I’m not going to spout the benefits of carving out more free moments in your overly-full schedule (I’m guessing your harried enough to know that you want, no need, to make some changes), so I want to point out a practice that might just be life-changing.
The practice is ancient but feels strangely foreign to most of us. It includes slowing down, making space, freeing one’s thoughts and hopefully gaining insight, clarity and peace. What is this magical, mysterious practice?
The #1 Cure for Weekly Overwhelm
Faith-based individuals call it a “Shabbat” or “Sabbath” or “Sunday rest.” Call it whatever you will, but if you truly want to make big, positive changes in your stress levels, start it now. This week.
There are entire books and websites dedicated to the topic. I’d recommend you read about it further if that will help you embrace the concept more fully. But these are the basics:
*Some advocates advise gently easing oneself into this practice by setting aside just an hour or two to start. I don’t. You have to have a long enough period of time away from work/technology to see the benefits. Otherwise you will end up throwing your hands in the air saying, “See? I knew this wouldn’t work!”
How I started a rest day and the benefits I’ve experienced
I grew up in a religion where we observed Sabbath each week, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. I had a love/hate view of the practice: on the one hand it made the time special, set apart and offered a rhythm to the week. On the other hand, it was oppressive (hello, teenager who can’t go to a Friday night dance?) and often felt oppressive.
As an adult, I observe a modified version: I participate in a rest day each Sunday. I don’t work. I don’t go online (until evening). We try to do fun things together as a family: hikes in the woods, going to the beach or taking out the canoe or blowing bubbles and sitting in the sun on the deck. Anything to get us outside and breathing fresh air. I still cook, but make simple meals.
Maybe something about it meshes with my inner rebel. It feels good, so good, to say “later” to the to-do list, the “should list” and all the niggling, nagging things that need to be taken care of on a daily or weekly basis. Slow Your Home has a great post, Ignore the Shoulds. Do Something You Love which is inspiring.
I can’t honestly say that since I started this practice a couple of years ago, I’ve never worked or gone online on Sundays. But I find that the times I do, I am much less peaceful and content at the end of the day.
It’s kind of like when you were a kid and just couldn’t wait to bite into that giant chocolate Easter bunny. “It’s huge! It’s going to taste awesome.” And then you bit a little too aggressively on its little bunny ear and the whole head caved in. To add insult to injury, not only was the bunny hollow but it was just “chocolate flavored.”
“Oh, just a few minutes brainstorming this project,” feels so innocent. But halfway through the workweek I find that I’m no further along than if I stopped completely on Sunday and gave myself the gift of an entire day off. Isn’t that weird? It’s almost magical the way that the “wasted” time helps the rest of our week go more smoothly.
It shouldn’t be surprising though. We all need rest. We need time to nurture ourselves and let that creative well become deep once again.
Do you have a habit of unplugging once a week? If so, how did you get started? What challenges did you face? Please share a response in the comments.
It's a typical weekday. So that means that the following thoughts run through my head immediately upon waking:
And on, and on, and on. And all this is before rising.
My husband says that just hearing about all that goes on in my head tires him out. I don't think I'm unusual though. Women are more likely to have all these thoughts running rampant, maybe, but creatives are particularly prone to this type of never ending inner monologue.
While I'm too Type A to consider sitting for a 30 minute meditation practice, I have noticed that the tiny, carefully observed parts of my day can provide space for me to be conscious of my life and the world around me. A mentor once called these bits of time “breathing holes,” an apt description. It can happen intentionally, as this morning when I spent 10 minutes in “nature.”
More often though, I find bits and pieces of meditative moments throughout my day.
Finding “breathing holes”
Sipping a cup of coffee after lunch and watching the steam curl out around the rim; smelling my child’s hair while we cuddle while reading a book; focusing on the beauty of color that emanates from a dish of marbles in the sun; watching the cat sleep in a ball on my grandmother’s rocker.
I’d love to tell you that I’m a master at this. That I find Zen-like moments in every day. But I fail miserably at it most of the time. Like a muscle though, I assume that the habit will get stronger the more I practice.
Do you also find “breathing holes” throughout your day? Or are you more structured, with a proper meditation/prayer practice in place? Please share a response in the comments.
I have a tendency to slip into very serious thought-land. As an INFJ, I guess it’s just part of my makeup, the same way that my eyes are hazel and I have yet to meet a sport that comes naturally to me.
And while I enjoy quiet time to think and recharge, sometimes the kid in me wants to shake things up and stop taking things so dang seriously. It’s why I add color to my hair, eat chocolate every day and refuse to give up my dream of traveling across the country with my family, no matter how far away it feels at times. I want to stop at all the weird attractions too, like the world’s largest ball of twine and the recycled road runner.
We all need more fun.
I recently downloaded a copy of Laurie Nataro’s book, It Looked Different on the Model, and chuckled through most of the chapters. I laughed so much in the waiting area at the dentist that I drew some odd looks. I was afraid to hold in the guffaws though, in case something came out of my nose unexpectedly.
It was a contagious read, too. More than once, I caught myself laughing about funny things throughout my day that otherwise would have bugged the crap out of me. That’s a positive, right?
It’s been a long while, too long, since I’ve read or listened to anything good and funny. Here’s a list of some of my favorites in case you also want to add a little more mirth into your day:
· Bill Bryson
· Laurie Nataro
· Car Talk
· Dave Barry
· Loretta Laroche
What have I missed? Share your favorite funny authors/entertainers in the comments.
Remember what a big deal “special sauce” was to McDonalds in the 80’s? Competition between the Golden Arches, Burger King and other fast food places was fierce. Smart marketers knew the importance of setting McDonalds apart from competitors.
(Side note: Mickey D’s recently sent that special sauce recipe to auction ... raising money for a nonprofit.)
This isn’t a post about branding your writing business, though or even setting yourself apart as a writer (both are important). Instead, we’re focusing on that “special sauce” that can help you experience long-term success with your writing business.
How? Through creating a recipe that you love and want to pull out again and again.
First, we’re going to need to gather up some ingredients. There are the essentials, of course: determination, drive and persistence. A thick skin is important because as writers, we accept that rejection is part of the process. What are we missing? Oh yes, skill and ability along with a bit of experience. And now? The pièce de résistance: flow.
“Huh? Flow? Are we still talking about writing here, or Zen meditation?”
Flow, or diversity, is important in one’s writing business.
When I first started writing professionally, I was dedicated to journalism. I wanted to see my name in glossy national publications. I dreamt of browsing the local Barnes and Noble and seeing my byline in one of those magazines on the stands.
I started out slowly, working with one magazine and then more and more national publications. It was exciting and interesting. For a while. But while I loved journalism, I was ready to try something else.
Fast-forward several years and I have three published novels and one nonfiction guide for writers under my belt. Can you guess what else I’m writing? Journalism articles and copy for corporate clients. And now I’m flowing again: teaching writing and writing-related business classes.
My point is without flow in our writing business, we run the risk of becoming stuck. Or stale. Who wants to be those?
How to "flow"
When looking to future success it’s important to make sure we have all of the ingredients that we need, or a way to get them. There are many great programs, books and resources that can help to take our writing to a new and different level.
First though, determine what type of writing you want to include in your business. Books? Ghostwriting? Journalism articles? Freelance blogging? Editing?
It doesn’t have to be five different areas, but it could be that or more. Like building a financial portfolio, writing should include various streams of income to help you diversify not only your checkbook but your creativity. This will also help you beat the feast and famine cycle.
The beauty of creating your own secret sauce, is that it’s just that: your own. Choose the ingredients that make you sing: if writing ad copy doesn’t, leave it out of your recipe. Likewise, if you feel a thrill every time you are paid to create a blog post or write a press release, hone in on those areas.
There is no right or wrong here, other than matching your writing skills and preferences to what customers and clients need.
What are your areas of flow in writing? Do you want to strictly write novels like Stephen King or does crafting stellar blog titles light you up? What makes your writing interests or business diverse?
Things not working for you? Do the opposite!
Remember the episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza laments the way his life has turned out? "If every instinct you have is wrong than the opposite must be right," Jerry counsels his friend. It starts with his order at the diner ... and the opposite-experiment snowballs from there.
If so many of us get the same results doing the same thing and ending up with something we don't want, why we keep doing those same things over and over?
It might show up in your life as failure (perceived or otherwise) around your writing. "I just can't finish a book," you wail to your writing group. "I want to but I can't find the time/get started/finish the manuscript/stop daydreaming (insert excuse here)"
Been there. Still doing that (frequently lately).
If we're writers, why aren't we writing?
Are you struggling to find the time to write? So many of my newsletter subscribers and blog readers have mentioned this particular struggle. (Of course, there's always The 15-Minute Novelist to help ...)
But is it really a time issue? It may very well be. There are many people who adore writing and simply lead lives that are too busy to add in one single thing extra.
Of course, it could also be a fear issue. We all have days when our big dreams seem very far away. Or when we're just plain avoiding something.
I've been "wanting" to start meditating for months now. Wanting being the key word. Notice the quotations? Because honestly, if I really wanted to meditate I would just do it already.
I avoid meditating because:
So maybe we can each try the opposite of what we normally do when we feel that familiar resistance and see what happens?
Instead of periodically smacking myself with the guilty words, "I really should learn to meditate," I could just do something completely opposite. Stand on my head? Learn to juggle? Bake a cake? Watch old Seinfeld episodes?
The trick is trying to figure out if the benefits of our new habit (writing, meditating, exercising, whatever) will outweigh the hard part of getting started.
My psychologist brain wants to delve more deeply into the whole fear/resistance thing, too. We'll be exploring that more in future posts. In the meantime, I'd love to hear about your greatest challenges to fitting writing into your life. Please share in the comments section.
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