Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Morning pages

What it's all about

Morning pages is a technique I discovered when reading Pragmatic Thinking and Learning. The idea is to write three pages, by hand, about whatever is in your head first thing in the morning before you do anything else. The idea is to tap into the right side of your brain. What's that? It's the area of your brain that's thought to be responsible for things like intuition, spatial awareness, visual processing (e.g. recognising faces) and non-linear thought. According to the book it operates in an asynchronous manner, you can't control it, and it shuts down when the voice in your head is talking. If you're like me, that's pretty much all the time. The theory is that first thing in the morning you are more in touch with the right side of your brain because you're not fully awake and that little voice hasn't started talking nonsense yet. It could be beneficial to tap into thoughts that come from the right side of your brain as it may provide you with solutions to problems or ideas which have been ticking over unconsciously in your head. In theory anyway. 

What Pragmatic Thinking and Learning says about an asynchronous thought process makes a lot of sense to me. How many times have you thought of an answer to a problem, or remembered something you couldn't recall earlier while you were driving to work or doing the washing up? It happens to me a all the time. For this reason I thought that even if it didn't provide anything useful it would be an interesting exercise, and I'd like to see what comes out of my brain in the morning.

Was it useful?

I have no doubt that it was interesting, but I'm still undecided as to the usefulness of morning pages. One way of measuring the usefulness of an exercise is to compare your expectations with the outcome. What were my expectations? If someone had asked me before I started I would have said "not much", but deep down I think what I really wanted was a great idea or a eureka moment. Well, good news, I've solved the meaning of life, the universe and everything! Not really. My brain isn't special. I would estimate, based on zero measurements, that about seventy percent of what I wrote was nonsense and thirty percent was quite interesting. The interesting stuff did reveal some of the topics I think about, but strangely I didn't write as much about what I would typically think about during the day.

So what did I write about? Reading back through the notes there were a number of main themes. A lot of what I wrote was quite negative. There was a lot of complaining about the fact that nothing was in my head and therefore I had nothing to write about. By the end of two weeks I was getting very annoyed at myself for having an empty morning brain. I also moaned in a very pathetic way about the fact that I was tired, and pondered whether tiredness affected the quality of my notes. To top off my whinging I wondered several times what I would get from doing morning pages.

What about the interesting stuff? On several days the first subject I wrote about was dreams. I don't dream a lot but when I do I tend to remember it for about five minutes after I wake up, so it's no surprise that I wrote about it. Other than that it was very contemplative and very much much about me and my thoughts. One thing is obvious from this exercise; I have a lot of questions in my head, and not very many answers. Questions about my job, questions about the future, questions about life, that kind of thing. 

What kind of things did I write?

Below are a few example of things I wrote. As I said earlier, there was quite a lot of moaning:

"I feel like a broken record"

"I could close my eyes and go back to sleep right now"

"Here we go again. The morning nothing"

"I feel like I've run out of things to write about already" - This was after about four lines on my very first morning

"This feels like a blog. A strange nonsensical blog that nobody would want to read"

"How many times can I write that I'm not thinking about anything?"

"If anyone ever reads this I wonder if they'll think I'm totally mental?"

"It's like my brain doesn't want to think in the morning. My body is awake but my brain stubbornly refuses to get out of bed"

But there was a few interesting sections as well. Having read them back, some of them as quite surprising considering they were written when I was half asleep (which of course is the point):

"Why are some people happier than others? Is it the way they think? Is it the way they approach life? The way they were brought up? A chemical/hormonal imbalance? Can something be done about it?"

"Having some understanding of how other people differ from yourself is very useful. I often wonder what goes through other peoples mind and how they come to their conclusions, especially when they differ radically from my own. But saying that I sometimes wonder how I've drawn my own conclusions in hindsight."

"However much I'm convinced a particular direction is the right one to take, there will always, quite rightly, be arguments and reasons against. The really is no room for dogmatic belief in specific ideas, technologies etc. I think it makes you less open to new ideas and opinions, which isn't good for learning. That's not to say you shouldn't have strong opinions, but you shouldn't force them on other people or be offended if someone thinks you are wrong. Again, see both sides. I'll work on that. It's not easy."

"I wonder how people who are really good at things get that way? Sometimes it seems strangely unattainable. But, does it really matter? Is it important? Who actually cares? Why does it sound like someone is using sandpaper outside? Is everyone aware of how the learn effectively? How do you know which skills are more important? What if you're wrong? How do you overcome cognitive biases? How do you take a more calm, measured approach? How do you if and when you should have kids? What will they look like? How will they behave? How much do people imitate other people? Are people really affected in a noticeable way by when then they were born?"

"How do you make realistic goals? How do you really know what you want? Do goals really help that much? With so much information coming in, how do you filter the useful stuff?"

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