Eric Maisel on “Ten Zen Seconds” (Part I)

Eric Maisel, the godfather of Creativity Coaching” recently published Ten Zen Seconds, a book of incantations and how to use them for centering and mindfulness. The website for the book explains, “Marrying Eastern and Western techniques, it builds on the simple idea that deep breathing coupled with right thinking is the perfect tool for growth, healing, and transformation. Ten Zen Seconds offers you the tools to make changes, solve problems, and simply feel better.”

eric maisel While I call Eric the “godfather of creativity coaching,” he is much more: Eric is a San Francisco-based creativity coach and trainer of creativity coaches. (Full disclosure: I did my creativity coach training with him.) Eric is also a California licensed marriage and family therapist and a national certified counselor. He focuses on creativity coaching and not any therapy or counseling. He has been working with creative and performing artists for more than 20 years and have been writing for 35 years.

Eric is my guest today. After reading the book, I was interested in how ten seconds could have an impact on anyone’s life.

Today and tomorrow’s blog space will give you the details of the power of Ten Zen Seconds in your life.

Quinn: The breathing technique you describe is just 10 seconds long. Why 10 seconds?
EM: To experience a long, deep breath you need to take about four or five seconds on the inhale and four or five seconds on the exhale. That allows your lungs to really fill up and really empty and provides the positive physiological and emotional experience we associate with deep breathing. Anything much shorter than that doesn’t amount to deep breathing.

Q: How is breathing linked to the brain/thinking/physical calming?
EM: When we interrupt our ordinary shallow breathing and consciously and mindfully opt for some deep breathing, we are sending a whole-body message to our brain that we want to alter our current experience. The brain recognizes that we are intending to slow down and grow calmer and more aware as soon as it registers that we have opted for some deep breathing.

Q: What is ‘mindfulness’ as you use it and how does it link to cognitive therapy?
EM: The traditional definition of mindfulness has to do with our ability to notice our thoughts without attaching to them and, by not attaching to them, not causing ourselves pain and suffering. The way I use the phrase is closer to the way cognitive therapists think about how we can get a better grip on
our mind: first, we notice what we are thinking, second, we evaluate what we are thinking (because many of our thoughts don’t serve us), and third we substitute more useful language for our currents thoughts, if those thoughts aren’t serving us. The Ten Zen Second incantations serve the same function that “thought substitutes” do in cognitive therapy: they are the “better” things that we want to make sure we are saying to ourselves.

Q: How important is getting the 10-second rhythm to centering success?
EM: Getting into a precise 10-second rhythm is much less important than committing to deep breathing and right thinking. If your deep breath is eight seconds long, that is no problem, and if it is sometimes eight seconds long and sometimes ten seconds long, that is no problem either. Just as long as you experience your breathing as significantly longer and deeper than usual, then you are working the program.

Q: You say several times that the incantations are quite important. How did you come to develop these particular incantations?
EM: I came by them in my twenty years of working with creative and performing artists. I have always been very aware of the sorts of things that people say to themselves, as it appears in a therapy session or a coaching session, and whenever I heard a self-unfriendly or self-sabotaging
phrase I would ask my client to try to think of something more affirmative and useful to say. By asking that question repeatedly for two decades, these phrases emerged as the “top twelve” in utility and power.

Q: Do they have to be said in any particular order?
EM: No, although I think that the first, “I am completely stopping,” is a good one to use before and in conjunction with any of the others. But each incantation is a stand-alone idea and they can be used alone or in any combination a person finds useful. Some people use two together, some use three, a few use more than that. But their actual use is completely personal and not programmatic.

Tomorrow: Eric discusses how not being attached to the outcome of your work is completely different than not caring about it, and how incantations are particularly effective for writers and artists.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. Her website is