Let’s face it. Life is hectic. That’s no secret.
We all have so much going on simultaneously: jobs, kids, schools, bills, trips, deadlines, goals, accomplishments and worries. There’s a constant clatter in our brains that we carry with us wherever we go and, while it may sound like a normal burden of being human, it does eventually take a toll on our mental health and well-being, triggering excess anxiety and stress if not properly channeled.
Our minds are constantly active, even during periods of sleep: regulating, monitoring, sensing, interpreting, reasoning and planning. We know through scientific research that the average person typically has more than 6,200 thoughts in a single day. That’s a big load of mental data.
I began my routine some years back, changing my mornings from slow and lingering to uplifting, optimistic and energizing.
There are four main pillars to completing this routine: breath, gratitude, movement and a journaling technique called “morning pages.” The latter one is paramount as it delves into your stream of consciousness or interior monologue, a potent and introspective tool to explore.
How to develop amorning routine
The way you start your morning sets the pace for the rest of your day. A few moments of conscious silence, affirmations, visualization, stretching and journaling should be part of your practice before you talk or connect in any way to the outside world, turn on your phone or look at the morning newspaper.
Breathe. The moment you wake, place both hands on your abdomen and become aware of your breath by deeply inhaling and exhaling a few times. Feel your hands raising and lowering. Two sets of six breaths will do.
Gratitude. Through a prayer affirmation or visualization, connect with your spiritual practice by acknowledging the fact that you are, indeed, alive and with a day full of opportunities ahead. Whisper the words “Thank you” to your universe.
Movement. Have a yoga mat close by and do a few stretches that feel good for your body. Start by holding a child’s pose for two to three minutes, and feel your spine decompress. A dozen cat/cow movements will allow you to unlock your lower back, activate, massage and stimulate organs in the belly like the kidneys and adrenal glands. Lastly, stand up and bring your arms above your head, hold your hands with palms facing the ceiling, and extend as much as you are comfortable with. Feel the stretch.
Sit in a quiet place with your journal and start writing. It does not matter what you write, the idea is just to write. Whatever pops into your head, pay no attention to syntax or grammar.
Now do your basics. Wash your face, brush your teeth, etc. Do not check your phone or connect with anyone. Pour yourself a cup of hot tea or coffee and grab your journal to begin your morning pages. Here is where things will notch up a level.
What are morning pages?
Morning pages is a practice that involves handwriting three pages (A4 size) in a stream-of-consciousness manner, first thing in the morning. Stream of consciousness refers to a technique that aims to capture the natural flow of ideas going through our brain: free and uncensored thoughts.
With over nine million views on the #morningpages hashtag on TikTok alone, this phenomenon has gone viral, sweeping the internet, despite first being coined in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, a book designed to help artists and writers harness and recover their creative skills.
“There is no wrong or right way,” Cameron says; the only condition is you must write down your thoughts right after you wake up in the morning and “before your ego defenses are in place.” They are “spiritual windshield wipers.” Celebrities, authors, artists, entrepreneurs and politicians swear by this technique.
To quote her further: “Once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts (nebulous worries, jitters, and preoccupations) on a piece of paper, we face our day with clearer eyes.”
How to start and what to write about?
Sit in a quiet place with your journal and start writing. It does not matter what you write, the idea is just to write. It could be about your dreams that night, the movie you are going to watch, what you need to do today or the taste of your morning coffee. Whatever pops into your head, pay no attention to syntax or grammar.
For the perfectionists among us, this could be a difficult pill to swallow, but keep in mind that the content is secondary to the practice itself.
Allow the pen and your thoughts to guide you through. The magic comes from pushing yourself to complete the three pages. That rule is key. It is only then that you will have the breakthrough expected.
If you draw a blank here are some other ideas you could start with:
- Your worries for the day
- Things you need to get done
- What you are hopeful for
- Regrets you have from yesterday
- That person who triggered you at lunch
- Things you wish you had said to someone
- Prayers for people
- Irritation at yourself
- Dreams you have, and so on.
What are the benefits?
Here are some of the ways morning pages can benefit you:
Helps clear your mind. This practice can help you wipe the slate of the previous day clean. Once you spill out your thoughts onto a blank page, they will no longer be taking up space in your brain, setting you up for a more positive, peaceful and productive day.
Allows you to process emotions. Life can be overwhelming. On top of personal stress, we are bombarded with heavy information in the news and social media — some of it tragic. Morning pages give us the space to grieve and process, freeing our minds from information that can weigh us down and affect our productivity.
Unleashes your creativity. Being creative takes discipline. By writing morning pages, you’re establishing a routine that will help you find a way to make time for your creative self.
Silences your inner critic. Stream-of-consciousness writing accesses only what’s on your brain at that moment, leaving no room for self-criticism. Morning pages is a straightforward practice. Nonetheless, here are some tips to help you succeed:
Do it first thing. Morning is the optimal time of day for stream-of-consciousness daily practice. Your morning brain is fresh. Write your pages before you fill your head with any outside influences. Set your alarm, wake up, and start writing. Before you know it you’ll have a daily writing habit.
Write longhand. Write longhand only. Don’t type. Writing with pen and paper takes time and allows you to process what you’re expressing. Also, handwriting takes longer to keep up with your thoughts, leaving no time to edit what you write — the main component of morning pages.
Fill up three pages. Some days you’ll find your flow will come easily. On other days, you might be blocked. Whatever you do, don’t stop. Keep writing until all three pages are filled.
Avoid distraction. Stay away from diversions with people, your phone, or your computer.
Get comfortable. Find a quiet spot in your home, make a cup of tea or coffee, choose a pen that feels good in your hand, and start with a clean, new journal.
Don’t read your journal. The true purpose of morning pages is to transfer thoughts to clear your head. It’s a mind cleanse that needs not to be revisited.
Be authentic. Never censor yourself when writing. You can curse, swear, be politically incorrect, angry, and downright rude if that is what you feel. Your entries need to be authentic to serve their purpose of purging and raising self-awareness.
Keep them private. It’s not because you will necessarily pour out dark deep secrets in them, but because it’s liberating to know you could. Once the writing is over, the purpose has been achieved. The point is that you are able to freely write what you feel without limitations, shame or fear. If you think they may be found or read by someone else, shred, rip or burn them. You don’t need to keep them. We all need to be helping ourselves operate with a full tank. So set aside some time just for you and your journal. It’s a powerful exercise. You will know that from day one. It promises to calm anxieties, produce insights, resolve dilemmas and bring many “A-ha” moments. If you can get through a month of writing, I know that, like me, you will not want to stop.