Meditation for Authors
As an author, you probably spend your days wrangling a long, complicated to-do list — doubly so if you also have a day job and family commitments. Many of us are so busy we actively try to simplify our lifestyles. We sacrifice sleep to fit in writing time and TV to maintain social media engagement. The goal-orientated type-A’s among us seek to eradicate any activity that doesn’t provide tangible results that align with our goals. The last thing we want is to add a pointless activity. That’s why we struggle to justify meditation.
Yes, we understand that it’s an ancient practice that’s survived the wear and tear of time and has even grown in popularity in recent years. But many of us don’t see the appeal, nor do we understand why anyone would willingly sit still for 30 minutes, making repetitive noises and thinking about existentialism. That’s not practical, is it? It won’t help us hit our daily wordcount quotas or improve our Facebook ad conversion rates. What’s the point?
Look closer with an open mind, however, and you might reconsider your position. For example, did you know many top CEOs admit to meditating daily, and cite the habit as a reason for their business success? Did you also know medical studies prove that meditation practices correlate with improved mental and physical health? You don’t have to meditate for long every day to see benefits, either, nor do you have to do it atop a mountain, surrounded by gongs and incense. If those facts have surprised you, keep reading because today’s blog post has lots more enlightenment to offer, as well as practical advice on how to make meditation a habit that sticks.
Benefits for Authors
1. It Helps You Form Habits
Our brains create physical neural pathways whenever we try to form habits. Carving new ones comes with resistance. Making the initial pathway is tricky; that’s why we struggle. However, once you’ve made a neural pathway, it stays there and turns an activity into a reflex you can do on autopilot. This is true for any habit, from writing every day to cleaning our teeth. According to Sharon Salzberg, a meditation expert writing for Mindful.org, meditation can ease the process. She explains:
“It’s estimated that 95% of our behavior runs on autopilot. […] Mindfulness is the exact opposite […] Every time we do something deliberate and new, we stimulate neuroplasticity, activating our grey matter, which is full of newly sprouted neurons that have not yet been groomed for “autopilot” brain.”
We can draw from this explanation that meditation, while challenging at first, becomes easier as the habit forms. Plus, as a meta-habit, it teaches you the discipline of being able to focus for long periods of time. Hence, meditation can make you a more consistent writer, or less likely to give up on whatever routine aspect of your business you want to improve, be it marketing or staying healthy while facing a deadline.
2. It Makes You More Organised and Resilient
One of the biggest benefits of meditation, according to research, is its ability to help you ignore the pull of both pleasurable and stressful distractions, which results in you becoming more organised and resilient. It works because meditation teaches meditators to realign their thoughts when they drift. Almost every form of practice allows your mind to wander but always impresses the importance of bringing yourself back to centre rather than following your distractions. According to Emma Seppälä PhD, a leadership, happiness and compassion expert writing for Harvard Business Review, the act offers multiple benefits:
“The research on mindfulness suggests that meditation sharpens skills like attention, memory, and emotional intelligence. […] Multiple research studies have shown that meditation has the potential to decrease anxiety, thereby potentially boosting resilience and performance under stress.”
Imagine you’re writing the next chapter of your work-in-progress. What normally distracts you? The draw of Netflix? Easier choices like making coffee? How about a room that needs cleaning or an email that’s sat unanswered in your inbox for weeks? Meditation won’t stop these distractions from prodding you, but it will help you re-centre your mind when they arise, enabling you to keep going and close mental loops rather than leaving yet more tasks unfinished as you jump from fire to fire.
3. It Makes You Healthier
Burnout is a big issue in the author community. It arises from overwork, stress and a lack of healthy habits. Meditation can’t necessarily tackle all those criteria; overwork depends on you to take action—or not, as the case may be. When it comes to your health, however, medical studies strongly advocate the benefits of meditating regularly. Indeed, 2018 articles by Healthline confirm that meditation can help alleviate the symptoms of all manner of medical conditions, including:
- cardiovascular disease,
- dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- and chronic pain
Healthline also claims it can:
- lower blood pressure
- reduce stress
- improve emotional regulation
- increase focus
- enhance mood
- and slow the aging process
A 2014 article from the Entrepreneur Handbook confirms these findings, clarifying that meditation in the workplace “diminishes the risk of sicknesses” among employees. While you probably don’t have employees to consider, it is worth noting the potential health benefits of meditation. After all, as the sole employee and main bottleneck in your business, meditating could mean the difference between keeping yourself healthy enough to pay the bills and having to go back to relying on a day job after a burnout-induced illness caused you to miss a deadline.
4. It Makes You a Better Creator
We authors have a challenging relationship with creativity. Writer’s block is a real fear for many. As is the anxiety of reader criticism, which can freeze the creative juices in our veins. Meditation, however, can help keep everything flowing. Emma Seppälä PhD explains in Harvard Business Review:
“Research on creativity suggests that we come up with our greatest insights and biggest breakthroughs when we are in a more meditative and relaxed state of mind. […] This is likely because meditation encourages divergent thinking.”
Meditation makes you more relaxed and helps you think laterally, which can lead to more “eureka” moments. But it doesn’t solely help you generate ideas. Laura Honeycutt, a leadership coach, wrote in a 2018 article for Forbes that meditation also gives meditators the ability to pause, breathe and choose their responses, rather than reacting defensively when challenged.
She explains that you can cultivate this pause through meditation. Wielding this tool to regulate your emotions allows you to buffer yourself when facing criticism. New authors, in particular, can benefit from such a practice when receiving advice from editors and beta readers. Over time, this receptivity makes you a better writer with more commercial and critical potential. As the 2014 article on meditation at Entrepreneur Handbook explains, when “employees walk into meetings with lesser emotional detachment with the goal, it results in lesser stress for everyone.” The same goes for authors. Use mediation to distance yourself from your projects and it will make you a better, more collaborative creator.
How to Meditate
Meditation comes in many forms. As previously mentioned, though, they all share one common lesson: focus. For example:
- Mindful meditation teaches you to focus on your breathing and thoughts
- Mantra meditation teaches you to focus on repeated phrases
- Body scan mediation teaches you to focus on the tension in your muscles
- Love meditation teaches you to focus on gratitude and kindness
- Visualisation meditation teaches you to focus on success
- Movement meditation teaches you to focus on your movements
- Focused meditation teaches you to focus on interacting with physical objects
The physical position you use to meditate doesn’t matter so much as your focus and sense of presence. Do you need to shut your eyes? No; for some people, jogging is a sustainable mediative practice. Do you need to breathe at a certain speed? Only worry if you stop breathing. Every type of meditation offers benefits. At first, you will find it difficult to focus your mind. But practice it like a muscle, starting with one-minute sessions working up to 15-minute ones over time, and you will eventually reap rewards.
When Will You See Results?
When you’re running circuits or lifting weights, it’s easy to measure your progress and see physical results. But meditation doesn’t work that way. According to a peer-reviewed 2017 article from Medical News Today:
“fixating too much on the results can provoke anxiety that undermines the benefits of meditation. However, most research shows that meditation can work very quickly. Studies of meditation typically follow practitioners for weeks or months, not years.”
Essentially, start today and science suggests you will likely see results within days or weeks. Consider the advantages you can glean from forming stronger habits and being more organised. What about improving your health and creative potential? Before this blog post, you might have thought meditation was all about sitting still and doing nothing while others pass you. Hopefully, now you understand its potential. Doing “nothing” could be the most productive activity you do to overcome plateaus and accelerate your progress.
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