Have you ever done something and then looked back a few months or years later, and thought to yourself: How did I do that? I’ve had some of those thoughts lately.
The one that strikes me most is how I managed to backpack throughout Central America for four months by myself, with no cell phone and no knowledge of Spanish (and considering I am awful with directions, this is especially perplexing, and sort of funny). At the time, it didn’t strike me as crazy at all. I knew why I was doing it…it was something I had to do! I was listening to my gut, my intuition.
Looking back though, I am actually baffled at many of the things I did and accomplished. This endeavor involved a mixture of youthful naivety and an adventurous desire to explore the unknown. Yet when I returned from my travels, I became laser focused on a project: writing a book about my travels and why it was so important for me to embark on this journey. The intent of the book is to inspire others to follow their passions and open their minds up to the fact that they have options…Despite what you may think, there are alternative paths to follow, and if what you are presently doing doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore these feelings.
When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.
At first, I had no idea how long it would take me to write my first draft or how many words I would write. But the quote above accurately describes the purpose I felt in writing my story. I began writing the day after I returned home in mid July of 2015. More or less, the following outlines the daily routine I followed in order to write my book, which turned out to be 106,000 words, in roughly three months.
1. Set alarm the night before and visualize your tasks for the morning.
Before I went to bed at night, I knew what my morning looked like. I had a plan (which will be explained in the following points). I told myself, before I went to sleep, I would be waking up early to write. The purpose of this was to mentally prepare myself for the morning. When I heard my alarm go off, it did not surprise me. I did not have the time to sit and ponder, “Should I turn off my alarm? Should I just sleep another hour?” I literally jolted upright at the sound of my alarm. This was because my subconscious mind knew my plan from the night before. This made waking up early not so difficult because I knew why I was getting up. It was a reaction, not a response. The sound of my alarm triggered my body to jump out of bed. By mapping out my morning the night before, I woke up feeling ready and determined.
2. Wake up at 6 am and take a cold shower.
Personally, I’m most productive in the morning. There is something mysterious and intriguing about waking up early and writing before the world is up and moving. If you’re a writer, or whatever your type of work or hobby is, you know the time or situation that is most conducive to you for getting in the “zone.” For me, the morning is my time. After waking, I would proceed directly towards the shower, step in, and turn the nob to “cold.”
Why the hell would you take a cold shower at 6 am? Great question. First, I had been taking cold showers for four months, so my body was used to it (although in the humid tropics, a cold shower is not so bad.) Second, I’m a big Tony Robbins fan, and part of his daily morning ritual is jumping in a cold tub of 57-degree water. What this does is wake up every nerve in your body. It shocks you. Afterwards, you are no longer feeling sleepy and your mind is awake. The 10 seconds of suffering (adjusting to the freezing cold water) is well worth the energized and lively feelings that follow.
I enjoyed the fruits of meditation regularly on my travels, so applying it to my morning routine wasn’t so tough. I think for many people, meditating can be difficult when starting from scratch. In that aspect, I was lucky that I had been practicing meditation often. After showering, I sat down in front of my computer. Depending on how I was feeling, I chose the form of meditation I was in the mood for. Some mornings I chose guided 10-minute mindfulness meditations on Youtube. Some mornings I listened to the sounds of a trickling fountain or rainforest and focused on my breathing. Some mornings I put on calming music and just let my thoughts roam free as I watched them float about in the blank space in my head. The type and length of meditation was irrelevant; the purpose was always the same: become grounded for the day, clarify my thoughts and clear my mind for writing.
4. Make a cup of coffee.
After meditating, I prepared a cup of coffee to get my mental juices flowing. The transition from meditating to making coffee served as a great 5-minute transition for my mind to switch from my Zen-like blissful state to physically preparing to write. I am a coffee aficionado and absolutely love the taste of coffee (I drink my coffee black with cinnamon, occasionally adding a small amount of heated, frothed almond milk.)
5. Put on headphones and play your favorite track.
Music helped facilitate me get into the “zone.” (My favorite track? The 10 hour mix of “Time” by Hans Zimmer.)
By this point in the morning, the stimulation from the coffee was usually in full effect, providing me with an extra ounce of mental energy as well as loosening up my ideas to be transferred from my mind to paper (technically speaking, my mind to computer… but paper sounds cooler.) The combination of coffee and the inspiring, instrumental music helped create my ideal mental state for me to write. I literally psyched myself up at the first sound of the music, similarly to how I would in the past before a soccer game. I know this might seem weird, getting “pumped up” to write, but this book is extremely important to me. I believe I have something important to say, something that can be of great help to others. To write to the best of my ability, roughly 4 hours a day, for about 100 days straight, required intense mental focus and effort. Pumping myself up with music aided this process.
6. Do whatever it is you are trying to do.
Yes, now the actual writing. I usually wrote for 45 minutes and then stood up to stretch and take a 5-minute break. For whatever reason, I usually seemed to write with laser focus until roughly 45 minutes in. I would then proceed to write for another hour or so.
7. Practice yoga.
After the first half of my daily writing agenda, I practiced yoga. I was introduced to yoga while living for two weeks in a spiritual healing community in the jungle while on an island in Nicaragua. It was quite the place to learn. To me, yoga is another form of physical meditation. After an hour and a half to two hours of writing, my mind and body needed a break. Depending on the day, I would do about 20 minutes in my room or head to an hour-long class at a studio nearby. This helped clear my mind again and prepare to write again.
8. More of what you need to do.
After practicing yoga, I typically began the second session of writing for the day. In this second writing period, I was usually more prone to hitting writer’s block and getting antsy. Writer’s block is basically your mind saying, “You can’t write because what you want to write is going to be garbage.” So, what I did was, I gave myself permission to write garbage. In reality, it wasn’t usually garbage. Sometimes, I took out and reworded certain sentences and paragraphs. But by allowing myself to “write garbage,” I allowed my ideas to run free and let my quality writing juices start flowing again.
This is what I learned: I learned how to get comfortable doing uncomfortable things (waking up at 6 am and taking a cold shower daily.) I learned how to navigate through mental roadblocks. I learned that when you are truly committed to something, you can accomplish it through consistent action and diligence.
How You Can Apply This To Your Life:
• Create a plan. Whether a physical calendar or a mental note before bed, it’s important to know how you want to go about your day before it starts. This will enhance your productivity and efficiency, as well as program your subconscious mind to work in favor of achieving your goal.
• Try doing something uncomfortable for 30 days that you feel may be ultimately beneficial to achieving your goal. Maybe it’s a cold shower. Maybe it’s not eating meat. Maybe it’s no phone at night. By learning to adjust to the uncomfortable, you are strengthening your mental power, your internal discipline. Obstacles to what you want to achieve in your life are inevitably going to arise. Having an ingrained, daily routine will help you overcome such obstacles and you will be better prepared for the other uncomfortable aspects of life that will be thrown at you.
• Incorporate some sort of mindfulness, exercise or meditation into your routine. Whether it’s yoga, running, painting, surfing, it doesn’t matter. But thinking you will work for 10 hours straight is highly unlikely and probably unhealthy (I experienced this a few times). Add an activity into your routine that will serve to cleanse and refresh your mind. It will provide you with the fuel to be more productive and focused.