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Clearing The Mind: My 60-Day Morning Pages Experiment

I find journaling and writing down one's thoughts fascinating and sometimes medicinal for the psyche. I have always journaled on and off and used many different formats. Five-minute journal, a journaling format where you answer a couple of structured questions. Daily reflection journals, where you reflect on your day at the end of each day. The daily diary is a time-tracking format where you write down how you spend your time throughout the day. And then simply writing down my thoughts as I go through my days. However, while I found benefits in journaling, I found it hard to be consistent. This changed about two months ago when I started doing morning pages. 

Morning Pages is an unstructured, stream-of-consciousness journaling method developed by Julia Cameron, explained first in her excellent book The Artist's Way.  

The Artist's Way is an excellent book on change and creativity. It is one of those books I took a long time to read after first hearing about it, and when I finally read it, it became an instant favorite. Part of the reason was, of course, that I had read so many good things about the book that I doubted it could be that good. The self-help genre and new age kind of literature are often overhyped with limited substance. So while I wanted to read the book, I was also resistant to doing it. My feelings towards many popular books and culture are the same. I get suspicious about the quality of things when they become extremely popular and everyone is talking about them. 

However, after reading a profile about the book in the New York Times, where a book critic shared his experience of reading the book and how doing the morning pages changed his life, I finally decided to check it out. I would say it is one of my best decisions so far in 2024. 

I already had a copy of the book on my Kindle. I started reading it in early January. The book is structured as a 12-week creative workshop, mirroring Cameron's original workshop format. Each chapter blends readings with practical weekly tasks. This structure evolved organically from Cameron's wildly popular creativity workshops. As demand for her teachings grew globally, she distilled her course materials into this accessible book format, allowing a wider audience to access the insights.

As I started reading the book, I found it extremely practical. It is what many people now call practical wisdom. While many subjects and topics in the book might appear esoteric to modern minds, I found the book extremely accurate. 

The book is about creative recovery or discovery. The thesis Julia Cameron puts forward is the age-old one that we are all creative but years of neglect and social conditioning render us useless creatives who now believe they can't create anything. The purpose of the book is to help the readers recover their creativity. 

The book takes readers through many practices and tasks. Two highly emphasized rituals are morning pages and artist dates. This is how I started my journey in writing morning pages. 

I finished the book a few months back and have been doing the morning pages ever since. Today, I made my 60th entry. 

Morning pages are three long-hand pages of unstructured writing practice every morning. There is no structure, guideline, or system to the morning pages. You write whatever comes to your mind the first thing in the moring. If nothing comes then you write, "nothing comes to my mind today" for three pages.

For the sake of clarity, we can break down morning pages in the following way: 

  • 3 pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing done first thing in the morning. 
  • The purpose is to "drain your brain" of distracting thoughts, worries, and to-do lists to make space for more creative thinking. 
  • There is no wrong way to do morning pages; you simply write down whatever comes to mind, without editing or rereading. 

When I first started doing morning pages, I was not sure whether it would make any difference. But I took on the practice and without knowing it I made it into a daily habit. Now I have been doing it for about two months. 

Initially, I was not sure about what to write. Then I gradually started to write whatever came to my mind. First, it was about anything that bothered me in the morning. Running a business is always challenging. You constantly face challenges and obstacles. It means I am always worrying or thinking about things. Deals not closing fast enough. Client work left undelivered. Monthly user growth slowing down and so on. 

Then I have my burdens of living. The perpetual psychological dramas. The never-ending issues in the family. The unbearable self-doubt and constant fear. 

I usually find mornings difficult. Not every morning. Some mornings are more difficult than others. I struggle to sit myself down at my desk and start working. Being a knowledge worker, this makes it doubly difficult. Often, I face blank pages first thing in the morning, which is not pleasant. To avoid the unpleasantness, I try to avoid sitting down at my desk or when I sit down, I distract myself with news and other easily accessible distractions on the internet. 

I have always struggled with all these challenges and I didn't know or didn't have an outlet to deal with these challenges. 

What happens when you don't have an outlet to externalize all this mental baggage is that it bogs you down. You get clogged and moving forward becomes a perpetual challenge. 

Once I started doing morning pages, these pages gradually became my place for externalizing my inner turbulences. After writing three pages of mental baggage and sometimes good ideas, I would feel strangely unburdened to start working on my most important tasks. 

What morning pages have done for me is that they have given me an outlet to unburden myself. As Julia Cameron puts it, morning pages are excellent for "brain drain". As Julia puts it: 

"The purpose of the morning pages? Drain your brain of all the pesky cyclical thinking we face as we wake up each morning — think to-do lists, meetings, grocery lists, etc. — in order to make space for more creative thinking….

Other than "brain drain," the morning pages help bridge the gap between your blocked self and your creativity. What's blocking you? Why, your inner censor, of course! "The Censor," as Cameron somewhat affectionately calls our worst critic, is our own internal drive for perfection."

Writing these pages has also made me more confident and optimistic. It has made me more tolerant and patient. On the days when I have a difficult conversation with a family member or someone at the office, I find my balance in these pages. The pages help me clearly see the situation, understand why something happened, and find an approach that allows me to maintain my calm while having the conversation effectively. 

I have become more of a clear thinker. When I write about a long-lasting pesky problem, the pages show me the things I was missing about the problem. The exercise helps me to see a problem from different angles and discover unexpected insights about it. 

I think the reason all this happened is because writing morning pages has allowed me to see my mind on pages. Writing almost always makes thoughts clearer. 

Over the last several months, I have written about everything that comes to my mind. My debilitating self-doubt. My challenge of imposter syndrome. My lack of consistency. My problem with distractions. My struggle with confidence. My strange attachment to pessimism. 

Writing about all these different challenges has made them clearer to me. I could see how my mind thought about these subjects and challenges. I could see my limitations when it came to being a pessimist and how it was not serving me well. I could see how worries, self-doubts, and fears were not real and all made up in my mind. 

As I continued to write the morning pages, I gradually managed to untangle my mental knots and it allowed me to address some of my lasting challenges. I became more optimistic and enthusiastic about things. I managed to work through my fears and worries. I found ways to sit down consistently to put my work into paper and get some work done at least. Julia noted in the book: "Pages clarify our yearnings. They keep an eye on our goals. They may provoke us, coax us, comfort us, even cajole us, as well as prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. If we are drifting, the pages will point that out. They will point the way True North. Each morning, as we face the page, we meet ourselves."

To be honest, I wouldn't claim that I don't have any challenges today because I write these morning pages. That would be a bogus claim. I continue to struggle with all my challenges. 

What has changed is that I now have a tool that helps me to fight these limitations effectively daily and be productive. I am more creative and more courageous because of this. 

I have already mentioned how morning pages have helped me find an effective approach to tackle my psychological challenges. For the sake of specificity, I will list five benefits I have enjoyed because of doing the morning pages and I hope to continue to enjoy these benefits: 

1. I have gotten better at dealing with negative thoughts, worries, and other pesky imaginary challenges that used to torpedo my days. 

2. I have learned to focus on the here and now and become more productive. 

3. I have regained my courage to create more and consistently.  

4. I have found solutions to many of my challenges that I couldn't figure out before. 

5. I have learned that the world operates in synchronicity with how we operate. 

As I continue to do my morning pages, I believe it is a practice that can benefit every founder, creative person, or anyone for that matter. As Julia suggests in the book: 

"The time you give to your morning pages is 'time between you and God.' Ignore your partner, be late to work, let your dog starve — just do your morning pages, and your creativity will flourish."

If you want to start doing pages, you can use the following steps to start your morning pages journey: 

  • Write 3 pages of longhand morning pages brain drain each morning. There is no structure and no rules. You write whatever comes to your mind. You will eventually find your approach. 
  • Do it every day first thing in the morning. Don't skip or miss. 
  • Don't look for benefits right away. Benefits will manifest eventually. 
  • Don't share your morning pages with anyone or reread them. 
  • Don't try to be productive while writing the pages. Morning pages are meant to be unproductive and unstructured writing exercises. 
  • Keep going. 

I have started re-reading The Artist's Way for a second time this week. The book is a pure gem and I have found it incredibly helpful in finding my way back to creativity. If you are looking for a good read, I highly recommend it.

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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