There are a lot of misconceptions about mindfulness. Many people think it involves sitting cross-legged on the floor while you try to erase all thoughts from your mind. In reality, you cannot erase thoughts from your mind, and there’s probably little value in doing so.
Mindfulness is simply the skill of being able to observe yourself in any situation. Like all skills, mindfulness can be improved upon with practice. Practice can take many, many forms. Yes, meditation is one form of practice. But you can also practice mindfulness while exercising, doing the dishes, or walking your dog.
I’m not a mindfulness teacher, so I won’t go into all its various forms. My favorite introductory book is The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness. It takes a non-nonsense, practical approach to mindfulness that’s easy to grasp and practice. The popular Headspace app is a companion to the book and is also a wonderful introduction.
So why is mindfulness important for creative work?
Practicing mindfulness will produce benefits in every area of life and in every kind of work, but it’s especially important for creative work. As creatives, we use our emotions and intuitions to guide us through the creative process. From years of honing our craft, we develop an instinct for how to make things in a way that reflects our unique take on the world.
But when we put our creative powers to use in the service of others, things get complicated quickly. Clients don’t always see things the way we do. They make requests that conflict with our vision—or outright reject our ideas. Sometimes, the trouble is with members of our team who have their own strong ideas about how to proceed with a project.
Emotions can quickly flare up, and we can easily get lost in a maze of frustration, anger, burn-out, or boredom. Mindfulness gives you the ability to recognize when these feelings are arising. Instead of blindly reacting to them and fanning the flames of the current situation, mindfulness allows us to pause and simply observe what is happening.
Through observation, we see ourselves and our relation to others clearly. It’s not about banishing emotions; it’s about recognizing them and seeing how they can catapult us in a direction that we may not choose for ourselves. With enough practice, mindfulness allows us to see ourselves objectively, to understand that we are part of a network of people, ideas, and feelings—most of which cannot be directly controlled.
This, in turn, creates space to breathe. It creates a deep sense of calm, even in the most violent of storms. It allows us to be our best selves and do our best work.