To understand the simplicity of morning pages and how it has come to have a monumental effect on my life you need to understand me.
Life Before Morning Pages
In my past I have suffered from depression and anxiety to a point where it has become debilitating. Though they both still haunt me to his day, I am not afraid of them, and I’m fairly successful in managing my own mental health. However, my coping mechanism can differ from day to day (nobody is perfect) and one of the ways that I have learned to cope with the challenges that life throws my way is through the practice of meditation. I have been practicing meditation since the pandemic began in 2020. I took it up as a way of coping. Fear, division and politics ripped people apart and the year of #StaySafe became the year of “She’s not wearing a mask”. It was shit. So I started meditating, and reading as much material I could find on the subject. Two books that I highly recommend are “The Experience of Insight” by Joseph Goldstein and “Ten Percent Happier” by Dan Harris. There are many others, including “The Urban Monk” by Pedram Shojai which are notable.
It’s very easy to get lost in the culture of mindfulness meditation as the benefits can sometimes feel a bit ‘overwhelming’ when you start to feel them. As I continued the practice and sunk deeper into my chair I can across a video on YouTube on Morning Pages.
(FYI, my partner and I have a YouTube channel where we talk about travel, food and cruising, feel free to check it out 😉) .. back to Morning Pages;
It sounded so simple and, well that’s because it is. What’s the saying? “The simplest solution is the best solution”…
Morning pages really is as simple as it sounds and partnered with a regime of mindfulness meditation really can become a superpower you didn’t know that you had.
What are Morning Pages?
Morning pages is a form of journaling the was developed by Julia Cameron in the book “The Artists Way”.
The method is very simple; first thing, after you wake, you open your journal and write three handwritten pages of text. And that’s it.
What do you write about? Absolutely anything. The concept is to simply get the clutter that’s festering in your mind out onto the page in a non-judgemental, uncensored way. The purpose for me personally is get out any worries and anxious feelings. But really, you can write about anything you’re feeling in that very moment — did you sleep badly? Did you sleep brilliantly? Did you have an odd dream? Is something bothering you? Just get it out. If you’re halfway through a point, but something takes over in your mind, then write about that.
Once the pen hits the page, write the date and then start. Continue writing and don’t stop until you have written three pages. Three.
Morning pages is a stream of consciousness that is unfettered and private. I have even heard stories of people who burn their pages after they’ve written them. Unlike a traditional journal that is a, to coin a phrase from my favourite stationary brand, “Hobonichi”, a “life book”, morning pages is the antithesis of that. It serves a single purpose — because once you’ve got everything down — it’s gone and you can have a clear, clean and focused day. The process has served its purpose and there really is no reason to go back and read them again.
As with most new habits, sometimes it takes a while to get it into your daily routine to a point that it’s second nature. I am absolutely rubbish in the morning. For years I’ve tried to be that morning routine person — get up, have some freshly squeezed orange juice, go for a morning run, shower, meditate and all before 8am — If you know a person who does this, you may be in a simulation and all this time you’ve been sat in the chair, at Total Recall.
Jokes aside, yes I’m rubbish in the morning, but I’m getting better. I do go to the gym and every Monday I do get there for 8am, as it’s a good start to a new week. so I know I can get up and out the door for that. Instead of just getting up earlier just on a Monday, I now get up that time every day and when I’m not training I use the time to write my morning pages. They can take anywhere between 20 and 30 mins. So it’s not massive commitment. I sit in my office, I don’t turn on any computer and I make sure I do it before I shower. I have to have coffee, which for me, is mandatory.
I do try and write morning pages 5–6 days a week. It’s rare that I do them every day. So if you’re thinking of taking up the habit then don’t feel guilty if you miss a day. I try not to miss more than 2 days in a row.
I have a problem. It’s a stationary fetish. I LOVE stationary and good pens. I have stacks and stacks of notepads and bullet journals. When taking up a habit, just as when choosing, note taking software, you have to fall in love with it, at least a bit. The reason for this is because I think it’s important to enjoy the experience of writing, so find yourself a pen you love to write with — I’m partial to the uni-ball eye 0.7mm or a nice Parker fountain pen. I would love a posh fountain pen one day. Might treat myself. The notebook is also important. I am in the UK so I use an A5 notebook, for morning pages I think going any larger than B5 is a bit much, but it’s personal preference. You do you.
Try and sit somewhere with lots of natural light, I’m in Manchester so for me that would be about 200 miles away from where I live. Failing that, a well lit room and of course, a comfortable chair. And when you’re ready, write.
If you search on YouTube “Morning Pages Tips” or “Morning Pages Advice”, you’re going to find a lot very useful videos and it would be easy for me to regurgitate the advice given. As with all advice you only really need to take on board the stuff you connect with and disregard anything else.
- Don’t let anyone else read your morning pages. Ever. Morning Pages should be private and uncensored, I mention this earlier, but it begs repeating. Keep it private, keep it safe.
- Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, sentence structure or even making sense. Our brains and thought patterns aren’t linear, so don’t judge yourself if you start writing about your dreams and then move onto how you really fancy some blueberry pancakes right now, but you can’t because you’re on a diet and you wish you had better self control, speaking of self control… You get the idea.
- Don’t re-read your morning pages. Once you’ve completed your three pages, you are done. Their purpose is served.
- What ever time you get up now, get up 15 mins earlier, 15 mins doesn’t seem a lot, but can also mean that this new habit doesn’t feel like its an invasive impact on your life.
- Try not to miss 2 days in a row. Never miss 3.
- Morning pages is deceptively simple. I used to find that the first page was easy and then halfway down the second page, my mind would go blank. So I’d write “Why the fuck did my mind go blank, am I that uninteresting?” — keep going.
- Do it really quickly. I often find that the faster I write the less time I have to think about what I’m writing. Like with meditation, one second you’re focusing on the breath, the next you’re thinking of what you need to get from Tesco and you have to go back to the breath. Don’t be afraid to pause, but as this is a stream of unstructured thought then you shouldn’t really think too much about.
- Try and find a space where there is no foot traffic. This is your time and for some of us we don’t get a lot of ‘me time’, so yeah. Enjoy it. Solitude is a good thing.
- Try and not use it as a negative environment. What I mean is that whilst morning pages is a great place to be able to get out all your anxiety and negative thoughts. It’s nice to balance it out. This is a trap that I sometimes fall into. I have a lot of stress in my life and currently my morning pages is bit of a sounding board.
- Enjoy the process and be mindful of your thoughts throughout the day. Try and recognise the improvement that it can bring to your life.
You know the saying “Tidy desk; Tidy mind”, well this is like giving the clutter in your mind when you wake up a bit of a tidy up. Now there is no one-size fits all solution when it comes to the way they we perceive and interpret the world, Including how we cope with stress, manage our time and tasks.
What I have come to discover is that after a few days of taking up the morning pages habit I had a lot of clarity in my thinking. Obviously my concentration has been attuned though mindfulness meditation, but the specific benefits that came from the practice of morning pages is that I felt less anxious about things that I have no control over.
One of the other main benefits to morning pages that i have found is that it is not a digital exercise. We live in a world of distractions, immediate news, social media, and division. Morning pages is an opportunity to completely detach yourself from the digital world. There is also a bit on a romanticism when it comes to handwritten journalling. And as a person who has a keen interest in technology, digital zettelkasten, video games and digital video, sometimes it’s nice just turn off the ones and zeros.