History is littered with examples of successful (and unsuccessful) people who kept daily journals. It ranges from Marcus Aurelius to Ben Franklin, and from Mark Twain to George Lucas.
But what on earth did they write about?
Or perhaps you’ve seen examples of their writing and thought to yourself, “Goddamn, that reads like the Gettysburg Address!” and become demoralized.
In this post, I’ll show you what my raw morning journal looks like.
Because it’s easy to imagine our heroes as unflappable juggernauts, who conquer insecurity with a majestic mental karate chop every morning. This is, of course, an illusion. Most people you see on magazine covers have plenty of mornings when they’d rather hide under the covers all day long.
A while back, I bared my soul in a post about “productivity” tips for neurotic and crazy people (like me). I was overwhelmed by the hundreds of heartfelt comments, letters, and more that I received.
Many of you have since asked about my “morning pages,” so I’m oversharing again…
The Daily Struggle
To be honest, I never read the original Artist’s Way, which was recommended to me by many mega-bestselling authors.
More book consumption didn’t interest me, as I often use it to procrastinate. What I needed was a daily and meditative practice of production, like the tea ceremony. So, voila, I bought the journal. This “companion” provides plenty of context to be used by itself.
But why journal in the first place?
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.
Morning pages are, as author Julia Cameron puts it, “spiritual windshield wipers.” It’s the most cost-effective therapy I’ve ever found. To quote her further, from page viii:
“Once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts [nebulous worries, jitters, and preoccupations] on the page, we face our day with clearer eyes.”
Please reread the above quote. It may be the most important aspect of trapping thought on paper (i.e. writing) you’ll ever encounter. Even if you consider yourself a terrible writer, writing can be viewed as a tool that you can and should use. There are huge benefits to writing, even if no one — yourself included — ever reads what you write. In other words, the process matters more than the product.
Below is one of my real entries.
I’ve typed out the text below the image, as it’s easier to read.
SUNDAY, DEC. 28, NEW YORK
Woke up at 7:30am, before everyone else. Feels great.
It’s a Sunday, so I feel I can take it slow, which is probably the reason it feels great.
Why should Monday or Tuesday be any different? There are still people waiting regardless. Let them wait.
It’s funny how we work and aim and strive to get to a point where people wait for us, not the other way around. Cue Get Shorty!
And yet, when we arrive at this vaunted point, the masses of people (often rightly) incessantly knocking on the door, one after another, causes far more stress than when you were a mere peon (sp)! [I was unsure of spelling]
Is it because of the 100x more inbound, which decreases a feeling of self-directed free will? A feeling that you’re constantly choosing from someone else’s buffet instead of cooking your own food?
Or is it because you feel you must be defensive and protect what you have: time, money, relationships, space, etc.?
For someone who’s “won” through a lifetime of offense, of attacking, playing the defensive game conflicts with the core of who they are.
So… What’s The Point Again?
There are two ways to interpret the above journal entry, and they’re not mutually exclusive:
1) I’m trying to figure things out, and this might help.
For instance: I’ve realized conflicts between goals (become “successful”) and related side-effects one must manage (100x more inbound). I’ve also noted that my big wins in life have come from being aggressive, much like iconic coach Dan Gable, who’s epic rant here is one of my favorites of all time. But the fetters of even a modicum of professional success makes one feel like they have to play defense, or manage instead of conquer. This runs counter to my DNA, which leads to unhappiness. Therefore, I need to divest myself of assets that require “protecting,” or I need to better delegate this responsibility.
That all sounds pleasantly analytical. Aren’t we smart? But perhaps the real value is that…
2) I’m just caging my monkey mind on paper so I can get on with my fucking day.
#2 is key.
Morning pages don’t need to solve your problems. They simply need to get them out of your head, where they’ll otherwise bounce around all day like a bullet ricocheting inside your skull.
Could bitching and moaning on paper for five minutes each morning change your life?
As crazy as it might seem, I believe the answer is yes.
Would you like more posts like this? Or never again? Please let me know in the comments (click here), or I’ll never know. Thank you for reading!
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.