Can I let you in on a secret? I am not a natural morning person. Honestly, I wake up kind of crabby and just want to be left alone. So my natural tendency is to not get out of bed until absolutely necessary.
In 2011 one of my virtual mentors shared something that changed my life. He suggested that if I got up an hour earlier, I could set myself up for a better day. Since my current routine wasn’t producing the results I desired, I decided to give it a try.
I’m happy to report that nearly a decade later I’m still waking up to a morning routine. It’s morphed a lot over the years but there are key components that haven’t changed. In this post, I’ll tell you what they are and how you can make them a part of your life.
The Power of Habits
This article was initially published in May of 2017. While the habits are much the same, the context has changed tremendously. At the time of this refresh, we’re in the beginning stages of a global pandemic and the US is mourning another case of police brutality.
As we’ve moved through social isolation, working from home, lockdown, fear, and death of loved ones, I noticed that the transition seemed easier for some people. Of course, there are many factors at play like temperament, financial security, and life experience. But the people with strong daily habits seemed to make a much smoother transition. I’m not an expert on the matter but I’d guess that we humans need structure to function and feel safe. And when things start to feel out of control, our habits provide that structure.
I feel certain that we’ll return to a sense of normalcy someday. And when we do, these habits will be just as important to maintain. I’ve heard it said that close to half of our days are spent on autopilot. We do things the way we’ve always done them without thinking about them. Within those routines, I imagine we all have some positive things and a few that are negative. When you build strong daily habits, you can ensure that your time spent on autopilot is doing good for you.
Habits will be there for you when you don’t feel motivated. I don’t know about you but it’s been incredibly difficult to stay focused the last few months of this global pandemic? There are so many unknowns and so much conflicting information. Simple things like getting groceries have become anxiety-inducing half-day events. There have been days that I’ve accomplished very little beyond my daily habits. But through all this, I’ve managed to stick to all of the things that I promised myself I would do each day. And it times like these, that’s all it takes to win some days.
These are a few ways we benefit from creating great habits. More importantly, I invite you to identify your own. Take a moment to think about times in your life when you’ve been saved by your habits. What were the positive outcomes? How did they make you feel?
As important as my daily habits are, my morning habits are extra special. My morning habits create a healthy mindset to help me deal with whatever the day brings my way. My morning habits prioritize my life so no matter what happens, I can feel good about accomplishing what’s most important to me. And the longer I stick to my morning habits, the more dividends they pay down the road.
It wasn’t that long ago that my alarm would go off around seven and I woke up feeling exhausted. I’d hit snooze until the very last minute. Before anything else, I’d roll over and check work emails on my Blackberry. Feeling stressed after reading a barrage of threatening emails delivered overnight, I’d start my daily habit of coffee and cigarettes. As I got ready for my day I felt dread over at least one of the meetings I had scheduled that day. Looking back, I can see so many reasons why that was a terrible way to start my day.
My morning looks very different today. And the way I feel is night and day. Back then I felt tired, stressed, and on the verge of a breakdown. Today I feel calm, focused, excited about my day and my future. I still feel stressed at times, I think we all do. But now I know how to manage it in ways that are much less harmful.
This morning routine didn’t happen overnight. I started with one small change and it evolved into what works best for me today. This routine continues to change, and I imagine it always will because I am always changing, thanks to better habits.
It all started when I decided to wake up a couple of hours earlier to work out every day. The next year, I added another habit and began listing all that I was grateful for before I turned on the news and began sifting through email. Later that year I stopped checking email before business hours. And the following year I cut the news. Cutting those two things freed up space to add reading inspirational materials to my morning routine. Most recently I’ve added a daily meditation practice—we’ve been off and on but I’m sold on the benefits this time.
Over the past decade, I’ve experienced how being intentional with the first hour of my day sets the tone for the rest of the day. Think about how you would like your ideal day to look. Now ask yourself what you could do first thing in the morning to facilitate that?
If you’ve been feeling increasingly stressed at work, you might want to start your day with a grounding exercise like meditation or yoga. Or you could cut back on coffee and enjoy a breakfast of nutrient-dense stress-fighting food. If you’ve been feeling panic or worry over the recent news, you could vow to not look at it until after lunch. Instead of the news, you could read something that will help you improve your life and achieve your goals. Continue reading for more ideas to help you create your own life-changing habits.
7 Morning Habits to Start Today
1 – Rise and Shine
Can I make a suggestion you might not want to hear?
Get up earlier!
I get it, I don’t like getting up before the sun unless of course, it’s for an epic sunrise. Generally speaking, it’s hard to get up before the sun’s said its hello. This is especially true during those long winter nights. But every time I make the effort to get up early, I’m so grateful I did.
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“The sun, she’s in no hurry. She’s been doing this every day since the beginning, and she will neither wait nor rush for anyone.” — Emily Freeman . . . #sunrise #embraceyourpace #slowdown #stopandlisten #lessonsfromnature #findyourselfoutside #hollygoeswild #onlyinmn #capturemn #mnstateparks #tettegouchestatepark #lakesuperior #northshoremn #thisismymn
In addition to epic sunrises, I’ve found other things I love about rising early. I love to watch the earth wake up and the birds and flowers come to life. I love the quiet and calm of this peaceful time. And I also love that I carry a sense that I’ve already accomplished something just by getting up before everyone else.
The key to making it work is to go to bed earlier. You know that hour before bed when you’re too tired to do anything but watch TV or surf the internet? Go to bed! You’ll be better rested, find it easier to get up, and have a clearer head the next morning.
2 – Disconnect
Another tough one considering our dependence on devices. But on the days I can pull it off, I feel so much better when I restrain from news, email, and social media during that first precious hour.
As I mentioned, this checking in was my MO since the day Blackberries came out. I was filled with stress and worry before I stepped out of bed those days. I feel anxious just thinking about it.
Show yourself some love by only consuming information that makes you feel good during the first thirty to sixty minutes of your day. That means no email, Facebook, or the morning news. Instead try books, podcasts, or uplifting TED Talks.
3 – Hydrate
Finally, something that takes very little effort and will make you feel better almost instantly.
Before I drink my first cup of coffee, I down a bottle of water. We lose so much water through our breath and sweat during the night. So it makes sense that drinking water reenergizes me in a way that coffee never could. I still drink my coffee of course, but water first.
To make it simple, I fill my reusable water bottle and set it next to my bed. Then after I brush my teeth I drink up before grabbing my morning coffee. It’s simple and makes a remarkable difference.
4 – Be Grateful
On Valentine’s Day 2012 I started a daily gratitude habit that continues to this day. Starting each day listing everything I’m grateful for brings a sense of contentment, hope, and joy; especially during challenging times.
A daily gratitude practice can be as simple as listing everything you’re grateful for while brushing your teeth. Or consider making it a part of a morning journaling practice. Find what works for you and start building a habit you look forward to.
5 – Set You Intention
So much of our days are spent reacting. Personally, I didn’t realize there was another option until I began seeking out mentors who taught me about being proactive. The book below is one of my favorite resources on the topic.
Bring proactive means deciding how you want your day to go before you start responding to everyone else’s requests. It means prioritizing those things that are meaningful to you and doing them first. It means deciding to focus on what’s important, not just what’s urgent.
You can set your daily intention in your journal. Or make a mental note by asking, what’s the most important result I want to see today. This shouldn’t take more than a minute.
When you’re ready to level up consider creating a weekly plan. Each Sunday I sit down a write out a daily schedule: when I’ll get up, go to bed, exercise, eat meals, and work. Then I make a list of all the results I want to accomplish that week in order of priority. I even go as far as to allocate the number of hours I’ll invest in each task. This way I go into the week ready to tackle what’s important rather than responding to what the world throws at me.
6 – Feed Your Mind
The messages we see on the news and social media can feel really heavy at times. There are no doubt very real issues in this world of ours. But I also know that I can’t offer my best self to these issues if I’m not nurturing my own mind.
For the last five years and counting, I’ve started each day by reading something spiritual-ish. One year I read the entire bible, including all of the Catholic books. I’ve also read Sufi poetry, books on Buddhism, dove deep into the Enneagram, and have devoured almost everything by Richard Rohr.
I’m not suggesting that you read from the exact same genre, or need to have reading be your medium. I read these materials to help me in my work and to be a better leader in my community. What I feel the need to take in might not be the same for you.
The point is to read, watch, or listen to positive, inspiring, and uplifting material. Find anything that will help you grow into a better version of yourself. There are wonderful books, podcasts, and TED Talks that will inspire you to show up as your best self. Or perhaps you’ll find something of interest in my blog or weekly newsletter. Give it a try for 30 days and watch how it changes your entire day.
7 – Nurture Your Soul
You might not agree with me, but I believe that I am more than my brain and body. There is something else in me that makes me who I am and drives me to be better. So starting my day with a calm centering practice has brought a sense of peace and clarity to my life.
For some people this means prayer, for others, it’s meditation or yoga. I’ve done all three, often in the same practice. Give yourself permission to experiment and find what works best for you. You’ll be amazed by how 15 minutes of calm will bring increased clarity and productivity to the rest of your day.
BONUS – Move Your Body
Daily exercise was initially one of my seven morning habits. It was actually the very first morning habit I stuck to. But as I moved through life and created more flexibility in my schedule, I’m able to shift this habit to fit into the rest of my life.
In the summer months, I’ll often wait until Jer gets off of work so we can exercise together. When the weather is really hot and humid, I’ll get up earlier and finish in the morning.
I didn’t always have this flexibility, however. When I had a “real” job, exercise was the first thing I did every day because I knew that if I didn’t prioritize it, it might not get done.
That’s the reason I made this a bonus item. Exercise doesn’t have to be a part of your morning routine. But it should be a part of your daily routine. Your mind, body, and soul will thank you.
How to Start
If you don’t currently have a morning routine, please don’t try to do all eight of these at once. Decide which of these could have the greatest impact on your life and start with that one. When that becomes a habit, add another. I started with exercise, added gratitude, and everything else evolved from there.
If you screw up, allow yourself grace. Tomorrow’s a new day and the opportunity to begin again. And don’t forget to mix it up to meet your evolving needs as you grow and change.
How to fit it all in
I’m sure you’re wondering how you’ll fit this all in. The first step is to decide how much time you can invest in yourself each morning. Start by getting up just 30 minutes earlier and you can grow from there.
If you’re like me, you’ll want to set a time limit. I could read, journal, and meditate all day long. While these are no doubt important aspects of my life, other things are equally as important. I allow myself an hour and set timers for each activity. That ensures I reap all the rewards of a healthy morning routine while leaving time for other things.
The way you start your day will influence how you respond to the rest of your day. Take a moment to identify your biggest daily struggle. Pick one habit that you think will be most helpful and commit to it for a week. Note how you feel before you begin and also when the week is over. If it’s helpful, make it a habit. If not, keep experimenting to find what works for you.