The Magic of NANOWRIMO

pumpkin flowers
The Magic of NANOWRIMO

Nestled neatly between the end of gardening season and the beginning of the holidays is NANOWRIMO, National Novel Writing Month. It is a marathon in which writers challenge themselves to complete 50,000 words in thirty days. This is my second year of writing for NANOWRIMO, and although it makes the month a little chaotic, I am waiting for the burst of happy endorphins on crossing the finish line (which I expect to do by tomorrow night.) It might not seem obvious at first, but there is much about this marathon that can be applied to mindfulness practice.

The magic of NANOWRIMO is created by three elements:
-the deadline
-the commitment
-the focus on quantity over quality for the short run.

The deadline of thirty days forces us to prioritize the task. The commitment (announced to friends and family) forces us to finish. And the focus on quantity (50,000 words) helps us turn off the internal editor that keeps telling us we are no good at this. We simply write. It’s not that we never edit; but that takes place later in December. What one has at the end of NANOWRIMO is a first draft. There is still a lot of work to be done, but without the challenge many wishful writers would never have a first draft in hand. And that is magical.

What if we applied the same idea to mindfulness practice? Could we make a commitment to embrace meditation, dedicating a certain number of hours during a thirty day period? I think most of us could. Could we keep up that pace forever? Probably not, but perhaps it would be long enough to establish the practice as a habit.(1)

A thirty day sprint of concentrated focus and attention could birth a meditation practice or reinforce a slacking one. We won’t have mastered the art at the end of thirty days, but we will have rooted ourselves in the commitment to practice. Just the act of showing up, opens doors to understanding that we can’t possibly know in just thinking about the activity.(2)

I write an hour a day during NANOWRIMO and that pace would be impossible to keep up given my work and other commitments. However what NANOWRIMO has helped me assess is where in my schedule I can find some time to write on a regular basis. It won’t be an hour a day, but something. This same idea works for mindfulness as well.

NANOWRIMO has also taught me that there is no waiting for good days. We have to write on bad days when we are not feeling motivated, as well as the good. Waiting for the mood to strike will sabotage any plans for success with both writing and meditation.

Beginning a meditation practice can be difficult.(3) Our lives are busy and it can feel as if nothing is happening at first. It is easy to walk away from the practice. A challenge to simply log the hours without worrying about quality and results could be the magic we need to get going.

Perhaps a thirty day mindfulness meditation marathon is in order.

(1)I can’t find any scientific evidence of the idea that it takes only thirty days to create a new habit, however thirty days would make a good start.
(2)Thank you to Grand Master Samuel Copeland for first presenting this concept of “just showing up” as applied to Gung Fu and Tai Chi. Show up for class and show up for practice and something good begins to happen.
(3)There are a wealth of resources available for beginning meditation practice, but some of my favorites are:
• Wherever you go there you are, Jon Kabat-Zinn
• Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Every Day Life, Thich Nhat Hanh
• The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh

1 Comment

  1. Melody Condron
    November 24, 2013

    (1) Judah, Gardner, & Aunger (2013) report that habit formation for flossers (a healthy habit to be sure) improved during a 28 day period, and that the practice became more likely to take hold when participants “held more positive attitudes” (p. 348). The latter result was unexpected by the researchers.

    Judah, G., Gardner, B., & Aunger, R. (2013). Forming a flossing habit: An exploratory study of the psychological determinants of habit formation. British Journal of Health Psychology, 18, 338-353. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8287.2012.02086.x


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