Morning Pages — 8 Damn Important Lessons.
My morning routine:
First alarm. Second alarm. Light on. Brush teeth. Shower. Dress. Breakfast (it never changes). Hand-write 3 pages of stream- of-consciousness writing in a notebook. (Morning Pages)
Sorry, what? You write every single morning? About what? Why? Are you a writer?
- Yes, almost every morning. See below. See below. Sort of. -
What they are.
I’ve been writing Morning Pages since Aug 2016. That’s 12 months of writing. 14 notebooks. 20–45 minutes a day, most days. 180 hours. Ish. Of the 8760 that are available. Only 2% of my time.
I heard about the Morning Pages from Matt Trinetti (check out his writing) at an Escape the City event, where he works. Googling ‘Morning pages’, I found out about The Artists’s Way — a 12-week do it yourself creative-recovery course by Julia Cameron. Long story short — I decided to commit to the course, found a group on Meet Up and turned up every week to share my experiences. The course was pretty incredible and I learnt a tonne about it so it is worthy of its own blog.
Morning pages are the most fundamental element of this course. And by far the most rewarding. Here’s why.
8 lessons I learnt (and am still learning) from writing Morning Pages.
1) Turn Up.
In Julia Cameron’s own powerful and spectacular words, ‘Turn up at the page’. Every day.
You don’t feel like it this morning? Not in mood? Not got anything interesting to say?
Of course you don’t feel like writing in the morning. Getting out of bed is hard enough, I find. It’s like going for a run — once you’re out the door it feels incredible. Getting to this point = anxiety, indecision, internal excuse-development extravaganza. You know what I mean…
This is really simple. There is no opt-out option — it is ‘non-negotiable’. It’s just part of the everyday routine. We write because we must. The same must in brushing your teeth every morning.
Your brain is excellent at making-up excuses. Mine certainly is. So don’t give it the option to decide. Just do it as if it is part of your every day morning routine. Make 1 decision only — the decision to practice this daily. Then you don’t have to decide every day.
By the way, just ‘turn up’ can and should be applied generally too — show up in life. If you don’t go to the party, take a gig or challenge then you will never know what could have happened and you’ve missed out on potential opportunities.
2) Words On a Page Have More Power Than Thoughts In Your Head.
It makes the issue you are talking about feel real.
Words are harder to ignore than the spontaneous, chaotic and transitory thoughts that ping in and out of our thoughts. Vulnerability is a just part of being human — we all feel lonely, sad and furious sometimes. Writing about your pain, worries and also victories, is an acknowledgement that they exist as a part of you and that they matter.
- When words inspire action. -
I spent a whole week whining about how unhappy I was about X. It can get fairly tedious writing about this daily. And eventually, I snapped. At myself. ‘Well if you’re so unhappy about this then bloody well do something to change it’, my internal voice barked. ‘It’s your life’…. Excuse my harshness but I save this kind of criticism for myself, only. I acted. The next week I moved on to talking about something else.
One day I wrote ‘I have a voice’. 4 words only but a fairly profound message to myself. I did have a voice. The voice behind my pages. The voice behind my speech. The voice behind my actions. It is my unique voice. And it’s a voice that is worthy of being heard. As is everyone’s, I would add.
(Hilariously, I have just re-read Matt’s blog on Morning Pages and realised he also wrote these exact lines — I read his blog before I started writing Morning Pages so clearly my subconscious picked this phrase up then and processed it over the coming months.)
3. Knowing and remembering who we are.
We have incredibly non-accurate memories. Seriously, it may scare you but every time you access and retrieve old memories you’re constantly re-framing and changing them according to the new context. Check out the evidence.
Why is this relevant?
Well, we have a story about who we are, including what makes us happy and unhappy, which helps inform our future decisions.
Ever heard of Type 1,Type 2 and Type 3 fun? No, read about it here. In short, the level of fun you think you have often depends on whether your perspective is in the moment (type 1) or in reflection (type 2).
We often look back at decisions we have made and think that actually they were a hell of lot better than they felt — think army training (cold, wet, exhausting, physically and mentally challenging) and high-status corporate jobs (no life, stressful, not meaningful).
Our stories to ourselves usually run along the lines of what we think should make us happy — money, status, challenge etc. — previous feelings are reframed according to our current context. And current contexts usually involve the word ‘should’ (who I should be) or what society thinks (norms).
If you constantly reflect about your experiences and write down what actually contributed to or detracted from your happiness then you are more likely to remember them. And, more importantly, actual thoughts and feelings. It’s actual thoughts and feelings that should inform future decisions, or you’ll just end choosing what makes you feel dissatisfied.
Slowly we can learn what it is we actually desire. And the will to make the changes required to get this grows over time.
3) Prime your state.
STATE — STORY — STRATEGY
I came across Tony’s Robbins’ theory in January when reading Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. It was a mind-blowing moment.
You’ve got to start with a good state or is it going to inform your story about yourself (‘I a successful/ lucky etc’), which will in turn inform your strategy (plans and that lead to actions).
As enthusiastic as I may across, I am not a ‘jump out of bed excited for the day ahead’ person. In fact the opposite is true. In the morning I am a self-critical, pessimistic and anxious being. Even though I usually go to bed feeling exactly the opposite.
Some days my strategy is incredible, but some days it sucks because I am not inspired, and don’t have confidence to follow my ideas. It’s all down to a shit state.
Morning pages sort out my state. Morning pages give me a good story and prepare me for a day of excellent strategies.
4) Process. Not product.
The world of productivity: Ah, I should priorities the things that I need to do to get me to X, not the stuff that sounds like fun.
We exist in a world where ‘doing’ is about the end-goal. Actions only have value when they lead to something — a product. A new skill, a stakeholder relationship, a leaner body.
Sure, all good things. But we’re not machines. Stop trying to get somewhere. Just be. Enjoy the journey too.
What happened to play? To fun? To doing stuff for the intrinsic value that it will bring you? Other intrinsically valuable activities include: running, book, non-linear conversations, creativity, playing games. I’ll write more about intrinsically valuable activities soon.
It’s sad to say this, but we have stopped valuing activities that allow us to feel sheer joy, fun and creativity in the moment. And these are the kind of feelings that add meaning to our lives.
I don’t write morning pages to do anything with them. I never show them to anyone. I never read them. It is the process of writing them that is the most valuable part.
It is a non-judgmental place for me to do whatever I like, and gain joy. They are not ‘writing’, they are just play.
It is a good lesson for me to learn because I love crossing things off a list and feeling like I have learned something every day. At least now I write the intrinsic exercises on my list to commit to doing them, and try and remind myself that the aim is not to get it done but to enjoy the doing of it.
5) Free therapy.
Let’s tackle 4 things here, because I imagine you’re thinking them.
‘I don’t need therapy, I’m not depressed etc’. Well…
a) What is ‘need’?
There are the various levels of need according to Maslow. Yeah, it’s not life and death but you’re feel a hell of a lot better over time if you do. Also see b)>
b) You may not be depressed at this current moment but in our current world there is a good chance (1 in 6) you will be at some point. See it as preventative. Thank me later.
c) ‘Define therapy, isn’t that a bad word?’. What a great question…
So. Therapy = ‘the treatment of mental or psychological disorders by psychological means.’
Terrible definition. No wonder there is such a stigma around it because it implies it is only for seriously broken people (‘disorder’ isn’t a word we want to be associated with).
Time for a reality check:
Truth be told, we’re all fighting some sort of battle in our lives. They can’t be spectacular 24/7. The meaning of life (part 1) = accepting its ‘flow, rapids and all’ (Julia Cameron) as just part of the adventure. We are all broken in some respect; it is just what makes you human. Admitting it is the first step towards removing the stigma.
Therapy is great. It’s all the things you could want. Sharing problems. Sharing victories. Talking through difficulties experiences (and therefore acknowledging them), reframing experiences by thinking about them in a new way (the power of questions!), getting closure and more.
Morning pages as a therapy = Zero cost. Available 24/7. Consistent therapist. Understands your history. Has access to your mind.
d) ‘It’s not free if it takes my time.’ — slightly deep (what a great question though… I’m going to add this to my TRIGGER Conversations cards)
Money = time. Sure, in some respects that is how we measure time at work. But is that how you measure time at home? Sleeping must cost a bomb! Is spending an hour with a loved one to be judged by the same system as spending an hour with a client? Surely not.
6). ‘Just caging my monkey mind on paper so I can get on with my fucking day’.
The wise words of Tim Ferris. Thanks, Tim. (Tools of Titans)
I think his point is pretty clear — clear your mind of your problems so you give space to all the stuff you want to concentrate on. Don’t try and solve them.
Remember those ‘to do’ list items that tend to rattle around our head just as we are falling asleep? Writing them down means you allow yourself to acknowledge and forget them so you can actually go to sleep. Writing it down is closure.
It’s the same idea with talking through anxieties — the hardest part is getting them out in words. By speaking them out, you give them a real identity (words are more powerful than thoughts — see point 2) and you don’t have to remember them.
7) They take me home.
What do I mean, ‘takes me home’? Well, home is not just a physical building with a front door and well-designed rooms. Home, in its purest sense, is a place where we feel safe, appreciated, known and accepted. It is a place of belonging — inclusion, community and connection.
Writing my pages takes me back home, to myself.
To that consistent and familiar person that I’ve grown to know and understand over my mere 26 years. Whenever I get lost in my anxieties or fear, I will always be here — my thoughts, beliefs and memories are constants (always in flux a bit — that’s a different blog).
Home = me.
More morning pages, of course. Now I have made a commitment to the habit, and I have seen their positive effects, why would I want to stop?
Maybe it is as simple as that — new habits are only sustained when we a) get used to doing them habitually and b) not only see the point but also gain from them. Every day I am rewarded.
Short-term: lots of happy hormones that I’m getting
Long-term: read the above 7 points. It’s a continuous journey.
Thanks for reading.
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Find me on Twitter @GeorgieNight.
If you’re keen to meet some interesting souls for an evening of meaningful and stimulating conversations, I would love to meet you at a Trigger Conversations event.