It was 11:25 am today when I sat down to write Morning Pages, the long-hand free writing exercise I have been doing almost every morning since August.
Pen to paper, and suddenly…
Wow. Where does the time go?
Where does it go?
I was out of bed by 6:05 am today. I got dressed for the gym. I did not putter. The gym doesn’t open until 7 am, and sometimes it opens late on Sunday morning. I spent about 30 minutes moving around my apartment before leaving; dancing, reflecting on yesterday, a moving meditation.
I was out the door by 7 am. Before the sunrise. Ready to brave the cold on this dark morning.
This dark SUNDAY morning.
Right. It’s Sunday. Remember that.
I was the second person in the gym when I arrived at 7:10 am. I got right to it; putting myself through a fun and energetic workout. Today I abandoned the monotony of a stationary bike or treadmill for the freedom of the empty fitness studio; the potential distractions lurking in my iPhone stayed in my gym bag while the magic of bluetooth allowed me to listen to the Songza Pick Up Your Feet playlist through my wireless earphones. I stayed fully present to my workout today as I pumped up my heart rate, worked my full body strength and engaged my core. I didn’t skimp on the stretching today.
As I left the gym at 8:40 am and headed to Whole Foods to pick up groceries, I felt great about the service I gave to my body and soul.
I was back home by 9:30 am. I put away the groceries. I jumped in the shower. Sometimes I can get lost in thought as I engage in my morning routine, but not today. Today I was quick and efficient. Shower. Dress. Moisturizer. Makeup. I touched up my hair quickly, without obsessing (I can obsess). I am taking today off. No clients today. Hair went into a bun.
I was craving pancakes and then saw them on the breakfast bar at Whole Foods. A special treat today; saving myself the time of cooking breakfast. I warmed up the pancakes while I cut up some fruit to eat with it.
Over breakfast, I contemplated the day and week ahead. I also perused a new coloring book from The Coloring Studio, which I bought the other day, intent on adding a new creative outlet to my routine.
I finished breakfast. I cleaned up the kitchen. I put the dishes in the dishwasher. I sat down again at my dining table. I opened my Morning Pages journal to start writing.
And … 11:25 am.
What Appears on the Page
Morning Pages is an exercise in unfiltered writing. The point is to write whatever comes to you, as a way to empty your subconscious of the thoughts that get in the way. Sometimes, I wonder if this is really helpful. More often than not, it seems to stir up thoughts that only serve to wash me in negativity.
Like today. I found myself evaluating how I spent every minute to that point:
11:25 am. Just …. How does that happen? A workout. Grocery shopping. Shower. Dress. Hair. Makeup. Breakfast. Clean up. I guess they all take time. But, how can I be up for 5.5 hours and not have accomplished anything? No writing done yet. No “meaningful” reading? And I have so many things I want to do today. Baking. Making holiday cards for people. Finishing some recently started blog posts. Planning my week and the next few weeks. Working on projects. Clearing out clutter from my apartment. Business planning. Teeing up to find a web-developer and a new assistant to help me. When does that get fit in? It always feels like there is not enough hours in the day. This pressure from all the things I want to be doing. How can I do them faster or more efficiently?
Ok. So, not so much “evaluating” as “criticizing.”
Hello, Inner Critic. Thanks for showing up again today. I don’t know where I’d be without you.
This isn’t really a new thing. Morning Pages seems to be a magnet for my Inner Critic.
Almost every entry in my Morning Pages journal starts with an evaluation of the time and how long it took before I sat down to write. I even write the time I start and finish writing at the top of each entry; a subtle way of tracking my success or failure at “getting it done” within a specified amount of time.
Is that f*cked up as it sounds?
What does “on time” even mean?
How long should it take to write two pages longhand?
At least today it was technically still “morning.”
As I was obsessing about the time and writing that list of everything I wanted to do today, I could feel the
anxiety fear (let’s just call it what it is, ok?) tighten the muscles in my chest and stomach.
So much for digesting my breakfast.
I could feel myself start to hold my breath in that way you do when you know you’re about to be on the receiving end of another person’s anger. Except in this case that “other person” is me.
My Inner Critic. She is as mean and nasty as they come.
Let’s put aside, for the moment, that the list of everything I wanted to do today is simply not realistic to do in one day.
What’s driving these expectations?
Perhaps it’s the guidance of well-meaning virtual mentors who promote the myth that the “most productive people” do their “most important work” by 8:30 am each day.
This seems to be the magic time of the “super successful” people who share their morning routines. At least, many of the people I follow. People I admire and respect.
And so I have bought into this myth. I have accepted their premise, because I am a well-conditioned achiever. And this seems to be the benchmark for success. As I go about my routine, even as my routine has evolved, I’ve always got one eye on the clock. Recording the minutes. Observing how long things take. I’m always trying to find a way to condense everything down to the shortest amount of time possible.
This is STUPID. And extremely f*cked up.
Just in case you missed it:
I’m always trying to find a way to condense everything down to the shortest amount of time possible.
Seriously. This is the Dumbest. Thing. Ever.
Suddenly, another part of me emerged. Enter my Inner Wisdom. She grabbed the pen and started:
Or, maybe I need to realize that this is the time it takes. I was at the gym by 7:15 am. On a SUNDAY. I was present to my workout. I already went grocery shopping today. It has to be done. Shower + makeup + hair + getting dressed all must be done. Breakfast. Putting away laundry. Cleaning up the kitchen. Etc. All things that must be done.
True enough. She wasn’t finished.
Perhaps it might be helpful to remember that most of the people who say “I get everything important done by 8:30 am” are not exercising. Or they aren’t doing their own grocery shopping. Or cleaning up from breakfast. Most of them don’t need to fix their hair or put on makeup. Most of them are MEN. Married men. I don’t ever hear women boasting about how much they get done before 8:30 am. And if they do, they likely aren’t exercising or they typically aren’t single. Most of these people have someone who shares the household burden with them. Cut yourself some slack. Allow yourself some grace. Besides, what’s “important”?
Oh, she is smart, my Inner Wisdom. Smart and nice. And compassionate. Don’t you think?
I really need to find a way to get her to come around more often. She makes excellent points.
Who Sets the Standard?
Why am I setting my productivity benchmarks based on what men (and some women) — even those who I respect a lot — say they do?
I can see how that would create an unrealistic expectation. I can see how this would give my Inner Critic something to latch on to as ammunition in her never-ending campaign to prove my insufficiency.
Maybe there are women out there who do all the “important” things, and all before 8:30 am. Maybe they only spend 20 minutes on their workout. Maybe they have short hair. Maybe they don’t wear makeup. Maybe they don’t care about any of it. Or maybe they do.
The point is that it doesn’t matter. What matters for me is what puts me in the best state to create my best work. I can’t get there by comparing against what works for somebody else.
And how long should it take?
Is the point really to rush through to try to do everything in the shortest amount of time possible?
Is that really how I want to live my life?
Is that even living?
I suppose I could have eaten a power bar or a powdered shake instead of pancakes this morning. That would have shaved a few minutes off of my “time.”
But to what end?
I felt a calling for pancakes. I enjoyed eating the pancakes. They nourished me beyond fueling my system with carbs. They fed my soul.
Isn’t that the point of living?
Remembering MY Outcome
Rather than engaging in a race against the clock to meet some illusory benchmark that meets the imaginary “successful person’s morning” standard, I would be wise to remind myself of my standard for living.
I am not simply working towards a goal. I am not here just to check off the boxes on my daily practices.
When I do that, I lose focus on my outcome.
My outcome is to nourish myself, whether I’m eating a meal or engaging in another activity. My outcome is to savor every bite and every moment. My outcome is to be present and engaged in the experience, not simply to get things done as quickly as possible.
Years of achievements and accomplishments have taught me that checking off the boxes and hitting my marks doesn’t lead to fulfillment.
The juice of life is not found in the doing. It’s found in being present to the experience.
Racing is not living.
When I forget this and I engage in the race, the very practices that are intended to fill me up lose their power.
My standard is to engage my life with purpose and presence.
If I’m going to be here, I want to actually be here.
That is the important work.