Vacuum the Brain with Morning Pages

I’ve blogged a lot about my struggles with attention and focus over the years since I started working remote. I continue to find tools and adjust my behaviors tiny bits at a time to help align me with the world I work in. I’ve been doing mindful meditation daily, usually in the morning, to help calm the brain and prepare for the day.

Pencil and Paper

Just yesterday I was introduced to a fun practice called Morning Pages to help organize my thoughts in the morning to start the day. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, uses morning pages to spill out thoughts and ideas from her head onto three pages of paper. The daily practice involves stream-of-consciousness writing (or commonly called free writing) three full pages of handwritten text. Topic is unimportant – it’s whatever comes to mind. Julia says some of her students call it “mourning pages” as it usually turns into a bitch session.

The things you write during morning pages help clear out the brain for you to start the day. You’re not writing for anyone except yourself and even then the pages aren’t written to be read. Imagine the stuck ideas flowing out of your head onto the paper and then throwing the paper out at the end. The things that end up written may or may not be really true thoughts and feelings – they’re just what’s occupying the recesses of your mind. Don’t judge yourself during the process – just do it.

I’ve modified the technique slightly to fit into my daily habit. I’m starting this week with five minutes of morning pages and then my normal 5-10 minute mindful meditation. This all happens before I start work but after I get the dogs fed & insulin injected for the old guy, and the coffee put on. As of right now I’m physically writing the morning pages but I could see moving to an iPad. I do enjoy the physical sensation of writing with a pencil, however.

Learn more about Julia’s techniques at http://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/

Getting Burned Out

It’s In Our Nature

The human body seems to have a natural instinct to burn itself out. We find something we like and want to continue receiving those brain signals so we keep on doing the thing. Eventually our brain grows weary and sometimes our body too. My scientific analysis has some gaps but you get the idea. We like to put blinders on until we feel pain that something is no longer fun.

@JaimeeJaimee

At CocoaConf Chicago, Jaimee Newbury gave an excellent talk on Burnout and how she used her skills as a product designer to battle it. Not only was her talk informative, it was quite moving. She managed to incorporate stories of her family, her childhood and the movie Rocky to help us comprehend why she reached burnout.

Go the Distance

Rocky is Jaimee’s favorite movie and from it she remarks on one quote from Sly Stallone – “It doesn’t matter if I lose this fight. All I want to do is go the distance. Simply put you’re going to fail in life. The idea is not to let those failures consume you to the point of stagnating your creativity and drive to continue on. We learn from failures – how else would we know when we succeed?

The Four Steps

There are four steps in the plan Jaimee is following to help her spin the burnout back into creativity: understand, discover, design, iterate. These are the same steps she would follow when working with product development – why not reuse the tools you already know? First you have to really understand what the problem is you’re trying to solve. Then you have to discover the context of the problem – determine all of the variables, inputs, behaviors, technical issues that cause or interact with the issue. Next, design a solution to help resolve the problem but while keeping in mind the human condition – we can only change so much so fast. Finally, the last step is to iterate because as we go through the journey of change we’ll need to tune things as we discover more about ourselves.

Take Aways

There are a couple big takeaways from Jaimee’s talk that I wanted to share.

  1. Watch Rocky again, I don’t think I gave it enough time as a child.
  2. Read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – it describes the method of small changes to alter human behaviors. I’ve heard of this book before in a talk about creativity and inspiration so I need to get it and read it.
  3. Subscribe to Jaimee’s YouTube channel.
  4. Use hand-drawn artwork in my next talk’s slides.

I’ve gotten to the point of burnout a few times in my life and I’ve made my own internal rules to deal with situations like this. I don’t think I’ve ever analyzed my process enough to know what it was (or that it really even existed). This talk on burnout has made me understand more about how I approach problems and I’m glad that I do have some analytical assistance from my experience as a software developer. Hacking your own brain and life is quite possible! 🙂

Creating your Verse in the Play that is Life

I’ve recently become a fan of Walt Whitman’s poem from 1892 entitled “O Me! O Life!”. I’ve heard the poem in the past but it has never resonated with me until hearing Daniel Steinberg, an iOS developer and trainer, used it in his keynote at CocoaConf Chicago.

O Me! O Life!

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

     Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

I knew I had heard this before – most likely in commercials and referenced in other stories. I realized where I had heard it recently when Daniel played the Apple commercial that the late Robin Williams narrated lines from Dead Poets Society. It was actually one of the last productions he worked on before his death.

The challenge is to find out how you can contribute a verse to the play that is life. Daniel’s message to us as software developers is that we can both construct our verse and help others contribute their verse to life. The apps we write can unlock the inspiration, provide the accessibility, and fuel the creativity to let people bring their verse into existence.

I’ve never considered the work I do to be something that is capable of changing a person’s life until this past weekend. Viewing the ad Robin narrated again with an understanding of Walt’s poem hit a heart string.

I create apps that people use and touch from the moment they wake up in the morning to the moments before they go to sleep. I am a part of people’s own verses in life without them even knowing I’m there acting as a muse. I help provide the means for the users to help others with their verses.

All of our contributions to life are intertwined. I exist because you exist. Finding your verse in life will ultimately help someone else discover theirs.

Manual note-taking epiphany

I’ve never been able to put in words the reason why I am attached to using written notes over my iPad until today.

I was sitting in a talk today by Rob Martin when I had an epiphany. When I’m holding my opened notebook, the crisp clean chunky feel of unused pages on the right feels like raw potential. The pages on the left, roughened from notes written on them, feels like accomplishment.

And now I realize why I am inspired to write and record more on my paper Moleskine notebook than in Evernote on my iPad.