The first thing I did this morning after I woke up was sit down and write 750 words. I did the same thing yesterday, and on a majority of mornings for the last 7 years.
Writing in the morning has become a cornerstone habit for me. The whole process usually takes little more than 12 minutes out of my day, but I believe the benefits of this simple exercise are massive, in many direct and abstract ways.
Why I write every day
1. I want to be someone who writes
I started writing every day, because I wanted to be a writer, but I wasn’t writing. The simplest solution to this problem was to start writing every day.
Through the act of sitting down and writing three full pages every morning, without caring about the content, makes you realise that writing isn’t the daunting task we often fear. Not caring about what you are writing – it’s likely no one will ever see it – let’s you get out all of your bad writing out of the way, and increases the chance that you will end up writing something good.
2. Making important decisions and dealing with worry
If I have something on my mind, or an important decision to make in the next 24 hours, I will probably write about it. Spending even a few minutes calmly collecting my thoughts and writing them down lets me examine both sides of a decision, and form a sane, rational opinion at the very start of the day.
Humans are quite poor at making decisions under stress (remember the last time you tried to make a decision on an empty stomach). Making important decisions early in the day allows me to approach them with conviction, rather than relying on an emotional, and perhaps very hungry reaction later on.
I find that writing my thoughts down leads to a feeling of definity, and frees up cognitive resources for more important things.
3. Practicing gratitude
At the end of each writing session I like to remind myself of the things that I appreciate, and the things that are the most important to me. Spending even a minute focussing on these things in the morning has a massive impact on how you will react, make decisions, and generally approach the rest of the day.
As I write, I find there are a few key ideas that I keep coming back to. Collectively, these ideas have begun to form a sort of personal creed that now defines many of my decisions and actions. Thinking about these ideas often in the morning means that I am more conscious and aware of them during the day.
1. If I’m not forming good habits, I’m reinforcing bad ones.
This realisation came after reading The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge. This book completely changed the way I thought about habits, and human behaviour.
I’d recommend reading the book, but one basic idea is that every action and decision we make reinforces a neural pathway in our brain, and affects how likely we are to make the same decision or action in the future, especially when we are tired, hungry, and our willpower is low.
Practically, this means placing long-term wants ahead of short-term desires, with the understanding that every time I do something, I am more likely to do it again in the future. For example, every time you make the decision to put a packet of sugar in your coffee, you are reinforcing that decision pathway in your brain, and you are more likely to make that decision again in the future.
2. You won’t get better every day that you practice, but you won’t get better unless you practice every day
This was a more recent realisation, particularly related to learning new skills or improving existing ones.
For me, the realisation came while learning to speak Russian. I noticed through my morning writing that when I studied Russian on consecutive days, for as little as 15 minutes per day, my rate of learning new words and concepts increased massively, compared to longer lessons with gaps of 1-2 days in-between.
This realisation has had an impact not just on my approach to learning new skills, but also my approach to work, dicipline, and building things.
Big things happen in tiny, incremental steps, that aren’t always in the direction we want to be going, but we are far more likely to achieve them if we practice every day, even for 15 minutes.
3. I do my best work in the morning.
This realisation was more indirect, but equally as powerful. I noticed that I was far more likely to complete tasks like writing when I set aside time for them first thing in the morning, rather than later in the day, or at night when willpower is beginning to fade.
Writing has become the foundation of a morning routine that has greatly improved my compliance with completing several 5-30 minute tasks almost every day. In the first 90 minutes of the day I am able to complete the 4-5 repeating tasks, like writing, meditating, or taking a language lesson, that are the most imporatnt to me, and would have a chance of being forgotten or dismissed later in the day.
Completing these few small tasks early in the morning means that I have already won the day by 10 am, and I can start work knowing that the day is already a success.
How I started writing in the morning
Julia Cameron’s book, The Artists Way was first recommended to me 7 years ago by Benjamin Law during a university feature writing class. The key exercise in the book – morning pages – is the practice of simply writing an uninterrupted stream of consciousness, for three full pages, every morning.
I’ve since traded in a huge stack of notebooks for 750words.com – a simple website for writing morning pages with a goal of 750 words per day, with a few nice features like tracking your current writing streak.