Awe walking- a mindful movement exercise to establish focused flow

This week I’ve been busy developing my app that will deliver the 6-week Flow Writer Challenge when it’s launched in a few weeks’ time. The blog had been put to one side while I got on with designing the challenge and the post-challenge programme. I then realised I was again flirting with my old friend overwhelm, which has also been reflected in the feedback from my writing coaching clients- all of them struggling with overwhelm, some due to multitasking and finding it difficult to carve out time to write, some overwhelmed by a need to organise rapidly multiplying ideas into a coherent plan for an article, others struggling with writing up their research design for a PhD upgrade. As I build my writing coaching practice, I am coming up against the problem of overwhelm over and over. This seems to be rooted in having too many things to do in a short space of time, but it is also a product of overthinking and catastrophizing by focusing on the potential for failure. These are very human problems that don’t only apply to writers of course. However, the isolation that accompanies the solitary occupation of writing can make it very difficult to step back from catastrophizing the future and reconnect to the reality of the present moment. When I need to reconnect to the present and realign to my flow, I take a short walk to my special place in the image below.

Aware of the temptation to fuse with a sense of overwhelm, despite the fact I’ve met all my goals and more this past week, I decided that rather than sit down at my desk and tackle my to do list, I’d try and shift my energy outward, and drop into the present moment. This is practice I recommend to my writing coaching clients who feel stuck or overwhelmed, and especially when they feel isolated. Writing is a solitary occupation. For an off the scale introvert like myself, lots of time alone rarely presents a problem but the stagnant energy that can result from sitting at a desk for hours can be an obstacle to maintaining motivation. That’s why the mindful focusing exercises I will be recommending in my 6-week Flow Writer Challenge will involve movement, rather than sitting. Today, rather just taking a stroll, I went for an ‘awe walk’- a mindful movement practice that helps overcome feelings of isolation and disrupts the inward downward spiral of overwhelm. All too often, writer’s overwhelm can result from focusing on an imaginary future where we fail to meet our writing goals.

I am fortunate to live on the Fife coastal path next to a beautiful fishing harbour (in the photo above) and large park with beaches, lawns, picnic benches and woods. So, when I need to take a walk in nature and reconnect with my environment, I merely walk out of my front door! Others who live in towns and cities may not find accessing nature so easy, but the mindful practice of awe walking can unveil a fresh appreciation of the apparently mundane while shifting stagnant energy and reconnecting us to our surroundings. Research has found that awe walking helps overcome feelings of isolation while also being good for our physical health. Awe is very powerful, and can reignite our creative process by dissolving a tendency towards overthinking and getting stagnant energy moving. The Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley offers a guide to a short 15-minute awe walking practice. I suggest visiting the site and following their guidance.  I quote from their website below:

“With the right outlook, awe can be found in almost any environment, turning a mundane experience into a flight of inspiration and wonder. It is most likely to occur in places that have two key features: physical vastness and novelty. These could include natural settings, like a hiking trail lined with tall trees, or urban settings, like at the top of a skyscraper. You’re more likely to feel awe in a new place, where the sights and sounds are unfamiliar to you. That said, some places never seem to get old. No matter where you are, the key is to be in the right frame of mind. This practice is designed to help you get there—to turn an ordinary walk into a series of awe-inspiring moments, filled with delightful surprises.”

It is preferable to do this alone, with your phone on silent. I take my phone with me to take photos of the sights that evoke a sense of awe, but I always put the phone on silent. The guided practice from the website is reproduced below.

1. Take a deep breath in. Count to six as you inhale and six as you exhale. Feel the air move through your nasal passages and hear the sound of your breath. Come back to this breath throughout the walk. 2. As you start to walk, feel your feet on the ground and listen to the surrounding sounds. 3. Shift your awareness now so that you are open to what is around you, to things that are vast, unexpected, things that surprise and delight. 4. Take another deep breath in. Again, count to six as you inhale and six as you exhale. 5. Let your attention be open in exploration for what inspires awe in you. Is it a wide landscape? The small patterns of light and shadow? Let your attention move from the vast to the small. 6. Continue your walk and, every so often, bring your attention back to your breath. Count to six as you inhale and six as you exhale. Notice—really notice—the multitude of sights, sounds, smells, and other sensations that are dancing through your awareness, usually undetected. 7. Once you get in the habit of taking walks like this, you may be struck by how frequently you have opportunities to experience awe—they are practically infinite.

The walk can indoors or outdoors. For example, those in an urban setting could visit a gallery or museum if the immediate outdoor environment lacks novelty. You can also follow the guided awe walk meditation in the video below.

I enjoyed my awe walk today which I found energising and uplifting. It enabled me to reconnect with my environment and a sense of joy at being alive. On return, I sat down and wrote this post easily, in a state of focused flow. My awe walk imbued me with a fresh sense of possibility and freed me from overwhelm. If you find yourself overthinking the future and becoming overwhelmed at your writing desk, consider taking a short awe walk, or even a long one. The benefits to your writing process may surprise you. I intend to make this a daily practice. Cultivating a sense of awe regularly has enormous benefits by shifting the stagnant energy that can block access to your flow state.

Writer’s overwhelm and the power of acceptance

Photo by Eugenio Mazzone on Unsplash

This week I have been busy with my Focused Flow app development tasks and learning how to make videos to promote my app when it’s finished. Therefore, the blog hasn’t been updated. I’ve thought about it often, but each time I sat down with the laptop and opened the page I experienced the common problem of overwhelm- that experience of having too much to do, too little time, and the temporary jamming of the cognitive processing required to write. This hasn’t been made any easier by my seasonal problem of hay fever that drains my energy and leaves me feeling unmotivated.

This week I’ve also been working closely with two academic clients who’ve reported a similar problem with overwhelm clogging up their cognitive gears and leaving them with a sense of dread. So, overwhelm seems to be this week’s issue all round, and is a common problem for academic writers who have to filter through piles of notes, references and ideas, focus them down into a coherent narrative and structure their research into a written paper.

While working with my coaching clients I’ve discovered one size definitely does not fit all when managing writer’s overwhelm. As I develop and refine the Focused Flow model, managing overwhelm appears to be key to overcoming procrastination and dissolving writer’s block too. In my short promo video, I focus on the problem of overwhelm that strikes when we’re faced with piles of notes, our mind is firing off in all directions with lots of ideas, focus deserts us and taking action by writing seems almost impossible.

One strategy for overcoming overwhelm is ‘snack writing’- making a pledge to jot down around 200-300 words a sitting, using cognitive defusion to stay on track should the inner critic emerge and start trying to edit what you’re writing. Another is to use acceptance strategies to make space for the discomfort of overwhelm and stop struggling against it. My recent experience of overwhelm led me to experiment with some acceptance strategies by leaning into the uncomfortable sensations I was experiencing in my body right around my lower abdomen- a sense of restlessness coupled with dread- and then once I had a clear visualisation of it, I stepped back from my thoughts about it using defusion strategies- specifically ‘I notice I having the thought that I can’t do all of this’. In the video below from ‘Therapy in a Nutshell’ a multitasking mother, therapist and writer discusses her strategy for overcoming overwhelm.

I did something similar, by making a list of tasks for the day and taking action, despite the feeling of dread I was experiencing deep in my gut. Overwhelm was blocking my productivity just as it had with my clients. I had too much to do in too little time, but really the timeline I had imposed on myself pointed to unrealistic goal setting. The solution was to review my goal setting, prioritise my tasks, and set more realistic goals that I could manage- not so challenging they’d cause anxiety and not so easy I’d get bored. This is key to dropping into the flow state, establishing focus, and optimising productivity.

I also bought a special journal to help me reorganise myself and record what I learn on a daily basis… including doodling and mind mapping my creative process and noting down what helps me to drop into my flow state. The pathway to the flow state is unique to each individual. I have discovered that leaning into uncomfortable sensations and emotions, defusing from my thoughts about them, while making bite sized daily short-term goals helps me to dissolve overwhelm and reorientate to the values driving my writing process. I had to remind myself not to underestimate the power of taking small steps to completing what appear to be formidable tasks- like building an app for the very first time.

In the video below, Russ Harris describes the ‘chess board metaphor’ to explain how acceptance and defusion combined can unhook us from inner struggles like overwhelm or anxiety and give uncomfortable feelings the space to move. When we become like the chess board rather than the chess pieces, we step back and observe our inner state rather than freezing in the face of overwhelm and the sensation of dread that accompanies it. Instead, we can embrace the power of the witness state and make space for the overwhelm to shift and dissolve.

Today, I’ll return to building the Focused Flow app after taking a short break to reorganise myself. The experience of overwhelm has receded but I’m aware it has the potential to return if I lose my focus. Finishing this blog post is one item crossed off my list for today! Without my experience of overwhelm the past few days, it’s unlikely it would have been written. As ever, I turn to my inner experience to guide my investigation of the writing process. I hope you find my reflections and the video resources I’ve shared useful. I look forward to any comments below or email me on if you have questions you’d like to discuss in private.

Cognitive defusion and ditching the internal editor

Photo by Quentin Ferrer on Unsplash

In my previous post I touched on what mindfulness is and isn’t by debunking some myths about mindfulness. Acquiring mindfulness skills doesn’t require a meditation practice, in fact, meditation is only a small subset of mindfulness practices. I would never recommend writers take up a seated meditation practice given the act of writing involves sitting for very long periods of time in isolation. Instead, the Focused Flow approach involves developing ‘mindfulness on the move’ and applying these mindfulness skills to overcome internal obstacles such as self-doubt, procrastination, and a harsh inner critic that often tries to edit the work before it’s even been drafted! A combination of these obstacles can even lead to writer’s block as described in the previous article.

To drop into the flow and optimise your productivity, it is essential to let go of the inner critic and maintain your focus on your writing goals. To enter the flow state, your writing goals should be challenging, but not so difficult they induce overwhelm, and not so easy so that writing becomes boring. For each writer, setting the scale of the challenge required will be different, but once you enter the flow state, the act of writing becomes a source of vitality and joy. Sometimes, faced with a blank page and a whole lot of notes or ideas, as soon as we begin typing, the inner critic pays us a visit and starts suggesting edits and changes before we’ve even completed the first sentence. Often, writing coaches refer to this intrusive commentary as the ‘internal editor’. Rather like the ‘I’m not good enough story’ mentioned in the previous article, the ‘internal editor’ can undermine our confidence and prevent us from getting off the starting block if we ‘fuse’ with the thoughts that arise and begin to believe in them. One alternative is applying mindfulness skills to detach from the internal editor and continue writing anyway.

According to the ACT model, we can learn new skills termed ‘cognitive defusion’ techniques which evolve from a mindful awareness that you are NOT your thoughts, you are NOT your feelings, and however overwhelming these internal experiences are, you CAN still choose to behave in ways consistent with your values and goals. It takes time to learn these skills, and it isn’t an easy or comfortable process at first. It involves facing the shadows that haunt your mind and directing a bright light onto them to expose the fears lurking there- including uncomfortable drivers of avoidance common to writers such as harsh self-criticism, severe self-doubt, and the dread of failure or rejection. When my coaching clients start learning these skills, they may make mistakes and give in to reactivity at times, but they do progress.

The path of progress is not straight, or linear, but cyclical. There are ups and downs. This is perfectly normal. Gaining these skills involves uprooting a lot of well-established coping mechanisms that have outlasted their usefulness. They may have had a tight grip on your mind, heart and body for a long time. So, if you decide to give these exercises a try, you must be kind to yourself when you fall back into old patterns, if you do. Once you recognise this has happened, that is an act of mindfulness! You then make amends with yourself, dust yourself down, and carry on. Any instances of reactivity or overwhelm will decrease in intensity over time. These techniques are designed to help you detach from the internal editor that plagues many writers, by helping you to undermine the power of unhelpful thoughts and arresting the development of overwhelming feelings so they no longer control you. In this post I’m going to suggest two simple strategies for defusing from the internal editor that will enhance your ability to drop into your flow state over time.

1. I am having the thought that….

First, bring to mind a thought you have often when you try to write that troubles or upsets you. It might be a self-defeating thought that prevents you from getting going on a project like ‘I’m too stupid,’ ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I can’t do this,’ or some other kind of self-limiting thought. Next, keep that thought in mind and focus on it intensely as you can for a few seconds. Notice how it makes you feel. Notice the sensations in your body, your breath, your heart rate, and your emotions. Use mindful awareness to really register how thinking this thought affects you bodily, emotionally. Jot these observations down. Next, take the thought and insert in front of it ‘I am having the thought that…’ Run it through your mind like this for a few seconds. Notice how this makes you feel in the same ways as above… use mindful awareness to really focus on any differences between how you feel now, and how you felt before. Jot these observations down.

Using the same self-limiting thought again, or a different one if you prefer, keep that thought in mind and focus on it intensely as you can for a few seconds. As above, notice how it makes you feel. Jot these observations down. Next, take the thought and insert in front of it ‘I notice I am having the thought that…’ Run it through your mind like this for a few seconds. Notice how this makes you feel in the same ways as above… use mindful awareness to really focus on any differences between how you feel now, and how you felt before. Jot these observations down. If you notice few if any differences, try the exercise again with another thought.

2. Thanking your mind

Another one that works for me, although it might seem a bit eccentric at first, is thanking my mind. This exercise is explained by ACT coach Russ Harris in the video below.

There are many other cognitive defusion strategies that can be used to detach from the internal editor. You could try Googling the term and finding other variations or look into my book that specifically adapts these exercises for writers. Try them and let me know how you get on. You can comment on the blog forum at Focused Flow or email me at I am building a unique set of resources for writers and welcome your contributions.