Morning Pages... Is it just me or does this pen make me look skinner?
Updated: Sep 8, 2020
"Woke up fell out of bed... Dragged a comb across my head..."
-John Lennon / Paul McCartney
Well... I don't actually use a comb, one of the advantages of slowly going bald.
I do however, tend to fall out of bed every morning.
These days much earlier than I like.
My usual routine consists of fitfully arguing with my internal alarm until my 4 year old son decides it's time for me to get up. Followed by 10 more minutes of untangling myself from the sheets then a slow stumble into the shower.
That all changed about a month ago when I began (almost by accident) a journey to better understand and develop my own creative spirit and mind.
In the course of researching information about creativity to start this blog, I came across the book "The Artists Way" by Julia Cameron.
In a nutshell, it is a 12 week program designed to help people uncover and unlock their creative spirit.
I bought the book without fully understanding what it was.
So, natural I jumped in feet first...
One of the major elements of the program is called Morning Pages.
Basically, 30 minutes of longhand journaling, written first thing in the morning.
I get up 30 minutes early-ish and write whatever comes to mind.
Then I close the journal and resist the urge to read what I wrote the day before.
No edits. No redos. No take backs.
After a couple weeks of this I started to wonder... What am I actually accomplishing here? As I understood it, the basic idea was to use this time to "brain dump" whatever my mind had collected the night before so that I can start the day fresh and ready to fill my head with more stuff that I'll just have to dump tomorrow.
But something else happened that surprised me.
Although I'm still not exactly thrilled to wake up at dawn, I have found that my usual slow motion start to the day has kicked into a different gear.
I have definitely noticed an uptick in energy, focus and productivity.
In the last 5 weeks I've managed to build a website, research and write several blog posts, buy a camera, and start filming and editing my journey through the Artists Way for a Vlog companion to the site. On top of my regular 9-5 etc. (Stay tuned for those videos!)
I even managed to drop a few pounds.
So what the hell is going on? Is it some sort of placebo effect, or is something else at work here.
Turns out... my new Morning Pages routine may be helping me decouple my Default Mode Network.
Wha? You say.
"The default mode network (DMN) is a network of interacting brain regions that is active when a person is not focused on the outside world, measurable with the fMRI technique." (From: Sport and Exercise Psychology Research, 2016 )
Basically the DMN is the part of our brains that is most active when we allow our minds to wander. It is the place where we format our understanding of our past and form projections of our future.
So why would we want to "decouple" from that?
Well, it seems that the DMN is also something of an anxiety factory.
Research has shown that:
Overactivity of the DMN may help to explain common symptoms in major depression. Major depression is characterized by increased rumination or the recurrent, reflective, and uncontrollable focus on the depressed mood and its causes and consequences. Major depression in middle-aged adults has been repeatedly associated with increased activity within the DMN (Greicius et al., 2007) Kevin J. Manning, David C. Steffens, in Systems Neuroscience in Depression, 2016
It has also be found to be intrinsic functional network to be implicated in chronic alcoholism... So, while the DMN is important, it may need to be dialed down at times.
So how do we do that you ask?
Shocker, I know.
But According to Sandra Chanraud, Edith V. Sullivan, in Handbook of Clinical Neurology, 2014:
Regions of the DMN are normally highly connected during rest and functionally decoupled during task performance, presumably for efficient processing by allocating resources to appropriate regions.
Which I think means that focused tasks such as longhand writing can help decouple from the DMN and help kick start other regions of the brain that are more geared towards productivity and processing.
Essentially, what I've been doing with the Morning Pages (without really knowing it) is a form of focused meditation.
There are several studies that point towards the positive physiological and psychological benefits of meditation covering everything from increased energy, to weight loss and even relief from conditions like irritable bowl syndrome. Which fits in line with the unexpected results I'm seeing so far.
Obviously my experience isn't a double blind controlled research experiment but
as long as I continue to wake up with more energy, focus and drive.... Looks like me and that sunrise will be getting to know each other better.
Hope she likes her coffee black....
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