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A Morning Routine That Changes Your Day

As part of the coursework for Legal Problem Solving (LPS), all students contribute a post to this course blog. Students develop posts from a weekly journal entry, which also is required coursework. The purpose of journal entries is to invite deeper, personal reflection on the subject matter in LPS, reflection being a key component of content understanding and mastery. This course explores how human centered design and other creative problem solving methods and mindsets inform three areas: (1) the delivery of legal services, (2) how we solve clients' (legal) problems, and (3) how law students can intentionally shape their professional journeys. Each student post will touch on one or more of these three areas.

This LPS post is by Jack Sayler, Vanderbilt Law School class of 2019.

Wake up, make my bed, grab a cup of coffee, write my morning pages. This is how I have started my days for the last couple of weeks. I began this routine after my Legal Problem Solving professor, Cat Moon, assigned them as part of our weekly out-of-class work. We were only required to do three days of morning pages, but the immediate benefits I saw were too great to quit.

For those of you who do not know, morning pages are essentially daily, hand-written, 3-paged journal entries in which you simply write about whatever is on your mind. The idea behind these writings is to be as truthful and open about whatever it may be that is bothering or burdening your mind without fear of judgment. Other than being hand-written and honest, there are very few rules when it comes to morning pages. This makes the practice easy and free-flowing.

One of my favorite things about my morning pages is that I am allowed to throw them away at the end of writing them. I believe that this makes me more honest in what I write. I truthfully write without fear of future self-judgment and shame regardless of how trivial, immature, shallow, or nonsensical my concerns may be. For someone like myself who would be less truthful if they had to reread what they wrote, I believe this distinction ​separates morning pages from journals. Without this complete and honest braindump, morning pages lose a lot of their value.

While others have reported an array of benefits, from unlocked creativity to better perspectives on life, I have noticed that morning pages have generally helped quell anxiety that otherwise would interfere with my day. I believe this proves that morning pages are beneficial in whichever way you need them most, and thus, writing them is a practice that is useful for everyone. Studies have shown that simply writing about what is bothering you can lead to marked improvements in anything from athletic ability to memory. For me, this means dealing with anxiety.

Anxiety can cripple me. When I get overwhelmed, I shut down. This, in turn, can lead to a procrastination doom loop. As a law student, I am constantly overwhelmed, and thus, constantly fighting this battle. As a result, nearly all of my recent morning pages have been about how I need to attack my day. As you probably would assume, following a daily step-by-step script is hard due to unexpected delays and issues. However, simply sitting down and talking myself through my daily gameplan can be an incredibly worthwhile way to start my day. I usually experience peace of mind and am convinced that I will be able to get everything done without having to make drastic sacrifices. Because I am able to minimize the doom loop, I am more productive and am able to get to bed earlier. In this sense, I literally feel the benefits of my morning pages throughout my entire day.

In addition to reducing the anxiety around my daily routine, my morning pages assisted in reducing the anxiety surrounding one of the most important decisions I have made in my life so far. My girlfriend and I recently decided that we are ready for her to move to Nashville. We have been dating for a little over 5 years, but about a year and a half of that has been long-distance ever since my move ​for law school. While I think we have successfully coped with the situation, long-distance relationships have their obvious drawbacks and challenges. Both agreeing that we were sick of the distance and ready to start the next chapter of our relationship, we decided that it would be a good time to move.

Her moving to Nashville has always been the plan, but for some ​reason our decision was creating a little tinge of anxiety inside of me. I just recently started to feel like I learned how to play the entire law school game, and throwing another person into the mix would disrupt any balance I finally achieved. I knew that the move was completely worth it, but I was concerned with some of the side effects.

I was having these thoughts right when I first started my morning pages and, obviously, this consumed the first few days of my writings. I poured all of my concerns onto the page and worked through each of them. This brain dump of reasons included everything from not having time for school to being forced to make my bed in the morning (a pet peeve of hers). I worked through all of these reasons. The result was a realization that the underlying “reasons” for any anxiety were actually unfounded or very manageable. Even though these reasons were ridiculous, the general sense of anxiety they produced was real. In this sense, resolving these issues was just as important as resolving legitimate ones.

Had I not been able to throw away my morning pages, I do not think I would have been able to eliminate this feeling. Even though I probably would have written essentially the same thing, I believe the fact that I knew I was going to destroy these pages helped me know that I was writing down the real reasons for this feeling.

Going forward, I am excited to see how different places, times in the semester, and times in my life change what is written in my morning pages. While I do not know what will be written, I am confident it will have a positive impact on my day. I would highly recommend that everyone take advantage of this therapeutic and simple practice. All it took was three days to get me hooked, and it has undoubtedly changed my life for the better.