Can writing things down really make you more mindful?
You don’t have to meditate to develop mindfulness. In fact, any practice that requires that you focus your attention and truly notice what you’re doing and what is going on around you, and within you, can be considered mindfulness practice.
Before we go there, though, we should define mindfulness. People talk of nonjudgmental awareness and awareness of the present moment, but this tells me little about how mindfulness can impact my life. Often I must make judgments and be concerned with things other than the present moment.
I like to think that mindfulness is a well developed ability to notice things or, more specifically, to notice where you are right now and where you don’t have to be.
Think of the people you would describe as mindful. They’re probably attentive, insightful, focused and helpful. While they always contribute to whatever task they, or a group they are in, are attending to, they’re realistic as well as inspiring. They bring something special, they get things done, and they consider various options and their impact on a situation and the people involved in it.
It takes mindfulness to pull all of this together.
We are relational beings, and while there is great benefit in sitting in deep focus, as in meditation, to develop an ability to notice things, we must also be able to carry this focus into our interactions with other people. To be mindful in this way we must be able to communicate.
To communicate mindfully, to positively impact our world, we must not only have ideas, but we must be able to accurately organize and express them. It may be difficult to see how meditation can impact these skills.
Focused attention is important, noticing things is important, but so is our ability to express what we notice and pay attention to. How can you bring these things together in a practice that will foster mindfulness?
Write things down.
Specifically, journal. Focus intently on a topic, problem, experience or event and write about it. Maintain your focus on the writing, and when your attention strays, when you’re distracted, come back to the paper or keyboard and return to your topic and thoughts.
A consistent journaling practice can bring your full attention onto a point of focus. It can help you notice your thoughts and your relation to them. Just like meditation.
Few of us are inspired by great thoughts or sudden insight every time we attempt to journal, so a prompt can help. A prompt can be a simple thought or a profound statement to inspire your writing. It can alert your focus and bring it back onto the practice of journaling.
Focusing on a prompt and noticing what comes up, how we frame those thoughts, how we organize them, and how we express them each day brings all the benefits of classic, seated meditation. Through journaling, as through meditation, you can learn an awful lot about how you see yourself and your place in the world.
Through journaling you can fully realize where you are right now and where you don’t have to be.
Finding a new prompt each day to practice with can be a challenge. A book of quotations can help, or a sacred text or poetry. There’s even an app called Cactus that offers daily prompts to work with and a way to keep a record of your journal.
Just practice journaling every day, make it a discipline of reflection, and you can experience and develop a more mindful, attentive, insightful life – without ever meditating.
Psych Central has closed its blog network to new content. Find more at Practicing Mental Illness.