The Importance of Morning Rituals

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

How many times have you “woken up on the wrong side of the bed?” These groggy, unproductive, and messy mornings are usually the result of poor planning or a lack of a solid morning routine. Morning routines not only instill a sense of purpose, peace, and ritual into your day, but they ensure that you’re getting your goals accomplished and give you a solid foundation for whatever the day throws at you. We all wake up with a blank slate — a chance to have an awesome and productive day, and having a steady ritual will set you on this path.

I’ve been tweaking my morning ritual for years now, and while it’s not perfect, it works very well for me. There isn’t one morning routine that will work for everyone, though. There’s no combination of sleep, coffee, alarm choice, or exercise that will guarantee a groggy-free and successful start of the day, but as you experiment, you’ll find what works for you. See that word, experiment? Although this may just be the engineer in me, I think experimenting is the key. Nobody is born knowing how to optimize their mornings, so change things up, develop new habits, and you may be surprised at how great mornings can be!

When thinking about how to modify your own morning habits, it’s a helpful practice to examine what other successful people have done to see what patterns crop up over and over again. In my research, those common threads seem to be coffee, long walks, exercise, and being in a distraction free environment (no email, social networks, etc.).

Photo by Sean Kelly

Coffee, or caffeine in general, is a consistent ingredient to a successful morning for many great artists, writers, and well, pretty much everyone. Beethoven was extra meticulous with is coffee — he found that 60 beans per cup (and yes, he’d count them out) was perfect. Søren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, had an…interesting… coffee ritual. His biographer, Joakim Garff described it as “pouring the sugar into the coffee cup until it was piled up above the rim. Next came the incredibly strong, black coffee, which slowly dissolved the white pyramid. Then he gulped the whole thing down in one go.” Now that’s a little extreme, but you get the point: having a consistent (and sometimes very personal and unique) morning coffee routine works for many.

I’m also a very large proponent of daily walks. I have a dog so that makes it even easier, but even without that motivation, walks are almost…magical. My most creative ideas and best decisions come to me during long walks, and it’s not just me! Tchaikovsky’s brother wrote, “Somewhere at sometime he had discovered that a man needs a two-hour walk for his health, and his observance of this rule was pedantic and superstitious, as though if he returned five minutes early he would fall ill, and unbelievable misfortunes of some sort would ensue.” Beethoven would also go for daily vigorous walks upon waking, and he would always carry a pencil and paper in his pocket to record his thoughts. Gustav Mahler would take a three or four hour walk, also jotting down ideas. An extreme example of a morning walking routine is Erik Satie’s daily 6 mile walk into Paris before breakfast.

Photo by Sean Kelly

General tips

  1. Wake a little earlier. Even if it’s just 10 minutes earlier this week, those 10 minutes are 10 more to get things done.
  2. Wake up! Exercise, drinking lots of water, and maybe drinking some helping caffeine can help with that transition from deep sleep to full speed.
  3. Practice mindfulness. Whether you meditate or take a walk, living in the present moment instead of thinking about everything you need to do that day really helps.
  4. Hold off on the email and social networks. You have an entire day to check your Facebook and read the spam you got overnight. It’ll be hard at first, but it’s worth it
  5. Keep it consistent. Waking up early on weekends, while socially weird, makes sleeping much easier and makes waking up nothing at all. Consistency with your other habits will just cement them to muscle memory so you don’t even have to think about what to do each morning.

My routine

  • Wake up at 5:30 a.m.
  • Drink 1L water
  • Brush teeth
  • Boil water for tea or yerba mate
  • Feed & take out the dog
  • Fix lunch
  • Accomplish one of my M.I.T.*
  • Exercise (pool, gym, or my Air Force PT sessions)
  • Protein shake for breakfast
  • Shower

*M.I.T. = Most Important Things. Each evening, I write down the 3 things that I HAVE to get done the next day, whether it’s something at work, a chore around the house, or a letter to write. Getting one of these done before even checking Facebook, email, or Instagram really jump-starts your day. Remember when you’d rush out of bed, skip breakfast, barely have time to brush your teeth and run out the door to make it to work on time? Those stressful starts can be eliminated (99% of them, at least!) by putting in a little conscious effort into your morning rituals. Great mornings aren’t just for “morning people.” They’re created consciously. Make yours awesome.

Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Originally published at on July 30, 2014.