Journaling and morning pages

A laboratory for self-awareness and intentional living

“It is impossible to write Morning Pages without changing your life.”

Julia Cameron

Self-awareness is one of the most valuable skills that underlie how to live intentionally. People who are self-aware are not only better equipped to master their “inner game” and deal with the ups and downs of life, but also the mental struggles of others and themselves.

Journaling is one of the best ways to increase self-awareness.

This is supported by personal experience, inspiring examples from history and thought leaders – from Marcus Aurelius to Benjamin Franklin, from Mark Twain Oscar Wilde, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Virginia Woolf, Anaïs Nin, Franz Kafka to George Lucas and Matthew McConnaughey, or entrepreneurs like Tom Bilyeu or Tim Ferriss … and above all it is supported by science-backed research.

A journal is a place to document the development of your own life. You will be amazed at the incredible leaps in personal understanding and self-awareness you will experience.

Here is more on why, and how to form and sustain the habit of journaling.

A timeless morning ritual to consider for greater intentional living: Journaling with morning pages

Julia Cameron wrote The Miracle of Morning Pages and The Artist’s Way to describe Morning Pages as an invaluable journaling ritual.

The pages in journaling aren’t intended for anyone but you. 

Meaning: the process matters, not the quality of the writing.

As author Julia Cameron puts it, it is “spiritual windshield wipers.” – trapping thoughts, caging your monkey mind out of your head and away from the vicious cycle of potential over-thinking … and onto paper (i.e. writing).

“Once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts [nebulous worries, jitters, and preoccupations] on the page, we face our day with clearer eyes.”

Julia Cameron
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7 benefits of Morning Pages

1. Morning pages give you a special space every morning to pause.

To breathe. To write about what happened. For your eyes only.

Your morning notes might point to challenges as well as joys, fun times, dreams and goals. You could write looking backward like a diary or forward about a current project or goal and ideas you feel called to brainstorm on.

“Morning pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. They are not “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not overthink Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page … and then do three more pages tomorrow.”

Julia Cameron

2. The magic of writing by hand for greater introspection.

Allow your hand to write in “free form,” meaning you don’t overthink about what to write on the page, but tune in the intuitive voice inside of you, listening to what it tells you that feels good. You may be surprised if you just let your hand write every morning, as it tends to provide you with little messages to you that you didn’t see coming.

Writing by hand (vs. on a computer) forces you to pause and connect to how you feel. It is a cathartic writing process that clarifies your mind, builds confidence, and creates a path for greater creativity.

Powerful negative emotions diminish by writing, and powerful positive emotions increase. Writing about your fear reduces its strength, and capturing your excitement magnifies its power.

Typing on a computer doesn’t give this. Becoming more self-aware of how you feel enables you to control your emotions and take action. In that sense, it is similar to meditation. However it is different and complementary: it is not only about observing yourself, but also taking actions. It is about what you did, what you are about to do and what you want to do in the future (e.g. Why did I say that? Why does it always make me feel that way? If I follow this course, where will I be 1 / 3 / 5 years from now?).

3. It offers you an effective way to figure it all out.

Even if it is an effortless practice, patterns will emerge. There is something magical about writing down a problem. It is almost as though in the very act of writing what is wrong you start to discover ways of making it right.

  • Write about a current dilemma you are facing. Whatever it is, take the time to capture it on paper the way it really is. Use your journal to then chart out a course of action to eliminate whatever is standing between you and your better future
  • Paint mental pictures of the limitless paths you could intentionally travel. Create a set of circumstances on paper, and then place yourself in the middle of them: How would you feel about doing that? What would it be like to live in that city? How would you feel having those responsibilities? Pick a direction, and travel with your imagination to new environments, to new positions, to new opportunities. Take your dreams from your mind to your journal, and then take them from the pages of your journal to set aligned goals and actions. 

4. Writing about events and circumstances that occur helps you to clarify exactly what is happening.

When we describe life to ourselves only in our minds, our imaginations tend to feed false or distorted information about how things are, positive or negative.

When we describe a situation in writing, however, we become more factual, more accurate, and certainly more realistic.

Once we finally see things as they are rather than as we think they are, we can then see more clearly a way to make them better. 

5. Morning pages help you reclaim your freedom and unlock your creativity.

It is like a brain dump to get all the negative self-talk out of the way.

We often have an inner saboteur voice or limiting beliefs that frighten us and intimidate us. With morning pages, we gain perspective and can better distinguish our thoughts from reality. We can then start to make decisions regardless of what that inner voice says.  

As we collect a variety of thoughts on any given theme or subject, there is a tendency for these individual ideas to come together and form themselves into a whole new idea. 

I don’t journal 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…I’m trying to figure things out…I’m just caging my monkey mind on paper so I can get on with my fucking day.”

Tim Ferriss

6. Morning pages give you that insight into your past self.

Reading back your pages, if you so wish, can remind you of so many things you forgot. Often, even we might remember what happened, but how we felt at that moment (e.g. what we were upset about or how excited we were; whether we were in a good or a bad mood, feeling of empowerment or anxiety).

What you capture today will not have any specific meaning or purpose in your life at this moment, but ultimately at some future point in time when you review them you will learn great lessons about what you did that worked or did not work, and what you can continue to do or improve.

Matthew McConnaughey attributed journaling as a keystone habit in his self-growth, in a Joe Regan podcast episode where he was interviewed during his book release (Greenlights).

“And going back in those journals, I found that there are times when I got in a rut later and I was able to go back to those journals and go, what were your habits when you were rolling, man?” “Who were you hanging out with? Where were you going? What were you eating, what were you drinking and how much sleep were you getting? How were you looking at life?” “And they helped me recalibrate in the times when I was off frequency and to get back on the rails and find my frequency again.”

Matthew McConnaughey

7. Build a legacy.

Your journal and the lessons you learn through your intentional life may become perhaps part of the legacy that you leave behind for your loved ones, and the world at large. Let your journals capture your personal history, and in doing so they add to the history of all mankind and to our collective heritage. The most valuable treasure anyone can leave behind is the knowledge they have acquired in their one lifetime. 

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5 tips to create a ritual of writing Morning Pages 

While writing Morning pages is a fairly straightforward practice, there are tips that can help you make the most of your daily writing practice:

  • Integrate it in your morning routine. Write as often as you wish, and as often as you need. It does not have to be daily
  • Write longhand. It allows you to process what you are expressing. 
  • Be authentic and say it all, if it matters to you and whether good or bad, happy or sad. Write in half sentences, and break all the rules of grammar and punctuation if you choose. Draw pictures, make diagrams. This is one place where you should feel free to say it all and say it as you wish – without fear of judgement. And remember, it doesn’t have to be a monumental occurrence to be worth capturing. Never censor yourself when writing morning pages. 
  • Realize there is no wrong way. Morning pages are unique to every individual. There is no right or wrong way to do them. 
  • Record the date, time and location of each entry. Not only will this provide you with a means of measuring your progress, your growth trends, the different phases of your life and your changing attitudes, but where and when you write can in themselves provide interesting revelations. Your journal becomes like a photograph album, capturing moments in your life. The only difference is that a photograph album kept for many years reveals physical changes in yourself and your environment, while journals over a period of time reflect mental changes within yourself and about your environment.
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As you begin to develop the habit of writing down your thoughts, recording your observations, emotions and reactions to life’s events, you become an intentional observer and participant in life’s events. What you capture today might not have any specific meaning or purpose in your life at this moment. However, in the future, should you review your pages, you might learn great lessons about what you did that worked or did not work, and what you can continue to do or improve.

I invite you to give this a try. If you like it and stick to it, you will return to these pages over and over again and look back at the progress you have made each year. A secret laboratory for your intentional living journey. 

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