How To Stop Struggling By Building Your Own Morning Routine
It’s 5am and Jocko Willink checks into Instagram, posting yet another photo of his wristwatch as he rolls out of bed. He’s a badass for sure. Rising before the crack of dawn to power through an early morning workout, way before most people even get started for the day.
Jocko is a former Navy SEAL, and arguably one of the toughest, most disciplined guys around. After he hits the gym, he does a few other things before strolling into his office at Echelon Front to officially start his work day.
His morning routine plays a key role in setting his day up for success. And judging by his track record, it works damn well for him.
The Daily Morning Routine Fanboy Craze
By now, everyone knows how awesome morning routines are. Here’s the thing though…
People are quick to copy Jocko’s and other well-known influencer’s morning habits to adopt as their own. After all, those people became highly successful, and if what they do in the morning helped lead to that result, then it should work for everyone else too!
Unfortunately, that line of thinking isn’t necessarily true. Sure, those successful people without a doubt have their morning routine down pat, but do you think they copied someone else’s routine to get there?
Do you really think someone like Jocko Willink read about what LeBron James does in the morning and said:
“Man, I need to do exactly what that guy’s doing.”
Heck no. Jocko’s morning routine is the result of his own creation. It’s built to power the kind of day he needs to have, not LeBron James, or Barack Obama, or whoever else’s morning routine you may read about.
Minus a few exceptions, people who try “proven” morning routines don’t see the same success. Most might try for a day or two then stop for any number of reasons: too hard, don’t care enough, no motivation, you name it. Then it’s back to Google to find something else that might magically work for them.
The Right Way to Start Your Mornings
If copying the morning routines of famous people is the wrong way to go about starting your day, then what should you do instead?
Here’s the secret:
The best morning routines are ones that align with what’s most important to YOU.
The only morning routine you’ll ever need is one crafted specifically for you, by you.
Jocko’s routine works because it was literally made for him. He knows what’s important to him and how he needs to prepare for his days. The result is a well-planned, beautifully designed morning routine that plays its part.
Think of your morning routine as the pass that sets up the dunk in an alley-oop. If it’s not in sync with your values and goals for the day — i.e. you soaring high to catch the pass and dunk the ball — then chances are you’re going to miss the shot.
What Makes an Effective Morning Routine?
The key activities in your morning routine should:
- Prepare you for rest of the day (e.g. ten minutes of meditation to get focused before a hectic day).
- Check off a value that’s important to you (e.g. drinking a greens drink first thing in the morning if health is one of your values).
- Be something that makes you happy.
- Any combination of the three above.
For Jocko, a strong body and healthy mind are extremely important to him, which is likely why he exercises first thing in the morning. Not to mention the energy boost from getting his blood pumpin’ that early in the day.
An effective morning routine HAS to start with your own values and what’s important to you. Otherwise, you won’t care enough to stick with it, and you’ll miss the dunk because the pass was way off.
My Morning Routine
In my own life, my three most important values are health, family, and growth.
Health became a leading value during my recovery from anxiety. For years, I neglected my health by eating shitty foods, excessively drinking, and not prioritizing sleep. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that making health a priority was the key to feeling better again.
Plus, without health, it’s hard to focus on anything else. I don’t know about you, but I feel pretty lethargic and worthless when I’m under the weather. This is sadly how some people essentially spend every single day. No. Thanks.
Then there’s family, including close friends, that has always been extremely important to me.
And lastly, growth is something I’ve come to value as I’ve gotten older.
“If you’re not getting better you’re getting worse.” — Joe Paterno
It’s no surprise then that the key activities in my morning routine align with these values.
Now is a good time to also mention that I write on the side while having a full-time 9–5 job as an engineer, so my routine has to move me towards my goals in those areas as well.
Most days, here’s what my morning looks like:
- Wake up and drink a tall glass of water with Athletic Greens [health]
- Meditate and stretch for five to ten minutes [health and growth]
- Prepare a hefty cup of tea or coffee [just for me :)]
- Kiss my wife before leaving for work [family (she gets very upset if I don’t do this)]
- Get to my desk and write for an hour (on my time) before officially starting work [growth/goals]
You can see that everything I do aligns with at least one of my core values, health being especially important to me.
Now, you’ll notice that I don’t rise and shine at 5:00 am like Jocko to crush a morning workout. I’ve never been one to wake up early enough to exercise before starting my day job. Usually, I’ll train in the evenings after work, or during my lunch break.
It works for me, and that’s what’s most important.
How to Develop Your Very Own Morning Routine
The beautiful thing about my morning routine is that it was crafted for me, and me alone. Sure, I’ve adopted some mainstream habits from “mega-successful” people, but by no means have I copied their entire routine.
Your morning routine, much like mine, should combine what’s important to you (i.e. your goals, values, and things that make you happy) with activities that support them.
Let’s take a look at how you can develop your very own personalized morning routine.
1. Identify what’s important to you
Many people operate their whole lives on autopilot, never stopping to clearly identify what’s truly important to them.
But not you.
The first step to a kick-ass morning routine is to first give yourself a compass to guide your actions. If you don’t know, or never really thought about what’s important to you, then it’s time to go through an exercise to find out.
First, what are your values? Scott Jeffrey does a pretty good job of walking you through an exercise to identify your key values on his website. It’s absolutely worth taking the time to do it. And here’s the big list of values that he includes to help along the way. I have three values that I keep up with on a regular basis. Aim for two to four values here if you can.
Next, what are your goals? Set some goals using a simple guide like this.
Lastly, what are some things that make you happy? These should be relatively small things that make a big impact on your mood. Some ideas include being fully present and enjoying a cup of coffee or tea (like me), walking your dog, reading a good book, watching the sunrise, listening to the birds, or journaling.
Keep in mind that you won’t be able to include all the things that make you happy into your morning routine, but it’s never a bad idea to at least make sure you fit them somewhere into your day.
I created a spreadsheet in Google Sheets as I went through this.
If you’d like, feel free to use my spreadsheet for your own exercise. Here’s the link again.
2. Identify the core tasks in your daily life
Once you have what’s important to you figured out, then you need to get clear on your daily to-dos.
If you work for an employer, what kind of work do you do? Here you’ll want to dig a little deeper to answer what the core tasks or demands of your job are.
For example, in my job as an engineer, I have to interface with customers, draft letters and communications, read through design specs, and tweak designs in 3D modeling software. I would definitely want my morning routine to be able to help me prepare for those in some way, which it does.
If you aren’t employed and you work for yourself or at home in some regard, what kind of stuff do you do? Perhaps you write or consult with clients. Or maybe you’re a professional athlete or some other type of active person.
Whatever the case, identify your core tasks and write them all down. Or, put them into your spreadsheet.
3. Brainstorm activities that might align with what’s important to you and your core tasks
Next, time to start brainstorming some behaviors to align with your results from steps 1 and 2.
What actions can you do in the morning that tie perfectly into your values? For example, if health is a key value for you, you would want to identify something to promote a healthy lifestyle for yourself. I choose to drink a glass of water with Athletic Greens. You might do that, or go for a run, walk, lift weights, or maybe some morning yoga.
Once you’re finished brainstorming activities to align with each of your values, move on to your goals, happy things, and then daily tasks from step 2.
I’ll warn you, some items will be easier to align behaviors to than others, and some will be extremely obvious. If you can’t think of anything for something on your list, that’s OK. There are lots of behaviors you’ll be brainstorming here, and there’s no way you can fit them all into your routine anyway.
If it’s an item that’s extremely important you find a behavior for, try getting creative or tying it in with another behavior.
For instance, if performing well at your job is a goal of yours, perhaps practicing meditation will provide you the focus you need to do so, on top of it also being extremely beneficial for your health.
Note: Keystone habits are awesome behaviors for satisfying multiple items at once. Highly recommend checking out this article by James Clear for further reading.
4. Plan when to execute your morning routine
With your activities defined, next you’ll want to work on logistics.
Some people will have the advantage of dragging and dropping their new routine into a slot at the same time every day. Others might have a more volatile schedule. If this is you, you should simply focus on the sequence of actions in your routine, then perform them whenever you can.
Since I have a 9 to 5 job and a regular schedule, mine is pretty easy. I started waking up an hour before I had to, which made it super simple to add in my morning routine. Once I got used to waking up earlier, it was so much less stressful than the usual waking up just in time to shower, shit, and head out the door for work.
For other 9 to 5’ers, it’s a cinch working a morning routine into your schedule. You know how much time you have before your workday begins, and there’s always waking up earlier if needed.
For those with more irregular schedules, you might enjoy having the freedom to perform your routine at your convenience.
5. Start by Adding Just One
Morning routines don’t suddenly become a thing you stick to every day. Morning routines are comprised of behaviors done repeatedly every day. This means that they are HABITS, and habits take some work.
The key to building habits is starting small and taking things slow. Rather than overwhelm yourself by trying to develop a bunch of habits at once, you are going to be adding in your morning behaviors one by one.
Take a look at your list of behaviors from step 3. Choose any one you’d like and start with that. It’s usually wise to begin with the easiest habit to form and work up to the harder ones (especially for those newer to forming habits), but it’s ultimately up to you.
I started with drinking a glass of water, then eventually added Athletic Greens onto that (meaning I even CHUNKED a single habit into two smaller steps). Once I had that down, I worked my way up to also meditating daily, since that takes way more discipline than drinking water.
6. Add the Rest One by One
They say it takes either 21 or 66 days to form a habit. Personally, I think that’s a bullshit statement taken out of context to trick people into thinking all habits have a concrete sticking point.
66 days is actually the AVERAGE that it takes to form a habit, with a wide range from 18 to 254 days. And, it varies wildly depending on the habit you’re trying to develop.
While there’s no clear indicator when a habit is formed, you’ll know when a habit starts to implant itself as a staple in your routine. You might never get to the point where you “automatically” perform the behavior, but you will likely want to do it and feel guilty when you don’t. At least this is how I know.
Once you get to this point, that’s exactly when you should start working on the next behavior in your morning routine.
Don’t rush. Take your time. And eventually, you’ll have a rock solid morning routine — built specifically for you — that will make your days easier, more productive, and happier.
Don’t Be Afraid of Change
The only thing that is constant is change.” — Heraclitus
The morning routine I follow today is quite different than the routine I followed a few years ago. And you know what?
That’s totally OK.
Over time, what’s important to you will change. You will have new goals, new values, and different responsibilities. Those will continue to change throughout the course of your life. Heck, they may even change next month, or next week.
An effective morning routine is one that evolves with you, to always support the kind of day you want to create.
If something no longer works, there’s no reason to keep trying to force it. Switch things up. Experiment with new behaviors and ideas until you find something that clicks. And if you happen to land on the perfect routine that keeps powering your days for 5, 10, 15 or more years?
You hit the jackpot, my friend. Keep riding that wave as long as you can.
At the End of the Day…
…your morning routine should help you ease into your days. It should be enjoyable, make you happier, and give you something to look forward to. It’s perfectly acceptable to look at the routines of highly successful people, borrow some ideas, then try to see if they work for you.
What’s not acceptable is straight up copying someone else’s routine and robbing yourself of the benefits of a beautifully crafted morning routine, made especially for you.