There is one thing that I’ve done every single morning, without fail, for the past three and a half years.
I do this on Christmas, on my birthday, on New Year’s Eve. On weekdays and weekends, on vacation and in the middle of stressful workweeks.
I’ve done this thing in my bedroom, on planes, and hidden away in nooks in corporate offices.
It’s not a 5-minute task. In fact, it takes me around 45 minutes every day. But I do it anyway.
I do it because this activity has literally transformed my life – it has taken me from a panicking mess with a shaved head and no job…to someone who feels much more clear and confident in the world.
This activity is called: Morning Pages.
I’m going to tell you what they are, and then I’m going to tell you why they changed my life and why I think they are worth your time.
What they are
To do Morning Pages, you sit down in a quiet place and you write three pages longhand (e.g., not on a computer).
You write about anything. Even if it’s just the same nonsense word over and over and over.
How they changed my life and why you should do them
I learned about Morning Pages through Julia Cameron’s fantastic book The Artist’s Way when I was going through an extremely tumultuous period in my life. I had quit my job, shaved my head, and lost a serious relationship. I had stopped going to most social events (and was alternating annoying and freaking out my friends), and I had no real idea what I wanted to do with my life or my time except that most of what I had been doing wasn’t working. (More on that tumultuous time here.)
Morning pages felt self-indulgent and way-too-time consuming (though, of course, I was unemployed/occasionally working as a tutor, but 45 minutes is a friggin’ long time).
But at the same time, I was a mess and figured I had nothing to lose.
So I did it. I woke up, made myself tea, and sat at my desk in my apartment in Inwood and wrote three pages. And did it again the next day. And the next.
At first, it was excruciating, filling up those pages. Even one single page seemed to take forever. But gradually, those pages started to woosh by, until I would look up and say oh wow, it’s over?
Yet I credit Morning Pages for being a huge part of the transformation that took place between then and now. Here’s why:
1. Once it’s on the page, it’s out of your head.
I don’t know about you, but I tend towards being a huge worrier, thinker, obsess-er. If there is something to fixate on, I will.
But when I was writing, the thoughts in my head slowed down – to the point that I could write them out, one by one, on the page. And even more interestingly, I found that once I got a thought on the page, it was out of my head.
Even better, once it was on the page, I could ask if it was true. And most of my thoughts weren’t “truth” – they were just unsubstantiated worry.
Other things, like exercise, had helped me clear my head for a brief time, but the soul-cleansing effects of Morning Pages were more effective and long-lasting than anything I’d ever experienced.
It was — it still is — the most amazing brain dump in the world.
2. You can’t bullsh*t yourself for long.
When you have to write three pages every day, your true feelings come out. You can lie to yourself for maybe a page, but after that, your true feelings just start to pop out in unexpected ways.
You become aware, slowly or quickly, of what you truly feel.
Why? Somehow your Social Self, the self that says — “Oh, no, I’m terrible at dancing” or “That co-worked is a good person”— that Social Self gets tired.
And then the truth pops out, in the middle of you writing some gibberish about doing your laundry that day. The truth, which is, “I’d like to be a fabulous salsa dancer.” Or, “That co-worker might be a good person but she friggin’ annoys me and I really dislike her.”
And the amazingly incredible thing that comes out of that is…
3. Once you start writing the truth, you can’t help but change.
The amazing, fabulous thing about Morning Pages is how gradual and natural the change process is.
Let me tell you how this happened to me.
Four or five months after I started doing Morning Pages, I found myself writing about how I desperately wanted to live alone. I had lived with roommates for all four years of college and for my first several years in New York City. I always liked living with roommates – having girlfriends around to eat dinner with, celebrate with, and cry with.
Except…I had always dreamed of having my own, completely private space. But I kept telling myself reasons why I shouldn’t (it’s too expensive, you’ll hurt your roommates’ feelings).
A few months after I started writing my Morning Pages, it kept coming up, again and again: I’d really, really, really like to live alone. So I kept writing about it, kept looking at my fears and concerns and desires.
And then I started to brainstorm, in my writing. I figured out how to make it work with my finances, what trade-offs I was willing to make, and how I would explain it to my roommates in a way that would be as kind as possible. Eventually I was so tired of writing – it was so annoying to write about the same thing, day after day, week after week – that I knew I had to make it happen.
And the same experience has happened again and again in past nearly four years.
Morning Pages has brought up amazing things (good and bad!) that I didn’t even know I felt about boyfriends, friends, parents, living situations, cities, my body, my job, my routines, and more. And I never had to act, but after a while, it just became so clear that it was the right thing to do.
I don’t do Morning Pages every day because I have to – in fact, many (busy) days, it would be easier not to do them.
I do them because they get me through any kind of pain or crisis, and they are my express train to flourishing. I do my Morning Pages to know what I think, and to get my crazy, un-useful thoughts onto the page.
Morning Pages took all the mess and disaster inside of me and slowly, gently, guided me towards my truth.
I wouldn’t have been someone to use word like “my truth” before I started doing Morning Pages – it would have seemed like too flakey a word. But Morning Pages taught me that I do have a “truth” about what I want and need.
I believe that you have one too.
My challenge to you this week is to try Morning Pages. Try ‘em on a weekend, when you have a bit more time. Sit down and write three pages, longhand, and notice how you feel. Is it painful? Amazing? Why do you think that is?
I’d be honored if you’d share in the comments. Have you ever tried Morning Pages before? If you haven’t, would you be willing to give them a try?