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The Four-Minute Exercise Leslie Does Everyday to Keep Burnout At Bay and Inspire Creativity

Consider this your daily reset.

My middle school diary is, to put it kindly, rich with observations. According to my journal, Prince Charming was, in fact, my sixth grade lab partner... until I discovered he was just a frog all along. As boy-crazy hormones waned, so did my daily Dear Diary ritual, until it stopped altogether in high school. A few years ago though, I picked it back up. It goes without saying that the entries are a little different these days, but the process is surprisingly just as cathartic. Almost every morning, I wake up to write for an hour. Sometimes, I write fiction, other times it's to-do lists or a journal entry. The simple act, whether a full hour or just a few minutes, grounds me before I dive into my to-do list and keeps me feeling inspired and creative every single day. No matter how crazy-busy my day is, I know that it starts with an hour that's entirely my own. And I'm far from the only person who does it. Liz Gilbert credits writing her memoir Eat, Pray, Love to Julia Cameron's practice of "morning pages" and Laura Rubin, founder of the journal company All Swell, believes writing everyday has the potential to be life-changing. I recently spoke with Laura over the phone about the power of writing, and why it may be the simplest way to curb burnout and foster happiness, or at least become just a little more creative: 

1. Start with four minutes.

Though I write for an hour every morning, I understand that it can be an overwhelming place to start. Laura recommends setting a timer for four minutes. Just four minutes! She suggests doing a "free write" and putting your pen to paper to see what comes out. Challenge yourself to literally keep your pen on the page for the entire four minutes so you're getting the most out of that time. "If you have nothing to write about," she said, "then write about how you have nothing to write about." Once you feel comfortable writing for four minutes, try what she calls a "four for four." Write for four minutes a day, for four days a week. From there, add a minute or two each day. 

Why Laura says it helps: 

"Our lives are a creative act. Every single day, we decide how we want to live and what we want our lives to look like... By slowing down and nurturing the act of being creative, you're bringing that juice into your life and hopefully picking your head up a bit and having a look around to say, 'Do I like it here?' Because if you don't like it, you don't have to stay in that situation. Of course, not everyone is privileged with mobility, but you still likely have a certain amount of autonomy you can exercise."

2. Create your own prompts. 

My personal favorite prompts to write are "What if" prompts that dive into fictional worlds (Charlie Jane Anders does an amazing job at this, especially in this collection of short stories), but you can write about anything. Laura said, "There are times when I decide I'm going to workshop a specific topic for a week or two, let's say my relationship to my health and body. I let that general prompt guide me for the next couple of weeks. 

Why Laura says it helps: 

"There was a time when I was shuttling around, moving from place to place, until I picked Venice. I had three [places I called] home at the time, yet I felt nowhere and needed to figure out what a sense of home meant to me, so I workshopped it through writing for a month. It started with lists of places all of the world that I wanted to move to. And then I realized I was living in the home I wanted to make my primary residence. I came to it slowly through journaling, but it made me realize I didn't have to move [across the world.]"

3. Create your own rituals around journaling. 

I like having a set time everyday to write to ensure that I do it every day. Sometimes, I don't feel creative at that time (more on that below), but it helps me stick to it. I wake up around 6, make myself a cup of coffee, and sit down at my kitchen table before the sun rises. It's peaceful and undisturbed, and allows me to center myself in the same way meditation works for others.

Laura will write each morning for a few minutes while drinking matcha, then in the evening before bed. But a friend of hers, nutritionist Dana James, does something called "Nine Minutes of Nourishment" each day, where she spends three minutes waking up with cat-cow poses, three minutes writing a gratitude list, and three minutes writing down what she envisions for her day to keep her centered "physically and mentally."

Why Laura says it helps:

"The rituals I've created for myself aren't going to be the right rituals for anyone else. Do it the way it speaks to you and feels good for you, so you can create a practice you're able to stick with to get the maximum benefits. Remember, it's not the output that's important but the process itself." 

4. If you're feeling truly uninspired, try reading. 

On mornings where you're just not feeling it, grab a book! Laura keeps a book of Mary Oliver's poetry nearby for this reason. She said, "Often, I'll skip through until I find something that can serve as a jumping off point. I'm not trying to write a poem, but use someone else's words as a way of grabbing my attention. It's more inspiring than scrolling through Instagram or email first thing in the morning." 

5. Take the pressure off. 

Thinking of your writing as permanent can add to the pressure of trying to write something "good," and keep you from attempting it at all. Instead, do something Laura refers to as "write and rip." When you fill a page, consider recycling it. Again, it's about the process rather than the end product! 

Writing may not change your life, but dedicating a few minutes to it each day may improve it. Do you journal or write? Tell me in the comments below!

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