You may find this hard to believe, but your mind is a puppy. Train it well, treat it with respect, and you’ll have a lifetime of devoted service sitting between your ears. Wet nose optional.
Let me explain.
Writing is hard work. It’s even harder if you have no control over the most important tool you need in order to write. And no, I don’t mean your pen. I’m talking about your mind. You sit down to write and your mind veers away. It’s almost like the page is made of rubber – you just bounce right off. You know you want to write about how the light catches the blue feathers in a magpie as it darts across the sky, but your mind starts to wonder what’s for tea…
Did I remember to post that birthday card, I’ll just check my email, that’s an unusual beard, what does this button do, oh wow, that’s useful, maybe. Now what was that about a magpie?
Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal behaviour for a writer. Or a human, for that matter. The mind is naturally distractible. This is handy when you need to be alert to potential dangers, especially the possibility of being eaten by something larger and hairier than you. It’s not so useful when you need to write about birds, or beards, or whatever it was.
Fortunately the mind is also very good at staying focused on one thing, even to the point of obsession. You can concentrate when you want to. The trick is to persuade your mind to move from surface level distractibility into deeper engagement. But how?
You pretend your mind is a puppy.
The Puppy Technique
This incredible mind training technique isn’t mine. It comes from meditation master Jack Kornfield, and can be found in his book A Path With Heart. It’s adapted from a simple mindfulness meditation method:
Imagine a puppy. Here’s one…
Now imagine what happens when you try to train the puppy to sit and stay. It’s not remotely interested. It gets up and wanders off.
Do you give up? No.
You bring the puppy back and sit him back down.
Off he goes again. Exploring. Ripping up the furniture.
Again you bring him back.
Off he goes again, and again you bring him back. Slowly the puppy learns to stay put.
“Our minds are much the same as the puppy, only they create even bigger messes. In training the mind, or the puppy, we have to start over and over again.”
– Jack Kornfield
Training your mind to stay focused on your writing is exactly like training a puppy. When you find your mind has wandered, just bring it back. Simple. There’s no need to beat yourself up every time you lose focus, violence never helps. You wouldn’t be mean to the puppy – he’s so cute!
Your mind may not be cute, but it can be trained. All it takes is a little practise.
Image: Nice Guys