Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D., author of #CHILL: Turn Off Your Job and Turn On Your Life, offers several tips inspired by the book for mindfulness and mental fitness during the pressures of the writing process.
If your writing path is anything like that of most authors, you will have someone telling you no every step of the way. Aside from good writing, the art of #Chill determines whether you make it as a writer, perhaps even more than good writing. At first glance there appears to be no connection between the ability to #Chill and writing success. But when you look closer, it’s clear that they’re inexorably linked. If you can’t treat your writing self well, then self-aversion takes charge with its whip and chain—nit picking, criticizing, and demanding—exhausting you of your creative mojo.
When author John Steinbeck refused his editor’s urge to work faster, he wrote in his journal that pressure to produce would damage his writing: “I find I am hurrying to get through my day’s work. It is a destructive suggestion. A book, as you know, is a very delicate thing. If it is pressured, it will show the pressure.” In the spirit of Steinbeck, here are 8 ways that being mindful and taking care of your mental fitness can help you overcome writing pressures, produce your best literary work, and sustain you over the long haul.
1. Amp Up Self-Care
We’re taught that self-sacrifice is a virtue, that putting ourselves last is a character strength, but hold on. Always putting yourself at the end of the line is a grave disservice and actually works against you. You can’t spin out a good writing piece if you’re hungry, thirsty, tired, or sleepy. Self-care makes your use of time more sustainable. It’s important to avoid gobble, gulp, and go. Healthy eating, rest, and regular exercise give you the stamina to withstand any challenge the writing world throws at you.
When was the last time you took time to soak in a hot bath or indulge in a restorative activity that rejuvenates your body and mind and restores your creative juices? Italians #Chill by practicing “il dolce far niente”—roughly translated “the sweetness of doing nothing.” Doing nothing is like the integral pauses to a beautiful piece of music. Without absences of sound, music would be just noise. Doing nothing provides an incubation period for your creative mojo to hatch and balances your writing craft with the other areas of life: play, relationships, and spiritual needs.
Takeaway: To prevent the invasion of the balance snatchers, hit the #Chill button. Make a fifteen or twenty minute appointment with yourself, and schedule personal time—a hobby, hot bath, manicure, yoga, facial, reading, a sport, massage, or meditation.
2. Chill Your Faultfinder
To be a successful writer, you must be for yourself, not against others, but for yourself. If not, then who will be for you? That sounds simple enough, but some of us are not used to being for ourselves. Your relentless faultfinder—everybody has one—is too quick to judge you, minimize your accomplishments, or demote you to an underdog. Stepping back and observing your faultfinder with an impartial eye, keeps you from clobbering yourself. It becomes obvious that the faultfinder doesn’t tell the truth, whittles you down to a stub, and undermines your writing ability.
Start to recognize when your faultfinder pops up, kicking you around, keeping you stuck in self-doubt. Think of it as a part of you—not all of you. Don’t believe the booming eviscerating voice that attacks you with, “You don’t have what it takes to be a writer.” To offset the faultfinder from getting in the way of your creativity and stopping you in your tracks, replace it with a “favorfinder.” When you stumble, put down your gavel and pump up your kind, favorfinder to offset your faultfinder’s critical voice. Then notice the difference in what you see and feel and how much more you like yourself as a writer.
Takeaway: #Chill your relentless faultfinder so it doesn’t dominate your thinking; maintain separation from it and give more weight to your favorfinder so you can persevere with your writing.
3. Stack Your Positivity Deck
Scientists say we’re hardwired with a negativity bias to keep us out of harm’s way. Because negativity has a longer shelf life, you overestimate threats and underestimate your ability to overcome them. It takes three positive thoughts to offset one negative thought. Although negativity hardwires you for safety, it limits your ability to see possibilities and keeps you from believing in yourself. But you don’t have to let your wiring dictate your writing. You can get into the habit of underestimating threats and overestimating your ability to overcome them. Here’s how:
Avoid blowing disappointments out of proportion; look for the upside of a downside situation; underscore positive feedback instead of letting it roll over your head; focus on the solution instead of the problem; pinpoint the opportunity in a challenge; refuse to let one bad outcome rule your future outlook; take chances instead of letting your survival fears hold the cards.
Takeaway: Deal yourself a positivity card on a regular basis to #Chill your mind, build your creative mojo, and offset stress juices that could bring you to a screeching halt during a writing threat.
4. Talk Yourself Off the Ledge
If you tried to collect all the tears shed by writers, they would fill an ocean. We all need a shoulder to cry on when faced with rejection and heartbreak. But in the isolating and lonely writing world, the only shoulder is often your own. In an effort to cope, do you kick yourself for shortcomings, thinking this mistreatment can help your improve your writing?
Not so fast.
Scientists say it’s the other way around. A direct link exists between self-compassion and creative output. Coming down hard on yourself after a writing setback dilutes your creativity and chances of success. Self-compassion, on the other hand, is like a best friend that talks you off the ledge, bounces you back when you’re disheartened, and propels you closer to your writing goals.
When you’re going through writing duress, instead of kicking yourself when you’re down, try a heavy dose of self-compassion. There’s nothing more soothing than a pep talk, affirmation, or an arm around the shoulder. I don’t mean someone else’s arm. I mean your own supportive arm can be a huge Rx for setbacks and delays. When you self-soothe through letdowns—instead of turning on yourself—you become better at your craft and have a greater chance of topping the charts.
Takeaway: When writing struggles leave you downhearted, take time out to #Chill. Enjoy your own company, be your own best friend, and do for yourself what you would do for those you love most.
5. Send Self-Doubt Packing
Raise your hand if you’ve never had writing doubts. I thought so. I don’t see any hands in the air. Chances are, there are days when self-doubt takes up residence in your head and eats you alive. It tells you that you’re defeated before you begin. When doubt precedes your path, you’re already halfway down, and you haven’t even started the journey. It keeps you from taking the necessary risks to grow as an author and a person and compromises your creativity. You usually find what you expect to find. If you look for defeat, you’ll find it. If you look for success, you’ll find success. What a relief to admit that you have self-doubt! All writers do, but you don’t have to let it rent space in your head.
Doubt is a shadow over truth. Unless you recognize it, doubt overshadows the truth about who you are as a writer. Each time you step out of doubt’s shadow, you learn more self-truths. If you have a self-defeating outlook blocking your writing success, replace it with a positive outlook and take necessary steps to make the positive thought a reality.
Takeaway: Send self-doubt packing, and move in self-confidence. As you #Chill, you will discover the real truth about yourself as a writer one writing project and one deadline at a time.
6. Cultivate a Growth Mindset
Only the diligent survive the writing business. Statistics show that more of us have the stamina to continue to take safety risks after a car crash than to continue after a series of psychological defeats. Some writers are more successful than others because they have what is known as a growth mindset, basically a winning frame of mind. Michael Phelps had it in swimming, Serena Williams in tennis, Meryl Streep in acting, and Tom Brady in football. How do you stack up?
Writers with a growth mindset think of success and rejection as a package deal. They accept defeat and success equally and view obstacles, disappointments, and setbacks as opportunities from which to grow. They welcome rejections—no matter how painful, frustrating, big or small—and envision mistakes as lessons from which to learn. They write from the perspective that setbacks happen for them, not to them. Instead of throwing in the towel, they ask, “What can I manage or overcome here?” or “How can I turn a roadblock into a steppingstone?” They are creative risk takers unafraid to stretch beyond customary bounds, masters of self-correction, good problem solvers focused on solutions, and skilled in following what they believe. When you live from a growth mindset on a daily basis, you discover that the power within you is greater than the writing challenges that lay before you.
Takeaway: Just as grass grows through concrete, you can face defeat with a growth mindset by taking the towel you want to throw in and use it to wipe the sweat off your face, #Chill, then hop back into the saddle of writing.
7. Set Lifelines Instead of Deadlines
Think about it. There’s a reason why we call them deadlines. Sometimes we set the bar so high we require ourselves to change tires going eighty miles an hour. Out-of-reach deadlines can be toxic. They can make you sick, debilitate—even kill you. And if you’re dead, you can’t write. So consider lifelines that slow you down, help you #Chill, and paradoxically, make you more productive and effective in your writing.
When you set lifelines, you don’t over-schedule. You put time cushions—time to breathe, eat a snack, go to the bathroom, or just look out the window—between writing tasks. When you have lifelines instead of deadlines, you’re less likely to hear that whooshing sound as deadlines go by or feel that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach for “always” being behind. Your literary days become less hurried and harried, and you enjoy the writing process more. What about it? Do you hear that whooshing sound? Or not?
Takeaway: Consider setting lifelines for writing projects by slowing down, #Chilling, and scheduling time cushions between tasks so your writing life becomes more creative, fun, and productive.
8. Be a Good Will Hunter
You’ve heard the old adage that it’s better to give than receive. It might sound odd, but helping other writers has a boomerang effect. Commonly known as the helper’s high, dispensing good will can boost your mood, help you #Chill, and relieve you of stress-related illnesses.
According to scientists, brain scans of benevolent and generous people show stronger immune systems, calmer dispositions, and better emotional health. We’re all in the writing game together. We don’t compete against one another. The more you spread good will and help other writers, the more it helps you. Reaching out and supporting fellow authors gives you a break from your own stressors. It makes your life worthwhile and gives you a sense of purpose, and meaning. Performing kind acts for other writers—no matter how small or brief—connects you to them in a deeply meaningful and humane way. By taking good care of fellow writers, you’re taking good care of yourself.
Takeaway: If you want to forget your own writing woes for a while, get a #Chill in return, and acquire a new lease on your writing life, consider lending a helping hand to another writer; you’ll be glad you did.
How Do You Get There?
As an advocate of mindfulness meditation, I am convinced that the best medicine to reach #Chill and writing success is a 5-minute dose of meditation per day. There are 1,440 minutes in one day. Studies show that just 5 minutes of regular daily meditation puts you in a state of #Chill where you’re in charge of your busy mind so you don’t work your brains out, and your brain doesn’t work you out. This state cultivates a peaceful center within you that unleashes your curiosity and creativity and has many other physical and mental benefits. Your heart and respiratory rates slow down. Muscles loosen. Your mind is calm, open, and clear. Decisions and actions are reflective, even, and balanced. Plus, you have better sleep, increased immunity, lower blood pressure, improved digestion, and greater emotional wellbeing. And that still leaves you 1,435 minutes to pen that barnburner in a calmer, clearer, and more creative way.
Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D., is the author of #CHILL: Turn Off Your Job and Turn On Your Life. William Morrow/HarperCollins, December 2018. If you want to find out how Chill you are, go to BryanRobinsonBooks.com and take the #CHILL quiz. After submitting your answers, you will receive an immediate electronic score.