My morning routine has matured over the years. I remember the time when it was as simple as:
- Stagger downstairs
- Chug coffee
- Worry about the coming day
- Sit down and rock, gently, to and fro
- Get dressed
- Commute to work.
Thankfully those days are a long way behind me, as I adopt tried and tested methodologies to help prepare myself for the coming day, as well as the coming weeks and months.
One such practice is known as Morning Pages, a technique devised by Julia Cameron. The framework for this involves writing three pages of longhand writing that can be based on ANYTHING. You just let your brain run free and write down anything that comes to mind.
Sounds strange doesn't it? Well, I thought so too, however when you marry this up with the practice of meditation, you can find yourself with some pretty impressive results. Whilst meditating, I find my brain roaming, with thoughts trying to barge their way into the forefront of my consciousness. The key to successful meditation is to gently push these thoughts aside and retain your focus.
When writing your Morning Pages, rather than push the thoughts to one side, you release them onto a different medium - in this case, paper.
Julia Cameron first mentioned these Morning Pages in her twelve week course The Artists Way and adopts a strict set of guidelines as to how they should be completed. They must be completed first thing in the morning, before your ego's defences have had a chance to form. You must complete three pages of continuous long form writing (fewer is stifling for the brain, whereas any more can reduce the practice to being nothing more than a chore). You can, however, write about anything. Anxieties, plans for the future, events that have made you angry, or even elated - it's entirely down to you. You let your brain run free.
So how has writing these Morning Pages helped me with my day-to-day life?
As someone who is trying to develop journaling into my daily routines, I find writing my Morning Pages an essential experience. I find myself writing about so many different things, it's almost like mind-mapping in the way one thought or feeling can unlock another. I write about my family, my work, my studies, my hopes and dreams, my concerns, my goals - one thought always begets another and when I complete the last word, I feel genuinely liberated.
Completing this process every morning gives me a regular outlet for my thoughts and feelings that I can rely on and, more importantly, look forward to completing.
My quarterly goals are always commanding my attention, so my Morning Pages are a good opportunity to write down how I feel they are progressing. I don't make conscious changes to them at this time, or even make any form of judgment or decisions as to how they need to improve. Sure, I can write down any modifications that need to be made, which I can review later, however, this practice is intended solely as an outlet for my thoughts. Write now, action later.
My brain has been pretty clear recently and I owe that not just to the Weekly Brain Dump, but to my dedication to completing my Morning Pages. There are three whole pages to complete, it's difficult NOT to empty your brain during this process!
I've also been able to face up to my problems in a more pro-active manner, rather than let them fester and erode myself from within. Like many of you, I've endured tough times over the last few years and there have been times when I've doubted so many things, not least myself, however I have found that getting these thoughts onto paper/print has somehow brought them more to the surface, given them a sense of..well, realism. If something is real, it needs to be dealt with. Even the act of committing your anxieties to print is a form of processing, a way to share the worry - even if it's only sharing it with yourself. I like to look at this as sharing my worries with a better version of myself, someone who is more equipped to deal with the situation.
Now I'd be lying if I said that I follow Julia Cameron's Morning Pages practice to the letter. On the contrary, I merely use the premise as a framework and I have adapted to fit my own way of life.
In the first instance, I'm a digital junkie and I scan my pages into DEVONthink so that I can search them retrospectively and look for patterns and trends in my thinking as part of my monthly review. I was toying with the idea of using Day One to record these pages, however, I'm reluctant to use my iPad or MacBook first thing in the morning. I like to wake up slowly, with as little tech light as possible. This may change though, we shall see how it develops.
Secondly, Julia recommends three sides of US Letter Paper (A4 for we Brits is fine). I tend to use my Moleskin for this instead as this is my handwritten 'thought journal'. Also, this scans nicely into Evernote.
This isn't the first thing I complete as part of my morning routine. I come downstairs, put the kettle on for my coffee and whilst that's boiling, I drink two glasses of water, take my vitamins and perform some light stretches. Once complete, I make my coffee then go and settle down in the living room where I put on some quiet music and start writing.
Finally, I don't commit to a given amount of pages. I'm a strong believer in Parkinson’s Law which says that work will expand to fill the time allotted to it. Therefore I set a timer for thirty minutes which I've found is often more than enough to empty my head in the morning. Invariably I'm complete by 5:45am.
Like everything, I'm not a purist. I don't practice GTD exactly as the book says, when managing projects, it's hard to follow PRINCE2 or Agile rigidly 100% of the time and I've found Morning Pages to be no different - I need to tweak a little here and there to make it work for me.
If this post does nothing more than to make you think about writing something about your day first thing in the morning, then I'll be happy in the knowledge that I've been able to do some good along my way. You'll feel the benefit.