- Why have it?
- sets the tone —> Productive
- Most productive time of the day is the morning
- Sets my mood —> Thankful
- Before it begins
- choice first —> feeling second
- the night before —> detailed planning
- Key Elements and Schedule
- Make the Bed
- Exercise – Get the blood moving
- Thankfulness Journal – feel it
- Read from Wisdom Literature
I’ve called this ‘morning routine’ rather than ‘my morning routine’ because: it’s not a consistent routine but rather a broad overview of the type of the morning that I aim to have (but often do not). It’s something I have been aiming to make a part of my lifestyle, not just a temporary New Year’s Resolution.
A second reason is that I can’t take full credit for this particular routine – it’s very much influenced by Tim Ferriss (see his morning routine here) though certain elements of it are a bit different.
1) Why have a morning routine?
I think there are a few reasons. First it sets the tone for the day. By having a few simple ‘tasks’ or ‘to do items’ that you can successful check off – you are simultaneously releasing hits of dopamine (here’s a good article on the different hormones that regulate good or bad feelings) or the ‘feeling of accomplishment’ that many people refer to – this gives you more energy for the next task – and also reinforcing the idea/belief that today will be a day of efficient production. The thought comes first and reality often follows.
Second, morning is the most productive time of the day. Actually I’m a “night person” so I naturally tend to be more productive in the evening or even late. But I’m making a concerted effort to become a morning person since my body should theoretically be more up to the task following a good repair session of sleep. Once we get the engines going (see below), we’ll be able to generate more output in the first couple of hours.
Third, the most important part of my morning routine (thankfulness meditation) helps to set my mood. I guess this is similar to setting the tone for the day but I like to think of them separately because in truth I think it’s important to keep both a sense of gratitude as well a focus on productivity central in your thinking (and feeling) throughout the day. If I start the day feeling thankful, chances are higher that I’ll maintain it throughout.
2) Before it begins: waking up
All the planning and routine making in the world can be rendered obsolete in a split second if I don’t prepare for the decision to get out of bed. My brain comes up with the most creative excuses to sleep a bit longer (it’s cold, I didn’t sleep well/long enough so I need a bit more, routines are pointless anyway, 1 or 2 snoozes doesn’t impact the bottom line, on and on….). And for the longest time in my planning, which often happens the night before, I’m feeling motivated and energized, and I forget that waking up feels a bit different 🙂
Reality is that I almost never feel energized when the alarm sounds. So for me I have to mentally account for that feeling and remind myself that in the morning comes a choice: a choice that dictates my feeling. If I choose to get up and start the routine I will very quickly begin to feel energized. If I do not chose to get up I will continue feeling tired and sleepy.
Choices Produce Feelings. So important to remember.
Before it begins: planning the night before
Recently I have been using small index cards to plan out the following day. I do this because it allows me to escape the screen and it forces me to be succinct. Even though my morning routine is memorized, I still put down each of the steps to remind me that these tasks ARE the goal, not simply preparation for the goal.
3) The Key Elements of the Routine
I don’t always hit all of them, but here’s what I’m aiming for:
- Walk to the bathroom, empty the bladder, wash my face with cold water – just a little shock to give me an energy boost.
- Make the bed. As this Navy Seal explains in his speech, starting the day with a win is extremely important for the rest of the day. For me this simply means spreading out the white duvet cover over the whole bed – takes 15 seconds max. And as I go through the remainder of the routine I can look up and see the clean white bed and it brings a little piece of calm and order.
- Exercise. Recently I’ve been doing 100 pushups a day. So I’ll usually start the day with a set of 40. It takes 30 seconds and it gets the blood flowing which is important for the next step.
- * Sometimes I’ll do a more extended workout session including some pull-ups, squats, and leg lifts on the pull-up bar. It will be 15 minutes max. The push-ups is the minimum.
- Grab a glass of cold water or a hot cup of coffee.
- Journal – this takes 15-30 minutes and I’ll explain it below
- Start the day
In my journal I list out a few things first including the date and a small checklist if I made my bed, did the pushups and what I’m reading for the day.
Next I jump into Thankfulness. I’ll write down 3 – 5 things I’m thankful for. This often follows a script of a person, an object, something that happened yesterday and an opportunity for today. However I also leave myself enough room to wander down a thankfulness trail that could be quite abstract if it truly brings joy. I’ve called this thankfulness meditation because a key component of this portion is trying to feel thankful for each of listed items. I don’t just write them down, but I try to really feel appreciation itself for them. That feeling deep in your gut that causes a smile to creep onto your face. I consider how fortunate I am to have this person or thing in my life.
If you struggle to feel thankfulness you may also try downward comparisons. Meaning you imagine what life would be like without x. For example: I’m standing on the first floor running late for a meeting and waiting for an extremely slow elevator that seems to stop at every floor. Starting to feel stressed and anxious knowing that I have to get up to my office on the 14th floor and then catch the same elevator to come back down. I notice the feelings of stress and quickly realize that those feeling will not make me any faster to the meeting. I decide the feelings need to be eliminated. I think about the elevator – it’s slow compared to many elevators, but compared to most of human history, it’s a much faster means of transportation to the 14th floor than the alternative of hiking up the stairs. And to boot, I won’t be hot or sweaty – unless of course I continue to feel agitated and stressed…….Now I’m feeling thankful for the invention of elevators. 🙂
Having cultivated thankfulness I move on to 1 affirmation that I try to reflect on for a minute or so. This is a goal (often time it’s the goal of thankfulness), but I frame it as a statement: “I am thankful.” This is another example of creating your reality. It creates an identity which if believed in, becomes more and more actualized.
“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
The final part which takes the bulk of the time is reading through some wisdom literature and writing a few quotes or thoughts that stuck out to me. I’ve rotated through many different writings but here’s a list of the ones I’ve gone back to over and over:
- Letters from a Stoic by Seneca
- The Analects of Confucius
- Without and within: questions and answers on the teachings of Theravada Buddhism
- Buddhism: An Introduction to the Buddha’s Life, Teachings, and Practices (The Essential Wisdom Library)
- The Book of Proverbs (from the Bible)
Some recent books I’ve dabbled a bit in that try to incorporate ancient wisdom for a modern life include:
- Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
- Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie
I read through them in order usually and I don’t read much – 1 to 3 or 4 pages max. I’ll write down 2 or 3 quotes or ideas and meditate on them. How can these be incorporated into my life? Sometimes I’ll get on a tangent and write about something that’s related. My goal is to draw from ancient wisdom that has stood the test of time and provides a perspective not often available in contemporaries. I don’t follow all of the advice as sometimes I disagree. But most of it is simple, clearly articulated and very insightful. Here’s a photo of a recent page from my journal (good luck deciphering my terrible handwriting).
After that, it’s off to face the day!