How do you start your morning? Do you wake to the sound of your alarm, hit snooze a few times, until finally dragging yourself out of bed 20 minutes later than you planned? Or do you wake naturally by your own internal clock and allow time to wake up with a nice morning routine before starting your daily obligations of work or family?
In college, I had a professor give me some advice that I knew even then was valuable but has only grown more and more significant over the years.
He told me to get up early.
He said that if I could start my day before most people have even gotten out of bed, I would already be ahead of the game.
At the time, the only morning I ever saw was if I had not yet gone to bed from the night before. Otherwise, I was sleeping right through the morning and starting my day at lunchtime.
But something about what he said stuck with me. It intrigued me enough to want to try it out. I began setting my alarm to wake up at 7am, which was practically the crack of dawn for me at the time. I would lie in bed and wonder what the heck people did this early in the morning. Most of the time I would just fall back asleep and wake up when it was time to go to class.
After a couple of weeks though, I began turning the television on and slowly getting out of bed a bit earlier. I would leisurely sit on the floor and do some stretches while watching E! Entertainment television. I’d eventually take a shower and get some breakfast. I remember beginning to enjoy the casual pace and extra time I had instead of my usual rushing around frantically trying to get out the door in time for class. What a novelty it was to start the day relaxed rather than panicked and hurried.
These days I treasure my mornings. It’s my favorite time of the day when the world is full of possibility and everything feels new again. Now my day typically starts around 4:30 am before the sun even rises. The leisurely pace of my college days has vanished. Some days 4:30 doesn’t seem early enough to accomplish all that I want to do before my commute into work. But I have learned to fully appreciate the value of waking up early and setting the tone for each day.
Having a morning routine is an essential ingredient to my happiness and health. I have learned to be disciplined but not rigid with my routine. Life is ebbing and flowing constantly and our bodies and minds work best when we move with the flow, not against it. So although I have a handful of routines that I would ideally love to do every single day without fail, I know that life circumstances do not allow for that consistency. As long as I get a few checked off then I consider the morning a win.
I have experimented with many different routines over the years and have found different ones more helpful at certain times than others. This list is not comprehensive nor is it meant to suggest you have to do all of them each morning. It’s more of a mix and match from day to day and see what works.
When you are in touch with what your body needs, habits are easier to stick with. Of course before any morning routine can work or become a habit, you have to start with a good night’s sleep. Don’t try to wake up an hour earlier than normal if you don’t go to bed an hour earlier.
And if there is only one thing you do in the morning that will make you start the day way more productive, creative, and happy, that is to NOT LOOK AT YOUR PHONE FIRST THING. If you can manage that, then you have started your day ahead of most of the population.
If you are feeling adventurous and want to try out some new habits, here’s my list of tried and true routines that help me start the day ahead of the game.
Drink Water First Thing:
I have recently rediscovered how essential this habit is for starting your day right. Drinking water first thing fires up your metabolism and helps flush out all the toxins your kidneys and liver have been working hard all night at removing. Your body is dehydrated after going 7–8 hours without any fluids. Giving it water right away will replenish your organs and fire up your brain increasing your mood and cognitive functions.
Upgrade this habit: Add fresh squeezed lemon and/or Apple Cider Vinegar for extra digestion support and to get your bowels moving. Much gentler and healthier than using coffee as a bowel stimulant.
Whether I have 5 minutes or 30 minutes, I always feel better after I meditate in the morning. It relaxes my nervous system and gives me a few moments of space before jumping into the daily grind. According the this article on the One Medical website, starting your day with meditation can also increase your awareness, prevent stress and anxiety, and boost your overall well being.
Upgrade this habit: Combine with exercise for additional benefits. If you meditate prior to exercising it can help focus your mind and provide greater concentration to enhance your performance during your particular activity. This can be as simple as spending just a few minutes takeing some deep, controlled breaths. Incorporating some visualization into your breathing can help relax your mind and prepare you for the activity.
Alternatively, meditating post workout can improve your recovery and increase the benefits of the activity. Meditation is shown to decrease cortisol levels which are naturally increased during the stress of high intensity exercise. Lowering your cortisol levels will speed up your recovery allowing the body to fully enjoy the positive benefits of exercise.
Just as drinking water first thing in the morning jump starts your metabolism, so does exercise. I find training in the morning to be the best way to focus my mind, get my creative juices flowing, and give me a sense of accomplishment before taking on the stresses of the day. Bonnie St John, amputee and former Olympian wrote a book called Micro-Resilience where she points to research of the benefits of exercise before any type of cognitive work. She says in an interview on Heleo,
The research shows when you do a little bit of exercise, it actually makes you smarter for hours afterwards. You access your memory better. You make better insights. You generate more ideas.
I like to start the day by waking up and thinking about a few things I am grateful for before even getting out of bed. I don’t always remember to do it, but when I do, I feel less anxiety and stress before entering the day.
It’s usually some very basic things, like being grateful to my bed for providing a comfortable place to sleep on, and being grateful for having my boyfriend and my dog to wake up to each morning. It only takes a brief moment to cultivate a sense of true gratitude in my heart and it sets me up to be more aware of it throughout the day.
Upgrade this habit: Keep a gratitude journal and write in it at the end of each day. It’s a wonderful way to book end your day and remind yourself of all the small things that you have to be grateful for. It can be a good reminder that no matter how bad your day is there is always something to be grateful for.
Each morning while I do my bathroom routine and walk my dog, I swish with a teaspoon of sesame oil in my mouth. It is an Ayurvedic medicine tradition started in India and brought to the United States by Dr. Karach in the 1990s, according to this article by The Wellness Mama.
There are claims that it helps pull out toxins, decrease plaque, freshen breath and even reduce infections, headaches, liver problems and more. The research is mostly anecdotal but there are some scientific studies substantiating some of these claims. I have found it to keep my gums healthy, reduce plaque and help my mouth feel fresher all day long.
Below are the simple instructions The Wellness Mama recommends in her article:
Watch the sunrise:
This is my favorite morning activity.
It’s free, it happens every day, and it can be combined with many other morning routines.
There’s nothing better than a sunrise run or ocean swim while the sun is coming up. If you’re lucky enough to live by the ocean, you can run to the beach, meditate in the sand, and watch the sunrise all in the same hour.
Depending where in the world you live, there are definitely better times of the year where the sunrises are better than others. But this is also the fun of watching the sunrise. You get to learn the patterns and cycles of the sun. You become more in tune with nature and syncing your body with the earth’s patterns has beneficial effects to your health.
Watching the sunrise gives me a sense of hope and happiness that makes me grateful for being part of this amazing planet.
Upgrade this habit: Watch the sunset! My day is make infinitely better when I get to see both the sunrise and sunset.
Make the bed:
This one I stole from many guests on the Tim Ferriss podcast and one of them (William McRaven) even wrote a whole book about it called, Make Your Bed. When I first heard it, I thought it sounded silly and couldn’t see how it would matter much. But then I started doing it and found that I love coming home to a neatly made bed. It really does make me feel better. You can hear Admiral McRaven explain why this small task makes a big difference in your life in the video below.
These morning routines are not difficult and don’t have to take a lot of time. Like I said, they can be mixed and matched and made to fit into your schedule as time allows. But carving any bit of space in your morning to reflect on a new day and new possibility is a routine that will serve you well for years to come.
Please let me know what routines you have to start your morning off on the positive side.