Does it take 21 days to form a new habit? Trying it out with Morning Pages
Have you heard the theory that it takes 21 days to form a new habit?
There’s evidence to support the theory that you can form a new habit by doing it consistently for 21 days but, to be honest, there’s just as much evidence to say it takes longer. Some studies suggest it takes 66 days while others suggest 8 months is the magic number.
But let’s not get too hung up on studies and reports (yawn) because everyone is different and every habit is different too.
What I want to tell you about today is something myself and my friend Jen (from the blog She Gets Around) are doing. We’ll be setting ourselves mini challenges to see if we can set ourselves new ‘happiness habits’. Every month we’ll try a new happiness habit for 21 days to see which ones genuinely make us happier and which habits stick.
Jen mostly wants to focus on the happiness of it, but for me it’s also about clarity of mind as well as happiness.
I don’t know about you but I’m always reading about things you ‘should’ do to be more productive or feel happier or healthier. You ‘should’ sleep for 8 hours a night, you should eat a vegan diet to feel healthier, you should take up creative hobbies, exercise daily, spend more time outdoors, drink less caffeine and alcohol, drink more water, eat more veg, do a weekly digital detox, take more time for self care…yadda yadda yadda…the list goes on. And I’ll admit that I am interested in many of these things…just not all at the same time and I’m not sure what to focus on first. What will genuinely make a difference and make me feel happier and healthier, more focused and more productive?
Our first 21 day challenge is Morning Pages.
I’ve been hearing about the wonders of morning pages for years now and I’ve been meaning to try it (and stick with it) for almost as long. Morning pages is basically writing in a journal each morning. The aim is to write three pages of unfiltered thoughts and write whatever pops into your head. It’s a stream of consciousness writing that is thought to unlock creativity and make you feel calmer, more focussed and clear your mind.
The idea of Morning Pages was introduced by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. It was intended to unlock creativity for writers and artists, but over recent years it’s been adopted by business types too as more and more people realise how powerful it can be. I think there’s always been a misconception that it’s only writers and artists who are creative in what they do, but most professions have an element of creativity. It’s usually a streak of creativity and forward thinking that makes people good at what they do, whether that’s landscape design, cooking, farming or building!
Cameron says there’s no right or wrong way to do morning pages but it must be done in the morning and must cover three pages.
Anyway, I’m planning to do this for 21 days to see if it becomes a habit. I’ve been doing it for a couple of days now and so far so good.
If I’m honest, I’m starting with something that’s fairly easy for me because journaling was something I used to do all the time. I’ve gone through phases of journaling on and off all my life so I’m hoping it’s a habit I’ll be able to slip back into and stick with. I usually start a new journal during a difficult time or whenever I feel the need to get my thoughts down on paper and clear my head. I’ll stick with the journal for a few weeks and once that difficult time has passed I’ll get bored and the habit passes by.
The only time I consistently kept a journal was when Sam and I were travelling. We backpacked for almost two years as we made our way through South East Asia and Australia. Almost every evening I would sit down with my journal and write about what happened each day.
Some of my fondest memories from travelling are those hazy evenings where I’d sit down for half an hour with a cold beer and jot down my day. Some evenings would be spent swinging in a hammock, sometimes on the beach, sometimes on a train or plane, other times sat outside our campervan and sometimes on the bottom bunk in an overcrowded hostel room. It helped me pick out the highlight of my day and appreciate it all over again as I wrote it down and the act of writing helped cement it in my brain so I ended up remembering it too.
Sadly, I lost one of my journals from this time and have no record of our journey through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
Morning Pages is a bit different to a travel journal because it’s less of ‘I went here and I did this…’ and more about whatever is in your head.
I’m a few days into it now and I’m really enjoying it. As you can probably see, it’s helping with a creative block and encouraging the words to flow a little easier. It’s been a long time since I’ve properly thought about stuff and acknowledged it and given it the space in my head it needs to be processed. It’s so easy to allow your head to be filled with the mundane, everyday tasks and not take any time to push these thoughts aside and let the important thoughts in. Forget about what you’re making for dinner, which chores you need to do, what’s next on your to-do list, the prep you need to do for your meeting and how you’re going to tackle homeschooling this week. Push it all out, just for 20 minutes, and let that niggling thought you’ve been pushing to the back of your mind come to the front. And write about it. Don’t think about it. Just write. You’ll be amazed what happens next.
Morning pages definitely isn’t a habit for me yet but I think it will be once I find my routine and the best time and place to do it.
It’s taken a few mornings to figure out the best time and place to be doing Morning Pages. I had envisioned a tranquil Morning Pages experience where I’d get up at 6am and sit alone in the kitchen with the morning light streaming through the windows, casting long shadows across the worktop while the steam from my tea danced around my page. There’d be silence, except perhaps for Louie’s gentle snores (Louie is my dog!) and the rhythmic tic toc of the four clocks I have on the kitchen wall displaying the different times around the world. I’d sit there quietly as my hand brushed across the smooth surface of a fresh notepad, my favourite pen in my hand that helped the words glide from my mind to the page.
I’d write for half an hour with no interruptions and by 6.30 I’d be awake and feel calm and focussed. I’d have a clear plan for the day and my mind would feel still.
But realistically, it didn’t work like this!
There’s no way in the world I can get up at 6am and I definitely can’t get any peace and quiet! But I am determined to stick with doing it in the morning
I stumble out of bed at 7.30am after being woken multiple times throughout the night by Alba! I ended up writing in the kid’s playroom while they played. I’d sit on a tiny toddler seat with my notepad resting on my knees and I was constantly interrupted by arguments over toys and I had to keep half an eye on Alba who likes to be in the thick of her big brother’s fights.
Anyway, these Morning Pages have obviously unlocked some words! I’ll leave it there for today and let you know how I’m getting on next week!