Oh no! Not another blog post about having a morning routine!
Okay, I get that. But I am looking out at all of you and I see that fourteen of you don’t yet have a morning ritual of your own, seven of you have one that you never remember to do, and three more are saying, “What is she talking about?” I’ll refer to you as the Don’t Haves, the Avoiders, and the WTH tribes.
You three in WTH? This first part’s for you:
The morning ritual is something that’s been written about in Fast Company, Inc., the Wall Street Journal, and about a trillion other publications. It’s been popular among high achievers for centuries. Marcus Aurelius had a morning ritual. Benjamin Franklin had one. Mark Twain contributed the often-quoted advice more than a hundred years ago, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day” (translation: get the hard things out of the way first).
The theory is that, by starting your day with some sort of routine that combines contemplation, goal-setting, and various kinds of preparatory activities, you can set yourself up to have a productive, focused, and happy day—by intent, not by luck.
For you Avoiders (which is me sometimes)
There are so many reasons for avoidance. Or so I tell myself.
Leo Babauta (one of my heroes) first wrote about his morning routine in 2007 here. His routine starts at 4:30am and takes about two hours. Tony Robbins often talks about his “Hour of Power” and even had a podcast you could tune into if you couldn’t motivate yourself to do it alone. Hal Elrod has a handy acronym for his version of it, S.A.V.E.R.S. – short for Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, Scribe — which I tried for a while. It took about 30 minutes, and covered a lot of bases.
Each would last about two weeks. Then I’d find all the excuses in the world not to do it.
No matter what it says about me, I found that ALL of these were just too much of a time commitment to be sustainable. (If that makes me an unfocused slacker, so be it.) I’m a person who does her most inspired work in the early morning within an hour of waking up, and I couldn’t seem to get myself to consistently postpone that creative window with a big block of time for some guru’s prescribed ritual.
I had to find something that was easy to stick with, felt good (not a chore), and had a measurable impact. Otherwise, I’d just be tempted to dive into the day right away.
And finally, for the Don’t Haves:
If you Google “morning ritual” you’ll find at least a gazillion different iterations of this. It might be helpful to take a chance at something like “(name of person you respect)’s morning routine” to see if something resonates. Or you can check out a newish book that catalogs the morning routines of a slew of noteworthy people called My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired by Benjamin Spall.
After failing to stick to any of the mainstream wisdom about this, rather than sink into self-flagellation, I sat with it a while.
I decided, to steal a line from The Martian, that I had to logic the sh*t out of it. So I wrote down my criteria:
Drink and breathe. My body is dry, dry, dry when I wake up, and it’s been running on decreased oxygen levels. We don’t breathe as deeply when we’re sleeping, and not all our alveoli (lung spaces) are on duty at night. It’s a wonder any of us can think straight. Drinking water and waking my lungs and brain up with some good deep breathing gets the machine jumpstarted again.
Move. Simple. And effective. I’ve noticed that if I move my body before I sit down to write, I can actually…write well. Come up with ideas. Not stare out the window with my pen suspended above the paper. If I don’t get any movement in, my thoughts and creativity are like sludge.
Notice: What’s going right in my world? There’s plenty of time later to think about what’s not, in fact it’s hard to avoid. Making sure I check in once a day with what I’m grateful for has helped me stay sane.
Write: Capture, on real paper, what I’d like to have done prior to sitting down in this exact space again tomorrow.
And all of that has to take less than 15 minutes, or I will. Not. Do it.
A tall order, delivered
Three years ago I attended a workshop offered by local coach Katy Moses Huggins called Kick Start Your Business. Lots of super-useful stuff eventually came out of that workshop, much of which still drive my work systems. But the part I implemented immediately, and which has made a massive difference in my work, was her morning ritual, which takes about 10 minutes. It looks something like this for me:
3 minutes of movement. No rules on this. It’s whatever gets breath, body, blood moving. I usually click on the coffee pot, set a timer, and do 3 minutes of whatever movement seems to fit that morning. Stepping up and down the carpeted step down into my family room, walking around the quiet house lifting hand weights, easy yoga positions, wrestling with the dog, or just going outside and pulling some weeds.
1 minute of deep, rhythmic breathing. I’m a person who routinely robs her brain of oxygen when stressed, by shifting my breathing to shallow, short, barely-useful breaths. Conscious deep breathing oxygenates my brain and gets me thinking more clearly almost immediately. I couple this with drinking two very large glasses of water; one before, one after.
3 minutes of gratitude. I never would’ve believed this mattered if I hadn’t tried it. Even on the most stressful of mornings, I force myself to be quiet and think of the people, places, things, fateful life events, everything and anything good that has graced my life and made me what I am. Instead of leaping right into everything that’s wrong and needs to be fixed, I start with what’s right. When I don’t do this, my day plays out entirely differently, and stressors become nightmares.
3 minutes of powerful actions I can take that day to make progress toward the life I want. I keep a special, inviting multicolored journal and pen on the coffee table to sit and do this part. It guides my entire day. Taking a hint from Leo Babauta, I write down my three “MITs” (most important things) that I want to be sure I complete before the end of the day. And then anything else that my gut says would bring me to day’s end feeling complete, powerful and happy.
That’s 10 minutes. This short amount of time works for me. I have a very slow-dripping old coffee maker, and I find that I can usually complete the whole ritual while it’s doing its thing. Then I can move into my day, which usually involves doing some writing first (daily writing has been one of my goals for the last few years), then working on my MITs.
I’ve never been one who could easily stick to a routine. I’m just not wired that way. I follow sparks of inspiration hither, thither and yon, and sometimes I get to the end of my work day and feel as though I had fun, but didn’t get anywhere near the work output I’d hoped for.
This morning ritual has been part of my life for some time now, and I can honestly say that when I DON’T make time for it, for whatever reason (insomnia, early morning crises, etc) I feel it just as harshly as if I’d forgotten to eat, or was catching a bad cold. I’m “off” in every way, and at the end of the day, it feels like I’ve been wandering around like a Roomba, running into limitations and turning around and around, covering the territory of my life but sooo inefficiently.
And frankly, there are too many things I want to do with my remaining days here on Earth to waste time that way.
So, yeah. The morning ritual thing has been beaten to death, and I’m sorry. But I still advise you to have one — but craft one for yourself. It’s turned me into a person I never thought I could be.