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) skills training course. I’d never thought much about meditation – it was something monks sat around doing; all that chanting and stuff just wasn’t for me. Until, that is, it was. Let me explain. I agreed to take the CBT course to learn some skills to deal with stress and as part of the program we learned about mindfulness and meditation. At first, I was doubtful it could work for me – being mindful was not something that came naturally and the whole meditation thing seemed a little hokey. But, I’d committed to myself that I would have an open mind, attend every class, and complete the course. Out of everything I learned during those eight weeks, mindfulness and meditation were the two things that blew me away!
Who knew that most of the time we go through our days on auto-pilot, not actually being present in the moment? Our psychologist teacher said during one session, “The past no longer exists, the future is yet to exist, the only reality is the present [this moment]” – this blew me away.
Our brain is constantly reliving the past and fantasizing about the future. It spends little time on the here and now unless we take control. As a writer this was a revelation, after all clarity is important.
Mindfulness means living in the present moment; being aware, being focused on exactly what you are doing. As the Tibetan monk, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “When you do the dishes, do the dishes.” By this he means don’t drift off into a dream world, or watch television, or do anything else, put all your concentration into experiencing doing the dishes. This resonated with me and I could see how it might help my writing.
I started to focus more when I was cooking and my cooking improved. I started driving mindfully and found myself less frustrated by traffic and other drivers. And, I started writing mindfully.
So, what about meditation? Meditation is about ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ – it is not some religious duty or experience, it is simply a time when you still your mind and body. A time when you calm the incessant chattering of your mind and your inner voice and enter a state of thoughtful awareness. In essence, it is a state of not-doing.
In recent years, science has shown that meditating has many proven health benefits, and that may be the subject of a future post. For now, let’s focus on why it’s good for productivity.
People are always telling me they would love to meditate, but they have no time. My answer to them is the less time you have, the more you need to meditate. The most amazing revelation of my entire life is meditation not only reduces my stress and makes me feel a million times better about myself and my life, it actually frees up a bunch of time every day!
Okay, I realize that seems counter intuitive – I spend part of my day meditating and I end up with more time, how does that work?
Let me give you an example. Before I started meditating, if I had an article to write I’d do some research and formulate an approach to the topic. I’d then open a new document and start to write. The first half-dozen or so paragraphs would usually be unsatisfactory and I’d push them down the page a little and start over, and over, and over. At some point, I’d review all the rejected paragraphs and use the good bits to write something that worked. All the time, my mind would be racing around considering what else I needed to do, how close I was to deadline and a hundred other things.
So, then meditation came into my life. One day I had a feature article to write and I just couldn’t get my head around how it might work. I’d done some research, but I was suffering from writer’s block. I decided to meditate for twenty minutes. When I returned to the blank page, I started writing and didn’t stop until I’d written 2,000 words. I sat there amazed. I thought it must be garbage. However, when I read what I’d written it needed only minor edits. I’d written the whole article in one sitting in less than 3-hours! In the past, a complex article such as this might have taken me a whole day, or even two.
This wasn’t a fluke; nine-months of daily meditation and it works every time. The other day a client emailed me; she needed a 750-word blog post on a specific topic (one I knew little about) and she needed it within 24-hours. Having just returned from my meditation practice I sat at my computer and wrote the post in just 45-minutes.
Don’t underestimate the power of spending time every day to just ‘be’ and not ‘do’ – I spend at least 30-minutes a day meditating and my productivity and quality of writing has never been higher. Try it for yourself – you have nothing to lose, except that chattering, distracting inner voice!