Tools to Help You Develop Self-Awareness and Stay in Control


Have you heard of free writing? It’s when you let your hand do the work and your mind relax. In theory, it lets your subconscious rinse its thoughts without your internal editor taking control.

There’s an artist, Julia Cameron, who recommends using this technique first thing every morning to help build your creativity and clear your mind of inhibiting thoughts. In her book, The Artists Way, she challenges the reader to write at least three pages every morning as the first thing they do when they open their eyes before they’ve even had their morning cup of tea (what?!). Being a keen artist myself and always looking for ways to explore my creativity, I decided to give it a go. Here’s what happened when I did.

Free writing is a great tool to help you develop self-awareness and stay in control. I like exploring tools that can help me live a more honest, connected life. Last week I talked about how we can talk about sexual abuse in a healthy way.

How free writing helped me stay in control

My eyes are half-closed, my brain tired, I barely lift my head out of the covers into the cold air, but in my hand is a pencil resting against a notepad. I’m determined to do this. I want to see what’s on my mind, I want to clear my head of any thoughts that might hold me back for the day and let my creativity develop. Writing is a hard thing to do first thing in the morning! Not least because my body is full of lethargy from sleep.

Stage one: Daydreaming

At first, I find myself day-dreaming often. I can go into fifteen/twenty minute thought patterns where I think I’m working on things but then I look at my blank page and realise I haven’t been connecting my thoughts to my hand. The aim of free writing is to get you past these self-conscious thoughts, so I try my best to keep moving my pencil on the page, even if I find myself writing things like ‘I’m so tired I wish I could go back to sleep.’

Stage two: Negative thoughts

I find then my brain moves on to ‘rant’ stage. If it can’t simply write about how tired it’s feeling it needs to express thoughts of annoyance and anger. What’s been bothering me most that week, what I wish people wouldn’t do, how I’m unhappy with the certain situation.

Over time, I notice patterns in what annoys me and find myself mentioning the same situations again and again. This is good motivation to actually do something about it and try to make a change. After two weeks of free writing and noticing the same concern about my boyfriend popping up I decide to talk to him about it. It might not have changed the situation entirely but it certainly helped me make positive steps towards creating a change. Without free writing, I don’t think I would have noticed how often it was taking up my thoughts.

Stage three: Mood swings

I start to find that three pages aren’t enough. I’ve got used to using my morning pages as a form of subconscious ranting, but once I’ve brought a topic to mind I find I can’t stop thinking about it. By the end of the three pages I’m even more worked up about the issue then I was before. I can’t help by shake the negative emotions that come along with the negative thoughts and find that it’s blocking my creativity.

Stage four: Awareness

Despite the negative emotions that come with my new free writing habit, I’m finding I’m much more conscious of what’s on my mind. Once you’ve written about the same issue for four days in a row you begin to learn what makes your brain tick and what occupies most of your thoughts. I decide to make a conscious effort to work through my thoughts and try and make changes where I can. I’ve found that my head is a little clearer after the morning pages eventually, but it is also very dependant on my natural mood swings.

Did it help me gain control of my emotions and behaviours?

I wanted to practice free writing morning pages to develop my creativity and gain control of my emotions and behaviours. I can’t say that I’ve gained control of how I feel, but I am much more aware of why I’m feeling certain emotions and how I want to and choose to react to them. The technique reminds of mindfulness meditation that I talk about practising here, and of the self-awareness, I developed after my experience at a silent meditation retreat.

As far as creativity goes, I can’t say that it’s made a difference to how creative I feel day-to-day. However, I’ve found that when I do sit down to do a creative activity, such as writing a short story, I’m quicker to focus and knuckle down on the story, rather than getting caught up in my own personal thoughts.

Should you try writing morning pages?

I’d really recommend you give it a try! Why not? It might be hard work, and you might find that you have to wake up early to do it, but anything that makes you more aware of your emotions and behaviours and less of a slave to your reaction is positive. Let me know how you get on!

Looking for more ways to live a connected, balanced life? Check out these three powerful tools to change your health and well-being forever.

Read about my experience of a silent meditation and how I found it difficult to adjust back to the real world here.

References: The morning pages technique is from a self-led course called The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. 

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