“Don’t get it right, just get it written.”
— James Thurber
Looking back over history, it would be easier to list all the famous leaders and visionaries who didn’t practice journaling, than did.
For centuries creatives, politicians, romantics, and philosophers alike have turned to the pen and paper to dive into the inner workings of the mind and explore, clear, and enhance their internal environments.
These greats understand that complex systems, like the mind, take much management, repair, and adjustment, in order to keep them running smoothly and at peak performance. They also understand that such work can’t be done without the use of special tools.
Without these tools, thoughts and ideas get trapped, the brain clogs up, worries get compounded, and the mind becomes foggy.
But as author Julia Cameron puts it, writing—particularly in the morning—can be used as a “spiritual windshield wiper”—a way to clear your mind every day and keep it free from unwanted build up and blockages.
That spiritual windshield wiper can do its thing with just 5 minutes of journaling every morning. So let’s find out exactly how it works and why you should join Ben Franklin, Churchill, and Edison in adopting this morning habit.
1. Reset Your Mind
Sometimes all we need is a good night’s sleep to get going again. But more often than not, we wake to find we are still drained and in the same jaded mindset as the night before.
Studies suggest sleep allows the mind to recover and consolidate thoughts of the day, helping with things like learning new skills and adopting new habits. But even as we sleep, the brain experiences a lot of activity, particularly when in REM state—the deep sleep stage we are most likely to dream in.
As the mind doesn’t really get a chance to switch off, take a moment to do it manually by first identifying your thoughts and feelings. Are you stressed? Tired? Energetic? Why? Recognizing and breaking down the negative and refocusing on the positive is a sure fire way to start your day afresh.
2. Practice Gratitude
Today, it’s normal to have all the information in the world at your fingertips, to sit in a plastic box and hurl yourself at 100kmph towards your destination, and to be able to get any food you could ever want just around the corner.
That being said, the point of practicing gratitude is not to worship your local supermarket or your smartphone. In our world of abundance, spending a few minutes a day writing down what you are thankful for can help you regain a sense of balance and rekindle your appreciation for the small things we often overlook. If you’re still not convinced, studies have shown it can even help strengthen your immune system, decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation, and increase levels of positive emotions.
3. Disrupt Routine
Convention is the enemy of growth. Just look back to your childhood when every few months you progressed onto more difficult and complex subjects, ready to move up another level at the end of the year.
To the body, the opposite is true. It likes routine and patterns as they indicate stability and security. This is troublesome when it comes to our personal and professional development as a state of ‘relative comfort’ only maintains our steady performance, whereas a state of ‘relative anxiety’ creates a trend of steady improvement.
In order to grow and expand our lives, we must take action against the body’s fight for stability. Disrupt your routine by reflecting on the day that’s passed and figure out which areas need to change, which need to improve, and which need to be dumped altogether.
There are over 10,000 minutes in a week, the majority of which your mind is chugging away processing stimuli and information. Directing 5 of those minutes to writing in a journal every morning is a way of oiling, adjusting, and improving the machine. In just a few weeks you’ll be feeling like a new, upgraded version of yourself and wondering how you ever did without it.
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Joseph is a freelance writer and student of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. He believes a new approach to mindfulness is needed if it’s to have an impact on life in the fast-paced and hyper-stimulating digital age.