My Two-Year Experiment with Morning Routines
And How to Develop Your Own Kick-Ass Routine
For most of my life I would roll out of bed, jump in the shower, scroll through emails, chug a coffee (or furiously sip, depending on how hot it was) and brush my teeth. Then I would scramble to work in a sweat and arrive 20 minutes early to sift through more ‘urgent’ emails. I’d grab a second coffee on the way to work, upping my jitteriness levels to the point where my voice was shaky. I was living a caffeine-hazed existence on top of a never-ending roller coaster. It was like I was headed in one direction and moving fast, but I wasn’t sure where, nor was I in control. Those were the days!
Today, this sort of routine would be unthinkable to me. It would be like driving out of the parking garage with four flat tires — sure, I could get to where I was going, but it would be a rough ride.
I’m not sure when it was, but one day I simply got tired of being tired, and decided to develop a morning routine to keep my tires properly inflated, so to speak. I went through two years of trial and error to nail down my current routine, and in the process tried everything from writing positive messages on my bathroom mirror to going to bed and waking up at precisely the same time for 2 months in a row. For a while, I stopped eating breakfast; I quit coffee and instead ingested a massive gulp of lemon and salt water; I tried melatonin, huperzine A and various nootropics to give me an ‘edge.’ Some worked, some didn’t.
Eventually, I started to see results. I felt better during the day, slowly progressed towards goals I had set, and felt healthier too. Well, when you create a defined, solid morning routine, you’re developing one of the most important habits one can build. It’s the proverbial ‘keystone habit,’ or the habit — or more precisely, a series of habits — that can lead to other good habits. For example, I found that incorporating even a tiny amount of exercise into my morning motivated me, over time, to be more active, and gradually increasing my running time (and eventually giving me the courage to run a marathon).
“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits — practical, emotional, and intellectual — systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.” — William James
We know that an employee’s mood when they clock-in at work predicts their interpersonal functioning and performance/productivity throughout the day. Starting the day in a good mood, then, is important for success. And naturally, starting the day with a routine (especially one that incorporates exercise + coffee, which = dopamine) is likely to lead to a positive mood! If marijuana is a gateway to other drugs, then a morning routine is a gateway to more success.
We also have a limited amount of willpower — this has been proven over and over again, like in the experiment where people who forced themselves to eat radishes instead of tempting chocolates subsequently quit faster on unsolvable puzzles than people who had not had to exert self-control over eating. In other words, our cognitive capacities are taxed throughout the day. So, if you have an established routine set out for the morning (and don’t just “go with the flow”), you are able to run on autopilot, thereby preserving your cognitive capacities for later in the day.
Lastly, a routine can further provide a sense of newfound control in your life. Instead of a helpless tadpole floating down the river of life, you undergo a metamorphosis, shaping into a four-legged amphibian that has gained some power of self-direction.
My morning routine has molded and taken many different forms over time — it’s a very different animal than it was two years ago. As I write this, I’ve added in a short yoga practice after my push-ups, as I was inspired by a one week yoga retreat that I attended in the Gili Islands, Indonesia. The whole routine takes me roughly 1.5 hours, not including the gym session every other day.
Here’s how it looks like now:
- Sleep and wake up at roughly the same time every day (10 pm and 630 am)
- 100 small jumps, fifty with hands by my side and fifty with hands in the air.
- 20 Pushups + Leg Stretches
- 3 Sun Salutations — Praise to the Sun God Ra
- 30 minutes -1 hour of meditation
- Daily Journal, Gratitudes, and to-do list (2–3 pages), handwritten with a ballpoint
- Daily Coffee Mix. (Grass-fed butter or ghee, coconut oil, MCT oil, cacao powder, black medium roast coffee)
- Book (mix of fiction and non-fiction, 10–15 minutes)
- Hot/cold shower, alternating (10 minutes)
- A 1 hour-1.5 workout (running, rowing, kettlebell swings)
Other activities I sometimes include:
- Gargle with Pink Himalayan sea salt. This really clears my throat well. Then I drink some sea salt too.
- Listen to a podcast instead of reading. I always listen to them at 2x speed.
So, let me break it down in a bit more detail….
#1. Good sleep
I go to bed around 10pm, and wake up at 6 am — I’m definitely more of a lark than I am an owl. Our circadian rhythms, or biological clocks, change over time, which is one reason why teenagers don’t like waking up early, while grandma is already up at 4am watching Fox News. Research shows that the optimal time to go to sleep can depend on your age, sex and about a dozen other factors — and this too changes over time. When I say optimal, I mean that while there are tools you can use to measure your heart rate variability and sleep cycles, etc. I prefer to keep it simple and listen to my body. Optimal can simply be defined as, “when I feel good.” It’s the time when I feel it’s easiest to actually fall asleep, and when I feel most rested in the morning. For me, I feel great when I doze off between 9–11pm and wake up between 5–7am, as per my circadian rhythm as a 27-year old guy.
I use my iPhone to set an alarm, but keep it on Airplane mode and turn of all my notifications for all my apps, so I never see any messages when I wake up. I also use my Amazon Echo to set a second alarm. I try very hard not to look at my phone before I go to bed, for at least an hour beforehand, and keep it in a separate room. The blue light emitted from phones tricks your body into thinking it’s daytime, and in fact, every single cell in your body has its own biological clock, where light is the primary synchronizer of our rhythm. So yeah, it’s kind of important. (The phone in the morning is fine though, for this very same reason!) And the other reason I don’t look at my phone is because, if I read a message or article, I’ll end up staring at the ceiling thinking about it, or jumping out of bed to write an email, which is totally unnecessary and further disrupts my sleep.
If air conditioning is available (it usually is) I try and keep the room temperature relatively cool, around 65–68 degrees. This has been shown to help you fall asleep faster, reduce insomnia, and even increase metabolism. This is also the reason I tend to not take a hot shower or bath in the evening, so as not to raise my body temperature; rather I shower in the morning (if I do shower at night, though, I always finish with a cold shower).
I usually read a fiction or nonfiction book for about 20–30 minutes in bed, which helps me wind down and doze off into Lala land. That said, sleep experts recommend against using the bed for anything other than sleep (sex is also permitted because of the post-orgasm physiological calming that happens). This is because people who struggle with insomnia need to train their bodies and minds to associate the bed with feelings of sleepiness, rather than any form of mental stimulation. I can’t help reading though, but the book is usually bit boring, and I try not to pick up anything too exciting, and thus don’t have any trouble.
I try not to eat any big meals at least 3–4 hours before going to bed. Eating a large meal late at night creates more work for our digestive tract, as we have to work harder to process the food. This creates more work for our bodies and brains. But that doesn’t mean I don’t eat anything; I occasionally boil an egg or two and munch down before bedtime (with a pinch of himalayan sea salt). New studies show that small, nutrient-dense meals shortly before bed actually have positive physiological benefits, especially if you exercise regularly. A few reasons I choose egg: 1) Protein before bed decreases post-exercise recovery time. 2) The egg tastes delicious 3) Egg yolks have cholesterol, which in turn boosts testosterone production. This process is expedited during sleep.
By the way, I have some good news for anybody that still believes eggs are bad due to cholesterol. Seven of nine studies recently showed that there was no link between cholesterol and cardiovascular disease, and two studies showed cholesterol actually improved cardiovascular function. Cholesterol got a bad rap a few years ago, but ’tis no longer. This myth has been busted.
As you can see, having a good morning routine really starts the day before.
Basically, if you can get good sleep, then you’ll likely feel really refreshed in the morning, even if your ‘morning routine’ is just drinking a cup of coffee and reading a few pages of a book. Imagine if you are not well rested, cranky, stressed and/or groggy. It’s going to take a lot of extra cold showers, ashtanga yoga and jumping jacks to get you out of that miserable state. Instead, focus on having a good evening ritual, and the morning ritual will unfold a lot more smoothly.
Daniel Sher, clinical psychologist, had this to add:
“Despite the incredible benefits of a morning routine, someone who is prone to anxiety and insomnia should potentially also allow themselves some slack when it comes to their routine. Especially if/when: a) they don’t get sufficient sleep (in which case perhaps they should shorten or adapt their routine); and b) if the pressure to perform a routine in the morning is making it harder for them to sleep.”
#2. Jump, motherf*cker!
Alexa, turn that alarm off!
I don’t wake up in a “hoorah, hoorah, let’s crush the day, and I have too much testosterone” fashion, at least not all of the time. Sometimes I want to snooze, snuggle or say “fuck it” and go back to sleep. Most of the time, though, I wake up naturally, a couple minutes before the alarm, and feel rather content, especially if I have gone to the gym the day before (I notice my resting heart rate is in the upper 30s, low 40s on these very relaxed days).
When I do wake up, at 6 or 6:30 am, I get out of bed and go into the living room or open space, depending on if I’m traveling at the time. I immediately jump and bounce up 50 times like a wild man. I stole this one from Tony Robbins, who uses a small trampoline. Thanks Tony. Then another 50 times with my hands in the air. This helps clear the fluid and wash out unnecessary metabolic by-products from my lymph nodes, that becomes stagnant when we’re asleep. Your lymphatic system is part of your circulatory system and is responsible for clearing fluids from your body. Ever wake up with puffy eyes? That’s fluid accumulated in your lymph nodes.
It works for me, even though I look like a goofy hand-waving lunatic. This jumping also provides the first psychological indicator that it’s really time to wake up. I am getting my body moving, and my body knows what that means. I take a deep breath after the 100th bounce and feel the first wave of awakeness wash across my body, through my spine and into my head. I’m starting to feel “kind of semi-awake-ish.”
#3. Push-ups — not quite like Arnold, but good enough.
From there, I do 20–30 push-ups followed by a one minute plank. The pushups are medium-paced and deep, usually shoulder-width apart and done on one breath. The plank is to draw awareness to both my arms and legs at the same time. Then I stretch my arms and legs for about 2–3 minutes — this is to prepare for the yoga as well as the meditation, as I’ll be in a relatively still position for 30+ minutes. I don’t really break a sweat, and it’s just to get my blood pumping. My body is working, but my brain is still “loading” and I haven’t logged in. It’s still the very start of my morning boot-up sequence, but I’ve really started to warm up my body with jumps, push ups and stretches, and I’m getting a little bit excited.
When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive; to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love. — Marcus Aurelius
#4. Praising the Egyptian Sun God, Ra
Now it’s time to pay proper respects to the source of all life — the sun god Ra.
This short yoga stretch is the bridge connecting my body and mind, before I go into full-fledged meditation. In fact, a lot of yoga is actually used to prepare you for meditation. The yoga moves are slow, methodical, and deliberate, with a particular focus on inhaling and exhaling. It’s pretty basic, as anyone that has ever done yoga will tell you.
As I salute the sun with palms to heart, I let out a final exhale to mark the end of the sequence and feel a tingling sensation through my neck (studies are still unclear whether this is an endorphin release or another chemical, but it feels good).
And we know it’s good for you, too. Gentle yoga has shown to release the chemical in your brain called GABA, which plays a role in suppressing neural activity and thus explains the feeling of calm. Yoga has the capacity to act on the hypothalamus in a way that reduces cortisol levels (stress hormones). This associated with a variety of negative health outcomes, and this finding also explains the mechanism by which yoga can be effective in the treatment of depression.
I salute you, Ra.
#5. Headlessness — Aka ‘mindfulness’ meditation
Next, I find a comfortable place to sit. Either the couch, bed, or floor with legs in a cross-legged position, fingertips on my knees in either a classic gyan mudra, hakina mudra, kali mudra, or yoni mudra. When I change my finger positions, I find it gives me a variety of different feelings — one might feel more balancing, and another energizing. I practice a mindfulness meditation or vipassana meditation for at least 30 minutes. It’s one of the most powerful parts of my morning routine. (I recently got a zazen cushion for my birthday, which has been great.)
The science behind meditation is quite promising, and it actually changes the structure of your brain. Namely, a thickening of the prefrontal cortex which is associated with an increased ability to regulate emotion and inhibit behavior and thoughts. All of the above are exceptionally important when it comes to productivity, happiness and mental health. Oh, and we even have brain-scans of monks that have spent their lives meditating that show they are some of the happiest people in the world.
The barriers to starting meditation are pretty low. You don’t have to dive into an initiation rite or go to some fancy ceremony. You can sit in the comfort of your own home, or, if your legs or back hurt, you can lay down. I used to practice for 10 minutes, the past year has been 15, and since my 10-day Vipassana silent retreat, I’ve bumped it up to 30 minutes-1 hour. Sometimes I imagine myself with no head, too….
I started with the Headspace meditation app, which has been absolutely wonderful in developing a good meditation routine. Randomized control trials specifically testing the headspace app have shown it to increase compassion, moderate decrease depression, and, overall, boost mood. It’s a non-religious, user-friendly option, especially for us Westerners.
I don’t always use the app, and simply slip into a quiet state of calm (or sometimes frantic anxiety), depending on the day. My approach varies depending on what I am working on; fostering acceptance, exploring creativity, or calming anxiety to name a few. The main techniques I use are visualization, alternate nasal breathing, noting, counting, and silent chanting (soh-hom). There is no wrong or right technique, and I continue to experiment with different varieties.
#6. Coffee time, baby
Following my meditation session, I get up and put the coffee pot on. I drink organic medium or dark roast coffee approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour after waking up. This gives my body enough time to release cortisol, which helps wake me up, and regulates mood. If I were to drink coffee directly after I woke up, say, within the first 15 minutes, the caffeine would replace my natural cortisol release, thereby creating an artificial boost that would foster dependence. Basically, it would screw up my natural ability to wake up.
Coffee increases dopamine and serotonin release so it makes your body and brain literally feel pleasure. The polyphenols in coffee have been shown to improve cardiovascular health. So, it feels really good, and it wakes you up, and it’s good for you.
If something is too good to be true, it usually is. Apart from the yellow teeth, drinking too much coffee has also been shown to increase insulin resistance (overtime insulin resistance can lead to diabetes), increased stress, and a decrease in Vitamin B and iron levels — in certain people. But here is the catch: In moderation and with a healthy lifestyle, these negative effects weren’t there, and actually had largely positive effects. How can this be so? Well, combined with a sedentary lifestyle and the typical American diet, the results are pretty detrimental. I suppose most things in combination with garbage would still be, well, garbage.
With that said, I personally try and keep an active lifestyle, not eat garbage, and stick to two cups of coffee a day. Also, what kind of coffee you drink is important, as instant coffee has higher level of acrylamide, a carcinogen. Here is a list of coffee brands with the lowest levels of acrylamide, so err on the side of caution and grab some Yuba Colombia roast or Starbucks dark roast.
Once the coffee is ready, I pour it into a blender and add two tablespoons of unsalted grass-fed butter (or ghee, sometimes), a tablespoon of coconut oil, MCT (bulletproof brain octane) oil, and 100% raw cacao powder. This makes it very filling, delicious, and rich. The organic coffee helps reduce my jitters, and the butter and oils provide a more sustained, gradual release of energy throughout the day. Here’s a great video about the benefits of butter coffee. The 2 teaspoons of 100% raw cacao powder gives it a buttery hot chocolate taste. The polyphenols in both chocolate and coffee are good for increasing your overall lifespan, reducing inflammation, fighting cancer cells, supporting stable blood sugar levels, and not to mention increasing alertness. Also this coffee mix means that I am not hungry until like 2pm.
Mug in hand, I step outside to get some sun on my face for about 2–3 minutes, which helps boost serotonin production and makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Sunlight is good. Then back inside for some journaling.
Actually, my cup looks more like this. I painted it the other day. (the cup says “pain is temporary, success is forever,” which is a cheesy yet effective chant I tell myself when I’m pushing hard).
#5. Journal and being thankful for being alive
As I sip indulgently on my delicious brew, I start spewing words on paper in a stream-of-consciousness style. This ranges from 1–3 pages in length. Daily journaling has been one of the most therapeutic and useful tools in my life. It’s helped me overcome nervous breakdowns, plan my life, and better understand my emotions.
I find that it’s important to actually write, rather than use a computer. That’s just me. But, you know, before everyone was dazing mindlessly into their screens, we’d write letters. There is interesting research that suggests that handwriting, specifically in cursive, helps create a more connected flow of thoughts and words in our minds.
When you write, I feel you become more accountable to yourself. In the morning our minds are teaming with worries and hopes and dreams. By putting them down on paper, you can get all of the angels and demons out of your system so that you can move on with the rest of your day and focus on the important stuff.
Or, maybe you realize you’ve been running away from a hard task, and the morning journal lets you write out your feelings.
I use a ballpoint pen and always start and finish the journal in the same format.
Three Gratitudes. I list 3 things I am grateful for. It could be anything from being grateful for having a loving girlfriend, to the way the sun feels shining through the window.
Whatever is on my mind. The bulk of the journal is just putting pen to paper and letting a stream-of-consciousness emerge. I write down what I am feeling, what I’m worried about, what I enjoyed about the previous day, what I would like to do, and what I can do to improve. Other times I’ll just list out ideas I have for blog posts or business ideas. Lots of lists and emotions!
To Do List: Most days I include a list of priority tasks and “nice to haves.” The number of items ranges from 3–10 but usually somewhere in between. For example, today’s to do list is 1) Write something on Quora 2) Gym 3) Read for 2 hours 4) Finish editing blog post 5) Buy nuts and salmon 6) Read friend’s draft of blog post
Shiritori. This means “taking the rear….” in Japanese. It’s not what it sounds like, I promise. Shiritori is a short Japanese word game that I first saw referenced in a TED talk by Shimpei Takahashi, which stuck with me for whatever reason. He uses the technique to come up with new ideas, while I simply use it as a fun ending to my journal. Here’s how you play: write one word down and then continue forming words using the last letter of the previous word. Pickle. Eagle. Estonia. Apples. Sapiens. Serpentine. Elephant. Tupperware. Egregious. Send. Dork. Kitkat. Tandem. Machine. Earth. Heal. Love. Oh, and I always end with the word “love.” Which means I start my day thinking about love…cheesy, I know.
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking, “Hey this is great and all, but I’m just not a morning person!” Well, that’s ok actually. Check out this study, for instance, called “Time of day effects on problem solving: When the non-optimal is optimal.” The study basically found that specifically when we are not normally morning people, we’re actually more creative than during our normal/optimal/most awake time. Why is this so? Well, when we’re not 100% awake, our inhibitions are lower and we’re more likely to have random, non-focused thoughts that creep in — thoughts that can ultimately lead us to connect dots and come up with more ‘aha’ moments!
#6. So many books, so little time
I keep my Kindle by my side at all times, and horde digital books religiously — there’s a word for this book-hoarding in Japanese, called “tsundoku.” That’s me. I’ll usually read for about 15–30 minutes in the morning, after my journaling, sometimes longer if my schedule permits. I read a lot of nonfiction, but recently have been reading a lot more fiction. Dan Brown’s book Origin was pretty good. Here are a few other books that I’ve read recently:
- The Gift of Fear
- The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly
- How to Change your Mind by Michael Pollen
- The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli
- Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life
- Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke
- The Truth Machine: The Blockchain and the Future of Everything
- Coyote America by Dan Flores
- Tokyo Vice by Jack Adelstein
- The Growth Delusion by David Pilling
So, at this point, the coffee usually hits me and I have to go the bathroom.
Yep, now my day has definitely started! Explosive.
#7. Hot n’ Cold
I hop in the shower and turn on the hot water for 2–3 minutes. I immediately turn the faucet all the way to the left and brace myself for a chilly 1–2 minutes. Then I go back to hot, then back to cold. I repeat this process 4–5 times and always end on cold.
Recent studies have show that the net positive health benefits from taking hot baths/showers are similar to exercise. Participants split into two groups, either cycling for 1 hour or taking a hot bath for 1 hour. This resulted in a similar decrease in blood pressure and blood sugar response (10% decrease) for both groups. This is significant because it is linked to a decrease in type 2 diabetes and improved overall heart health.
Cold exposure has similarly positive effects. Lowering the temperature of our brains causes the reduction in inflammation, which is a key driver of depression. Cold exposure increases the production of a hormone and neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. Norepinephrine causes vasoconstriction of your blood vessels– they constrict, or tighten up. This bathes your brain and vital organs with new and fresh blood, detoxifying and bringing nutrition to those areas.
Now, depending on the day, if I go to the gym I’ll take a shower after, not before the gym of course. Otherwise, on my non-gym days, I’ll finish off with the shower and then jump into work mode — writing!
#8. Drowning in sweat
My typical workout at the gym is fairly simple — I do a lot of cardio, HIIT, a mix of bench press, kettlebell swings, pull ups, and pushups. That could be:
- A 5–8 kilometer run at moderate/high speed, finishing off the last 2k at full speed.
- 5 sets of 20 reps — 100 total reps of kettlebell swings (usually a 25 or 28k weight)
- High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): This could be 6 sprints, as fast as I can possibly run for 300 meters per sprint. This workout takes me like 12–15 minutes total and gets me sweating for the rest of the day. I’m a big fan of HIIT training, as studies have shown that regular high intensity exercise can cut your biological age by 9 years!
- The other HIIT training I do is going max power, max speed on the rowing machine (erg). If you haven’t been on a rowing machine before, it’s a killer workout!
- I use the Power Plate 3–4 minutes at the end of workouts. This helps reduce pain, increase flexibility, and kind of feels good too.
Fortunately, there’s a sauna at the gym which is always at 40–48 celsius — pretty darn hot. I sit in there for 12 minutes, jump in the cold shower for 3 minutes, back into the sauna for 5–10 minutes, and then back into the cold shower to finish off!
…Well, that’s about it.
My day has officially started, and now I’m ready to crush it.
Interested in developing your own, or boosting your current routine?
Awesome. Here are some tips.
How to Develop Your Own Kick-Ass Morning Routine
A morning routine inevitably requires discipline; this might bring to mind images of an Army drill sergeant screaming at you, and making you leap out of your comfy bed at the break of dawn. That’s understandable. How much good could it really do? What, I have to wake up earlier? Unless you are constantly traveling, it’s likely that you have already fallen into some sort of routine. It’s more about consciously adding or subtracting to your current routine (or developing a completely new one) so that you can get the most out of it. For me, it gives peace of mind, energy and positivity that often radiates throughout the entire day.
What works for me will not necessarily work for others. I can’t stress this enough. People claiming they have the exact recipe for success to your diet, health and wellbeing are deluding themselves. What you decide to include will depend on how much time you have in the morning, your diet, age, sex, life situation, your unique genetic makeup, your micro-biome, the environment you live in that may or may not trigger certain genes, the effects of prescription drugs you’re taking — just to name a few. We have to humbly accept that, because everyone is different, what may be an amazing routine for you is not going to be that great for others. Listen to what your body is telling you, and if something doesn’t feel good, or makes you tired or hurts, then stop.
Personal preference plays a big role, too. Some eat breakfast in the morning, others don’t. Some do yoga, others like running. When I wanted to focus on creative writing daily, I also had to juggle my full-time job, so a crucial part of my morning routine was simply writing for 15–20 minutes. You might have your own project (temporary or not) you are working on, and including it in the morning could be the best time to get it done. This might change in the future, and naturally your routine will evolve. As new research and studies continue to develop, and so does my life situation, my morning routine will likely change with it.
Mind, Body, Soul
I could set a goal to pump out 200 pushups every morning, and while my chest would grow to prison convict-like proportions, I would be hard-pressed to call this a well-balanced routine. When we say, “I had a good day” it usually implies we’ve achieved something that has given us happiness in three areas in life — mind, body and soul. Not one or two of these, but all three.
For example, mind could be learning something new, doing an intellectually stimulating activity, or doing meaningful work. Body could mean eating well, getting exercise or a daily stretch. Soul could be practicing gratitude, meditation, or simply spending a few minutes in nature under the rays of the sun. In combination, this trio is dynamic. Keep this balance as you craft your routine.
Buddy up with a friend
I’m relatively self-motivated, but to be honest one of the biggest factors for me was actually having a friend to keep me accountable. My good friend Joseph and I would exchange routine ideas and keep each other updated on what was working and what wasn’t, so I felt accountable to really stick things out and compare results. Find a friend to keep you accountable.
The more tools you have in your tool shed, the better
“There is enormous power in nailing your morning routine, but there’s even more power in adapting to it when it doesn’t happen as we’d like. Routine aids us in being our most productive, but change helps us expand past our comfort area; both are positive.” — Terri Schneider
If we become too rigid in a routine, we’ll become stressed if we can’t get it right. One solution I’ve found is simply having an arsenal of different routines. For example, if you simply can’t work out one day, then perhaps a cold shower, or practicing the Wim Hoff technique for 15 minutes is enough to energize you. You might be stressed, but need to stay up late to finish a project. Perhaps fasting for 2 days is actually a better way to focus rather than drinking coffee, which might stress you out more. Or if you have very, very little time during one week because you get over-worked, then simply taking cold baths/cold showers in the morning could be enough to take off a layer of stress.
My point is that it doesn’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to have the same routine every day. The more tools you have, the more versatility you’ll have.
Systems, Not Goals.
Treat your morning routine as a system, not some goal with a specific time-based, measurable outcome. A system is simply an act you do everyday, that will result in benefits down the line. Even if our minds are racing and the morning routine feels pointless, unproductive, or dumb, recognizing this activity is in itself a conscious step forward. You might not see an immediate benefit, but keep in mind that when you get your day started in a deliberate manner, you’re a step ahead of so many others that let life breeze by.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you’re going to have a thought-provoking Socratic question to ponder or an Einsteinin solution to your problems, every day. Indeed, most days you won’t (but it’s nice to have those moments of progress looking back over time), and hopefully you’ll just be able to inch closer to having a better, more productive and fulfilling day.
As a monk famously said,
“Our mind is like an ocean, waving and storming. There’s no way that we can control the waters — but we can learn how to surf.”
3 Simple Questions to Ask Yourself
- How much time do I have? (You might have to wake up a few minutes earlier!). Be realistic about what you can squeeze into one morning, and start small with 3 or so activities in the routine.
- Do I have at least one activity that covers mind, body and soul? Make sure to keep a healthy balance.
- Can I find a morning-routine buddy to keep me accountable? The more pushy the friend, the better!
I’d love to hear about your routines (or answer any questions), so drop me a message in the comments below or reach out directly at mishayoucandoit at gmail.com!
I owe a lot of my findings and current routine to the amazing research out there being done by people much smarter than myself, and have linked to various books and article below:
- The Power of Habit
- Go the F*ck to Sleep, narrated by Samuel L Jackson
- Tim Feriss on Morning Routines
- When: The Secrets of Perfect Timing
- Why Handwriting is Important
- On Having No Head — Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious
- James Clear on the Science behind Procrastination
Illustration Credit: All original illustrations created by Victor Queiroz.