The Mindful Side Project.


Incorporate discomfort.

Investing time and energy into a project you care about will complicate your life. And your habitual responses to inevitable mental and emotional challenges can derail you or prepare you for future complications.

Infusing your side project with mindful awareness helps tilt the odds of success in your favour.

I don’t mean trying to force relaxation into your agitation. I’m talking about exercising your capacity for thriving, even outside your comfort zone.

Developing the attentional skills required to feel more at home in discomfort is a side project worth investing in.

‘Problem solving mode’ is important, but it locks us into narrative constraints. Side projects can seem like one battle-filled chapter after another, with an endless queue of dragons to slay and very little time spent hanging out in the castle.

In this mode, it’s easy to view unwanted emotions as additional opponents. We instinctively attempt to defend ourselves against frustration, fear and vulnerability. But when we feed them with our resistance, they just get stronger.

Stealing an insight from the ‘keep my enemies closer’ playbook, maybe we can conserve a bit of creative energy by deciding not to fight emotional discomfort now and then.

For example, when you notice that you’re feeling nervous in anticipation of a pitch meeting, you might say to yourself, ‘This is how it feels to be nervous about pitching an idea I care about,’ and then give yourself a few seconds or minutes to actually feel what it feels like in your body.

You can apply this to any emotional avour that you typically try to talk yourself out of.

  • This is how it feels to learn a new skill.
  • This is how it feels to stretch beyond my current ability.
  • This is how it feels to dive into an intimidating problem.

Disrupting your default responses to discomfort erodes the problem of living inside a story. You gradually begin to find that you feel more at home in the messy, unfinished business of real life.

Welcome uncertainty.

It’s easy to underestimate how much confusion exists between where we are and where we hope to be one day.

When you find yourself bogged down by a lack of clarity, try to ease up on finding a solution. See if it’s possible to welcome the uncertainty as a necessary aspect of any side project worthy of your commitment.

When you spot it, pause and say to yourself, ‘This is how it feels to not have an answer right now.’

It takes practice to get better at not being certain. It’s a taste the mind has to reacquire from childhood.

But consider that finding answers might depend on getting better at insisting on them once in a while.

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