Have you ever found it easier to eat a healthy breakfast, while succumbing to temptation when it comes to evening snacks? Perhaps you find yourself more creative and productive in the morning hours, while the late afternoon is often punctuated by what many call a “slump”. Whether your morning starts at 9:00am or 5:00am, the odds are that you find your best decision-making abilities and creativity strongest in the first part of your day.
Based off of anecdotal evidence, it would seem that we are primed to do our best work in the morning. Our sleep overnight rejuvenates us, our dreams help us process whatever is on our minds (consciously or unconsciously), so it makes a lot of sense that our best part of the day would be the morning. Because of this, it makes sense to have a deliberate plan to harness this magical part of the day, maximizing its potential, and setting the foundation for the rest of the day.
Remove the Decision Making Process
In the book The Willpower Instinct, the author explains how our ability to make good decisions slightly decreases with each decision we have to make. This may explain why at the end of the day we tend to cave into less desirable choices. If this is true, then it makes a lot of sense to remove certain decisions from our day that don’t truly matter in the grand scheme of things:
- What am I going to wear today?
- What am I going to eat for breakfast?
- Should I check my email now or take a shower?
- Do I have time to work out?
All of these micro-decisions begin to eat away at our reserves for the day, and they are easily delegated to another time. For example, your outfit can be decided upon the night before, or better yet, you can adopt a personal uniform like Steve Jobs and wear the same thing every day. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg also wears the same shirt everyday in order to remove the process of deciding what to wear. Perhaps you can become a minimalist like Tim Ferriss, and reduce your wardrobe to just a few high-quality essentials.
For many of the other decisions, you can form a habit and schedule, so the decision is not only made already, but you become used to the sequence so you can move effortlessly through the morning getting the most important items out of the way.
Give Yourself the Best of Yourself
Many financial planners tout the benefits of “Paying yourself first”, or allocating a certain amount of funds to savings before you spend the rest on other expenses. The idea here is that you will be less tempted to splurge on that knick-knack instead of saving because the money has already left your bank account and is sitting in a savings vehicle. When it comes to managing our time, a similar principle applies:
Think of the most important activities you’d like to accomplish every day, and make those a priority above everything else that will interrupt your day.
Not only are you ensuring that these activities will be done each day, forming your desired habits, but they will also be done when you are at your peak.
Potential Activities to Avoid
Just like choosing the right activities for a morning routine, it is important to eliminate certain activities that can waste this important part of your day.
Morning News - unless you have a good reason to pay attention to the morning news, your routine would do better to avoid hearing about all of the bad news that has happened overnight. Do you really need to start your day processing the domestic violence reported overnight, or the break-in across town? When you watch or read the news in the morning, you are giving someone else the opportunity to fill your mind with their agendas.
Your Phone - Many of you are cringing at this one. I know, it’s tempting to grab the phone off of my bedside stand and check email, tweets, messages, etc. before even leaving the bed. However, just like the morning news, by doing this I am giving someone else the opportunity to direct my attention and agenda for the morning. Try skipping the emails and notifications in the morning until after you’ve accomplished your routine.
Big Breakfast - I know, I know, we’re supposed to make breakfast the most important meal of the day. However, it is a fact that digestion takes energy, and eating a heavy meal has the effect of zapping our energy shortly afterwards. I definitely think that you should make a healthy breakfast a part of your morning routine, it just doesn’t have to be a heavy platter of meats, eggs, potatoes, toast, butter, jam, etc. Try slimming that down to some fruit, or oatmeal, or egg whites with spinach. You’ll still gain the nutritional benefit without the digestive overload.
Sleeping in on Weekends - Weekends are for relaxing, right? Well our bodies have a circadian rhythm that is found throughout nature, that operates off of a 24-hour cycle. Basically, by waking up and going to bed at the same time, regardless of whether it is a weekday or weekend, our bodies become used to that pattern and will adjust accordingly. The more you keep consistency in your circadian rhythm, the easier it will be to awake and get started at the same time every morning. Even entrepreneur Richard Branson, when relaxing on his private island, still wakes up at 5:45 every morning.
Morning Ritual Activities:
So, what exactly should our morning routine include? Well, that is going to depend a lot on the individual, and what they want to accomplish first during the day. The following are a suggested list to pick and choose from when building up your own morning routine.
Hydrate - Our bodies lose over a pound of water every night as we sleep. This is primarily through the water vapor we exhale with every breath. To start the day off right, drink a full glass of water when you wake up to replenish.
Scrape Your Tongue - I’m just going to assume that most people reading this are already brushing their teeth in the morning. However, I know that not many folks have taken up the habit of scraping their tongue, which disturbs and removes bacteria that builds up overnight. The result is fresher breath and healthier oral hygiene.
Stretch - Even a few simple stretches can “wake up” the muscles in the body to start the day. Most of us stretch at least our arms into the sky when we yawn upon first waking up, why not follow through and give your midsection and legs a stretch as well?
Exercise - For many people, if they don’t exercise in the morning, it won’t get done. Exercise also clears your mind for the day and gets the blood flowing, increasing your ability to make decisions and be creative. Even 10 minutes on a treadmill or a brisk walk around the block can make a huge difference in the start to your day.
Meditate - You don’t have to wear an eastern robe and learn how to chant in order to meditate. Meditation is simply the practice of clearing your mind, and learning how to focus. Founder of the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, starts every morning with 30 mins of meditation, she is so convinced of the benefits that she offers weekly classes to her employees.
Read Something Inspirational - There are many “daily reader” type books that have a motivational thought for the day. Start your day off by taking a “emotional vitamin” to put things into perspective, and find some inspiration to stick with you throughout the day. You could also use this time to work through a business book, self-improvement book, or faith-based book.
Set/Review a Goal for the Day - It is so easy to let the urgent, but unimportant activities invade our day. Take some time in the morning to review the day’s goals, or perhaps a to-do list, and envision yourself completing that activity.
How to Get into the Habit
After you’ve decided what you are going to incorporate into a morning routine, the next step is to plan out your strategy for putting it into place. It’s okay to start off with just one or two activities to commit to, and build from there. Some of the above activities might only take a couple of minutes. They don’t have to be 30 minutes each to receive benefit from incorporating them into your morning.
Start by Getting Up 1 Hour Earlier - If you normally get up at 8:00am, don’t start by setting your alarm at 5:00am. Start with just an hour earlier, and if you find that you’d like to go earlier you can do it one hour at a time to ensure that you still feel rested (of course, your bedtime will likely adjust as well).
Write out a Plan the Night Before - Don’t go to bed without a plan. It is much harder to find motivation to start a morning routine when you are faced with the tiredness of waking up a little earlier. Make your plan the night before, write it down on a notecard, and focus on your first step on that card when you first wake up.
Prepare your Clothes, Journal, etc. - I mentioned earlier that you might want to set out your clothes the night before. However, you can also set out your journal, your book, your tennis shoes, whatever you need to make the morning routine a success. You’re much more likely to follow through when barriers are removed, however small.
Don’t Be Discouraged by Slip-Ups - My last piece of advice is to not get too hard on yourself. We all slip up sometimes, and the dangerous reaction is to just give up. Keep trying and you’ll eventually find it hard not to do your morning routine.