It is a truth universally acknowledged that a new year should begin with a fresh supply of hope, ambitious resolutions, and the energy to get them going. This is somehow stitched into the fabric of our understanding of how the world should work. We feel entitled to this kind of start to a year. Shouldn’t we be?
It turns out that, no, we are not. It turns out that the world may sometimes twist and turn in wonky, unexpected ways and it is up to us to build the resilience and creativity to deal with it.
Does this sound familiar?
The mental health charity Mind has found that more than half of adults in the UK (60%) and over two-thirds of young people (68%) said their mental health got worse during lockdown. This was amplified when people had to go back into lockdown unexpectedly right in the middle of the festive season.
Not only are we dealing with fear and uncertainty, but also very real grief and pain for lost loved ones.
There is a powerful creative practice that can help you to work your way out of this dark place. It is a practice that takes effort, commitment, and sticking power, but it is one that can transform your life.
It is not a quick fix.
It is no hack.
I’m sure you’ll agree that with the very real emotions and thoughts that you are experiencing, there is not going to be any quick hack. (In fact, I do not believe that you can hack creativity anyway.)
The idea is to write three pages of thoughts as they come to you every morning before you start your day. You write whatever flows out of your stream of consciousness. This is ideally done first thing in the morning by hand. This writing is not to be shared with anyone. Do not even re-read it yourself for the first few months.
This practice was designed by Julia Cameron and popularised through her seminal book, The Artist’s Way, where she refers to it as Morning Pages.
Your writing could include musings on:
It really doesn’t matter what you write. The idea is just to write.
This is not a journal. It is not a planner. This is not writing for the purpose of prioritising your day. It is not a gratitude diary. These are excellent and helpful practices, some of which I do myself. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
This is a creative practice to clear the Prefrontal Cortex of your mind, so that your powerful Default Mode Network, or subconscious can start getting messages to you.
Neuroscience has taught us that our Prefrontal Cortex or the decision making (director) part of the brain can only hold 3-4 thoughts at a time. Whether positive or negative, the same few thoughts can go around and around without letting the subconscious brain get a word in.
By doing a morning writing practice first thing in the day, you enable your brain to set these thoughts aside by putting them on paper. This allows what is in the subconscious to bubble up to the surface. These could be solutions to your problems, the real root of your issues or your unnoticed dreams. This kind of writing makes the fuzzy clear.
Morning Pages have many benefits, here are some of them:
You won’t be alone when you start (or revisit ) this powerful practice. Here are some highly acclaimed thinkers and creators of businesses, books, broadcasts and other things.
Entrepreneur, investor and podcaster
Tim Ferriss’ morning routines have become a lifeline to many who’ve struggled to get their day and their productivity off to a good start. He’s shared them in his books and podcasts, as well as reflecting on the morning routines of many other ‘titans’ and ‘mentors.’ He has a variety writing tasks that he does, including gratitude writing, and one of these is doing Morning Pages. He writes:
I don’t <write Morning Pages> to “be productive.” I don’t do it to find great ideas, or to put down prose I can later publish. The pages aren’t intended for anyone but me.
Morning Pages are, as author Julia Cameron puts it, “spiritual windshield wipers.” It’s the most cost-effective therapy I’ve ever found. To quote her further: “Once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts [nebulous worries, jitters, and preoccupations] on the page, we face our day with clearer eyes.”
Brian William Koppelman is an American showrunner. Koppelman is the co-writer of Ocean's Thirteen and Rounders, the producer for films including The Illusionist and The Lucky Ones, executive producer of Billions.
I do Morning Pages. Each day. And that starts my motor going. Three long hand pages. Stream of consciousness.
And then, I just start writing. Thinking. Planning. Making notes. Doing the work. Without worrying about perfection. Rewrtiting is for perfect making.
Speaking about the Morning Journal in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, he said:
“Of the people 100 people I’ve given [the book] to, maybe ten of them have actually opened the book and done the exercises. Of those ten, seven have had books, movies, TV shows, and made out successful.”
Entrepreneur, speaker and best-selling author
Acclaimed marketing guru, Seth Godin, has recently published a book called ‘The Practice: Ship creative work.’ The book underlines the fact that creativity is more important than ever. Godin calls for entrepreneurs, writers and artists to put their best work out into the world, regardless of fear and feelings of imposter syndrome. The Practice, published in November 2020, is already a #1 Best Seller on Amazon. Godin credits the birth of his book The Practice, to discussions he had with Brian Koppleman on his podcast The Moment.
Seth has a practice of blogging every single day. Jon Waterlow writes in his article, The Seth Godin method:
"Seth’s point is that only by exercising the creative muscle — along with the ‘pull-the-trigger-muscle’ — can we get better at our work. The legendary Science Fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, wrote hundreds of books during his lifetime. How? According to Seth, it’s because he wasn’t afraid of writing crap — he just kept writing until it wasn’t crap anymore. ‘Writer’s Block’ is a relatively modern concept which, Seth argues, doesn’t really exist. It’s simply the resistance we feel to writing or releasing work that we don’t think is ‘ready’. It’s that primal fear of not being ‘good enough’ which so often prevents us from taking a (very minimal) risk and practising. And so we do nothing (except feel like shit, of course, but that’s easy to do — no problem at all!)"
Other fans of the Morning Pages include Alicia Keyes, Russell Brand and Reece Witherspoon, to name a few.
Here’s some motivation from Aytekin Tank, CEO of an online form building company, JotForm:
This practice has also helped me significantly in my solo-founder journey. Growing JotForm to 4.1 million users without any outside funding could otherwise have been much more challenging.
Morning pages can help you get down to business because action breeds more action.
Unleashing your thoughts can also release any fears or worries that are blocking your path. And once you’ve uncovered an important task or idea, it’s easier to move forward.
This is what Chris Winfield has to say about his Morning Pages. He is an entrepreneur who focusses on connecting people:
Since I have been doing this practice for the last 241 days, Morning Pages have changed my life in a myriad of ways:
Because this is stream-of-consciousness writing, there is no need for writing skills. Plus the idea is not to create a document of your life that you will show to your grandchildren one day. This is like rinsing out the proverbial dirty dishwater of your mind, so that you can start the day afresh.
It may be tempting for you to write your Morning Pages on a computer or phone you may have forgotten how to hold a pen (haha.) Please do not do this. The slowness of longhand writing is intentional as it will help you to connect with your emotions and discover those trains of thought that you would otherwise miss in our haste.
For many people, the first two pages serve to clear the mind of clutter. We often arrive at new insights when we encourage ourselves to keep writing into that third page, even when the flow of ideas seems to start drying up.
Julia Cameron, who created the practice, recommends using an A4 journal. I find an A4 takes me too long and I use a smaller A5 sized journal. If you are starting out and getting used to building this new time into the start of your day (yes, that means waking up earlier so you can get it done) then A5 help you to stick more consistently to the practice.
There is no wrong way to do the Morning Journal. They can also include to-do lists and diagrams, if these are helpful to you. You can write about mundane stuff or very serious issues. Try hard to not judge yourself. There may be days when the process feels pointless. Keep going.
As time goes by, we start to access greater clarity of thought, deeper understanding, unexpected connections and fresh new ideas and insights.
In this wobbly time, we all need to be helping ourselves operate with a full tank. Our colleagues, our clients, our spouses and our kids all benefit from our full tanks! I urge you to give this a try. Set aside some time just for you and your pen and nothing else. Plan ahead the night before, get your journal and pen ready and get away from distractions. Just write and the truth will begin to flow out of your pen. Slowly, ineffably, the Morning Pages will heal and strengthen you. Slowly but surely they will replenish you for the coming year.
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