In the previous articles we discussed the importance of, and how to develop, self-compassion and positivity as a base for a success mindset. The next element to add in is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness means being aware of your thoughts and actions at all times. Your self-compassion and positivity practices cover much of the “mindfulness of thought” aspect. Now let’s focus on awareness of actions.
Developing mindfulness, whether through meditation or simple awareness, is important for several reasons. Every day a new study is released showing that the benefits of meditation and mindfulness are backed by hard science. You actually train areas of your brain, such as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which controls things like knee-jerk reactions and purposeful directed attention to perform to perform better. There are myriad meditation resources available online, as well as guided programs such as Ann Annchild’s Meditation for Writers.
In addition to meditation there are daily activities you can do to sharpen your awareness and become more mindful of how you spend your hours.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” –Annie Dillard
Mindfulness for Minimizing Daily Distractions
Mindfulness is especially necessary in this modern world of digital distractions. How many times have each of us thought “I’ll just check Facebook quick… I’ll just read this one article and get back to writing…” The next thing we know an hour has gone by in a haze. Sure, some of the articles are helpful, but there’s a difference between focusing and reading one article, noting anything interesting and getting back to work, and distractedly reading an article, which makes you think of something else that you meant to check out, and then you’re off down the rabbit hole of distraction, wasting precious time.
Because writing is often difficult and requires a lot of concentration, our mind is always looking for a way out of the discipline. The mind is like a puppy, easily distracted by anything. And like a puppy, we must train our minds to behave, to follow the rules we lay down.
Be Aware of Your Triggers
The method for developing awareness of how you spend your time each day is two-fold. First, start by noting, on paper, each time the urge for distraction arises. For example, do you get the urge to check email when you sit down to write a blog post? Do you find yourself reading articles when you told yourself you were going to prospect? These urges are triggered by an underlying emotion. In order to change behavior you must first know why you act the way you do.
Do you avoid prospecting because of fear of rejection? Do you check email instead of writing because you’re feeling stuck for a topic? By being aware of the root of your distraction you can address the problem. If you’re feeling afraid, bolster your courage with positive self-talk and imagine the positive things that would happen when you complete the task. If you’re feeling stuck, seek out specific solutions online or from a colleague instead of wandering aimlessly through cyberspace.
Keep Track of Your Time
As you note your urges for distraction, also note what it is you do instead, or what sites you visit. Write down the sites you visit and how many times (or use time-tracking software; Mindy Tyson-McHorse reviews a few here). Are you “just quick checking” Facebook eight times a day? Do you mean to read “just one thing” online and find yourself following the breadcrumbs of random thought to who-knows-where?
Review your tallies without judgment or criticism toward yourself. The point is not to berate yourself, but rather to have a physical record of your time so that you can set about adjusting your habits and organizing your priorities.
“Good things happen when you get your priorities straight.” – Scott Caan
Mindfulness for Organizing Your Priorities
When we practice mindfulness we can start to sort out our priorities. What’s really important to you? Checking Facebook or completing the content? Following a string of mildly interesting articles or getting the research for your project completed? Narrow your focus, organize your priorities and be aware of what you’re doing so you can reach your goals.
Start by organizing your priorities daily. Make a list of all your projects and action items and then pick the top three “wins” (projects that are either on close deadlines or that will make you feel the most accomplished) for each day and focus on those.
When you sit down to tackle these daily priorities, you might find it helpful to make some changes to your approach. Below are some helps that I use to stay focused and resist distractions.
- Set a timer for 30, 45 or 50 minutes and work on only one project for that amount of time. Take a 10 minute break to move around. Repeat as many times as necessary throughout the day.
- Close your internet browser while you’re concentrating, if you can. At the very least, close email and all unnecessary tabs.
- If urges to check something online, make a phone call or take out the garbage arise while you’re working, jot it down on a piece of paper and then refocus on the task at hand. Tackle it on the next break.
- Save all the random searching and article-reading for the end of the day. Or, use the timer approach, once in the morning and once again at the end of the day. Set the time for 30 minutes and focus on reading and sending emails, checking out articles, or tracking down the other things that popped into your head while you were working.
This way, you add structure to your days in a way that’s a little looser than a schedule, but that still keeps you on track while allowing yourself an allotted amount of time to write/play/study/investigate.
Mindfulness is a very important tool to have. As you reduce distractions and replace them with focused attention on your top priorities, you’ll be more in control of your days and therefore, your life. You’ll no longer wonder, “Where did the time go?” because you’ll know exactly where it went, you were present for each moment of it.
Next time: Gratitude
**This article is Part III of a series originally published on Wealthy Web Writer on June 4, 2015.**