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How mindfulness has helped me solve problems

I looked away from my IDE to see the time on the top corner of my laptop screen. I’d been staring deep into my work for longer than I’d planned. Sometimes this is a good thing where all of the pieces are coming together and you enter a blissful state. When you are pleasantly reminded why you love what you do. This was not one of the times.

This was a time when my body felt tight. My eyes were heavy and hurt. In the back of my mind negative self talk about missing deadlines and busted estimates ran through like the ticker on the bottom of a cable news screen.

I tried to walk my code into working little by little. Frantically searching the docs of the library I was using. Skimming tutorials. Still nothing. It felt like I was trapped in a tunnel. The tunnel dug by my concentration. But I didn’t have a shovel.

A lot of folks on the internet talk about taking a walk when you get stuck. Get up, make some coffee, do something else. My problem was I entered this mental state long before I realized that I need to get up and take a walk.

I wanted a way to not enter that metal space in the first place. It felt like entering a tunnel and every time a line changes and I hit run I’d hope it would mean I could come up for air. It wasn’t how I wanted to approach my work, my hobbies, my side projects. I had to find a different way to point my attention when things got tough.

I started and stopped meditating many times. Like many positive “habits” I would fall in and out of it. After a couple of years of this cycle, I finally set time aside first thing in the morning. I get up, I walk to the room I meditate in, and I do it.

I also started looking into some things to shape my perspective. Taoism, Buddhism, Stoicism, and the like. I found that in order to get out of that feeling of being in a tunnel I had to not enter it at all. I starting trying not to let my mind wander as much. I set aside time to think of ideas but didn't let it ruminate over problems I can’t fix.

I still mess up sometimes. I still fall into being hyperfocused but not actually stepping back and solving the problem at hand. But on the whole, it has been such a value-added for me. I feel in control when I’m trying to problem-solve. I try to be kind to myself while I work through things and think about what I need to do as opposed to judging how I’m doing. What’s more, I actually recharge my mind when I’m away from my computer.

When I’m mindful it feels like I can actually look for a solution. I can stop to think while I solve problems and approach things without my mind running commentary in the background.

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