September 9th, 2017

Treasure the Morning

What’s special about mornings? I have an answer. It’s not mornings, it’s what you do the day before.

Experience developing software

When I was developing software, I discovered that when I was stumped, the best thing I could do was to think through and write down the problem as exactly as I could rather than try to concoct a solution. I could throw away the notes, I seldom looked at them again, but after they were on paper, go home, take a nap, get a fresh cup of coffee, whatever, just change the subject for a while. Don’t think about it for a while. A solution would usually come to me.

On the other hand, wracking my brain for code never seemed to work well. I might be able to hammer out something sufficient, but it was never my best work.

Conscious versus unconscious mind

From this, I’ve concluded that my conscious mind is less capable than my unconscious. The best use of my conscious mind is to clarify problems, not create solutions. If a solution does not come freely and effortlessly, I try to clarify the challenge rather than construct a response. When I think I have the problem as completely understood as I can, I stop and wait until something pops up.


This is why many people treasure the morning. The unconscious mind has a fresh cauldron of newly minted solutions to deliver to consciousness after a night of work. The new day’s task is to implement these solutions and gather a fresh batch of clear problems for your unconscious mind. I am surprised when I see how much better I feel and how much more I get done when I stop fretting over solutions and strive to understand problems.


In writing, I don’t try to plan what I will write. Instead, I make notes on what I am trying to say, the kind of story I am trying to tell, what my characters feel. I notice that John Steinbeck did a lot of this in his journals and Raymond Chandler did the same in his letters. At least I am in good company with this approach.

Oddly, I often lose track of this plan and frequently have to stop myself from going for a solution instead of clarity. Insisting on a solution rather than a clear problem is a trick that my stubborn self-defeating resistance plays on me all the time.

Callie Oettinger posted a “What It Takes” blog on Steven Pressfield’s site that inspired me to think this over and I posted a version of the above as a comment there.


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