Though my family has never not woken up early, my training in early waking came when I joined the cross country team. On the second day of seventh grade I was at the school not at 8:05 with every other student, but on the track at 6:00. Each morning we reported to the track bleary eyed and sluggish. But then we ran our hearts out. And when school started two hours later we had often done more in the morning than most would do all day.
The power of the morning, with a little structure and pre-planning, can explode what is conceived possible.
I don’t know much about the brain. I think it’s safe to say that we as humans, even neuroscientists and medical doctors, don’t understand the complexity of the mass we all carry around in our skull. The brain is capable of incredible output, attention, energy, and emotion, however that capability can be fickle. There are many times that I don’t want to practice, I don’t want to do homework, I don’t want to clean, I don’t want to write, but I do it anyway. The brain is capable of doing what you want it to do.
However, the brain is also primed when it does what it wants to do. Consider the energy felt when excitement, purpose, energy, and activity all come together. When you love what you are doing, the value of your work is exponentially increased. But how do you train you brain to be consistently excited and energized? First, make sure that your purpose and activity is aligned. What is your target goal? What is your action plan? And is the work you intend for your brain carrying you down the steps of your action plan? Be warned, if it is not, your brain and body (rightfully so) will revolt. This is not energy well spent.
To bring this down to a tactical level, take a look at my alignment…
Target goal: Guide students to understand their capabilities through teaching violin
Action plan (in a helixical shape)
- become a masterful violinist
- teach what I know
- get better at communicating with parents and students
- document the journey
So where does this writing I’m doing align in this process? It’s embedded in the fourth action objective to document what I do. While I get better at playing, teaching and communicating I need to write about my process for myself (record of what changed, what I think, increase ability to teach and communicate) but also to grow my audience.
To be clear, this target and action plan IS my life’s work. This is what I’ve proven I’m passionate about and what I find joy in working on every single day. I don’t merely love the idea of teaching, I love teaching itself.
So why is it that I have struggled to consistently write, to consistently document, in the past? Because I’m working against my brain and not with it. To engage the brain’s energy activities must be kept as frictionless as possible. This allows your brain to devote energy to creativity and high level thinking versus decision making and the willpower to start and complete a task.
Here are several ways I’ve made my writing process (more) frictionless.
- There is no decision to write. I just do it when I walk downstairs after my shower. I’ve chained writing to waking up in the morning
- My topic is pre-determined. Right now I am writing on the topics determined by the seanwes team in a course on writing
- My brain knows what to expect. I always use the same app on the same computer at the same seat at home to write. The habit is defined by the details
- My goal is to get words from my brain to paper, not to produce perfect, polished content. This relieves my brain from the stress of perfectionism
- I have a place and a purpose for my writing. I post the writing I do throughout the week every Monday and Friday. Not everything I write comes here, but everything here comes from the time I committed to writing
I’ve used these tools to make the doing of writing automatic. It is still deep work. It still requires wrestling with topics and questioning my own thinking and iterating again and again. But by making my writing automatic, I enter into the deep state regularly, reliably, and increasingly quicker and deeper than I have the day before.
I want to reflect on one more powerful, not understood element of the brain. That is what it means to apply brainpower to something automatic. When the doing of your work is automatic, your brain’s subconscious seems to be able to plan for that time and prepare for that time. When the decision of whether you will or will not do something difficult is off the table, then the brain begins to work toward making the object of your work as easy as possible. I often sit down to write now and after a little bit of poking, words just flow from my fingertips. They flow as they never did before with my sporadic, when convenient or when urgent, writing schedule. By priming my brain with a topic, especially a complex one, a day or several before my morning writing session I use the power of the subconscious to prepare words worth reading.
I’ve discussed before how important the link is between writing and teaching. Teachers need to document, they need to capture, they need to remember and study, they need to dream and plan and project, but most importantly they need to communicate. If writing is something you haven’t started doing on your journey to teaching, then I recommend setting aside 20 minutes every morning. Plan what you want to write about, ask yourself what you want to know from your brain, and commit to leveraging you best brainwork to get those thoughts on paper. Just start writing.