Is your brain full?
I thought so.
Are you feeling frazzled and anxious about what’s happening at work, within your team, listening to the news, reading your Facebook feed or hearing friends and family argue about politics or world affairs? Or are your close personal relationships not as loving as you need them to be? Maybe it’s time to lighten the load and reduce stress.
You are bombarded with a million pieces of information every day and making sense of them is challenging. It seems so hard to stop the cycle, reduce the noises in your head, relax, and find peace. You are overworked, frustrated, tired and what you hear in the news just makes you want to curl up in bed. It’s difficult to focus.
But I have good news: Focusing and finding peace isn’t as hard as it might seem. Years ago I came across a book written by Julia Cameron called The Artist’s Way. It is a good read if you are interested in unleashing your creativity, but for the sake of this article I am focusing on one of its basic tools. The book introduced me to a daily practice called ‘Morning Pages.’ It has been widely used for decades now.
“Meditation on a page.” Daniela Bryan
I am here to tell you that it works. By doing this practice, you will reduce stress, get calm, focused, and relaxed. Valuing fun, I put a few fun twists in to keep the practice alive and aligned with who I am. I want to encourage you to do the same. Here is how it works:
Choose a Journal to Reduce Stress
Of course you could easily choose a notepad or a composition book. I want to challenge you to dig a bit deeper and honor who you are by being really intentional about what your journal looks like. I have experimented in various ways. My journals have represented where I am in my life and the same thing will be true for you. You will handle the journal every day, so you might as well make it fun and inspiring.
1) Choose a Pre-Made Journal
You can find nice looking journals in bookstores and art supply stores, gift shops and cafes. There is an abundance of them. Plenty can be found online. My favorite ones are from Peter Pauper Press, but there are lots of others to choose from. The reason I like those is because they are relatively light and I can take them with me when traveling, they have an elastic band to hold the journal closed, they are lined and they lay flat when opened. There are also plenty of options on Etsy and Amazon. When going to conferences I prefer Moleskins, since they look more professional and often have pockets in the back to hold business cards or notes.
2) Choose to Make Your Own
Why would you want to make your own? As a senior leader you live and breathe numbers. You are firmly stuck in your left brain. Have a little fun and let your inner child come out. Make it a project with your kids or just indulge yourself. Get your hands dirty. You are pressed for time, I get it. However, I have seen CEOs light up when they allow themselves to be in the zone of creativity. And having created your own journal will keep you wanting to write in it every day.
Find paper that inspires you. Rip out images from magazines of things or places you desire, find newspapers that mean something to you, scout out wrapping paper you like, use snippets of inspiring quotes, use your own photographs, or the tickets from all the baseball games you attended, or wine bottle labels. Whatever floats your boat. Anything goes.
Buy a sketch book , and Mod Podge and a paint brush.
You can use the Mod Podge to glue the paper onto the journal. Once you have covered the outside with the paper of your choosing, paint the entire journal with Mod Podge. It dries quickly and will protect the surface. You can add ribbon as place markers or elastic to hold your pen.
Likewise you can also cover your journal in fabric. Again, let your creativity guide you. Create a cover that can be reused, or glue or tape fabric, much like you covered your textbooks in school. Whatever works for you.
Acrylic paint will work well. Create patterns, textures and designs to your heart’s content. Don’t be afraid to get into it. This is for you to enjoy and experiment with. And you want to create something that inspires you to pick it up every day. You might just find you have uncovered a hidden talent.
Voila, you have just created your very own journal.
Pick Your Writing Utensil
Often overlooked, the writing utensil is immensely important. For years I was writing in pencil thinking that I could erase my thoughts. They weren’t permanent and I could take them back. It made writing easier to start with. Did I ever go back and erase one single line? Not once. I had just succumbed to an illusion. I have since changed my ways and I am now writing with an old-fashioned fountain pen. And I love it. Why, you wonder? I love it because it represents a
constant in my life. With everything around me changing I have something to hold on to — literally. It feels good in my hand and it flows across the page smooth as silk. Fountain ink is also permanent and I like it. It is here to stay. What I am writing matters and it’s helping me find my voice. So, why not stand up for it? I am also indulging my senses in a ritual. My fountain pen
is a piston filling pen. I get to choose my ink at random. Lately, I have really enjoyed writing with inks that are scented (even though I really don’t like perfume). But my coffee-scented ink makes me feel like I have carved a little bit of a time out for myself. Bliss in simple pleasures.
Create a Safe Time And Space to Write
I can’t stress the need for safety enough.
Find a place where you can write in peace, undisturbed and uninterrupted. For me that’s lying in bed first thing in the morning when I wake up. I have a client who stops at a coffee place on his way to work and he writes there. He has little kids at home and he just wouldn’t be able to get down more than a thought. A friend of mine sits at the Hudson River waterfront every morning to write (if it’s not too cold).
Journals are private. For your eyes only. Confidential. Not to be shared. Find a place where you can set the appropriate boundaries around yours in your home. Ask family members to respect your privacy. You don’t want to write while listening for kids’ footsteps on the stairs. You also don’t want to have to explain yourself. You don’t want to be nervous about your wife or anyone else wanting access to your writing.
You can either keep the journals or destroy them once filled — your choice. I still have mine, but I am not sure about the future.
Make It a Routine
Give some thought as to the best time to write. When are you undisturbed? When can you keep that boundary easily? Most of my clients like to write in the morning. But some are dedicated night owls and prefer to write at night. Experiment with this.
As an executive you undoubtedly are traveling quite a bit. Flying to distant places or driving to clients takes time and takes you out of your routine. You are not always in charge of your own calendar. What could you do to stick with your newfound meditation on a page? Routinely get up 30 minutes earlier? Block time on your calendar so your meetings always start 30 minutes later? Find something that works for you.
Ready. Set. Go.
You have chosen your tools, you have blocked out time and it’s finally quiet around you.
Now you have a blank page staring at you.
Here is the deal. Start at the top by writing down the date.
Next, write whatever comes to your mind. Many mornings my entry starts with: “I am so tired, I don’t want to get up yet …” That’s often all it takes to get my brain into gear. Dump whatever comes to your mind. Uncensored. Raw. Stream of consciousness. Don’t think, just write.
Keep writing until you have filled three pages. No more. No less. Once you are finished, close your journal, tuck it away and move on with your day.
Make It a Daily Practice
Writing just once will already make you feel better. Promise. But writing every day will unleash your thoughts in completely new ways. Once you have expressed your everyday frustrations for several days or even weeks, you’ll notice that it gets easier and new thoughts will enter your mind. At first Morning Pages will feel most effective when you are frustrated about something. Over time, you will notice that your journal becomes a welcome companion, where you can muse and try out different ideas or thoughts.
Journaling will lower the barriers to entry with conflict-ridden conversations you are resisting. Therefore, a good question to ask yourself is: What am I resisting? What do I need to let go of in order to feel better? You can take your Morning Pages in all sort of directions, but at first I would recommend you just go with the flow and observe what shows up.
Ideally you want to write every day to keep the mind from clogging up with ‘stuff.’ Think of it as preventive maintenance for your brain. You take your car in for service, don’t you? Why not your brain?
I have been writing Morning Pages for over a decade and it is without a doubt my most valuable daily practice. It helped me stay sane with my parenting issues, assists me in dealing with things clients raise, and it allows me to work through any large or small decisions I have to make. It gets me to focus on what is most important.
Let me challenge you to do what it takes to start and keep the practice of Morning Pages alive.
Don’t forget to tell me about your experience with Morning Pages. Drop me a line to let me know. What journal do you prefer? What pen are you writing with? What insights are you gaining? I will send a journal to the fifth person who emails me. Promise. (Please put JOURNAL in the comments section).
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