The morning routine is one of the most talked-about concepts in this day and age. Everybody has an idea about morning rituals and habits, and, as a convert to morning routines, here’s my take on it. It’s not just a mere case of hopping on the old bandwagon on my end. It’s the result of many years of personal experiences filled with wins and failures. I won’t just regurgitate what I’ve read and researched; instead, I will tell you my take on it based on my own experiments and practices, on what worked and what didn’t.
The Dreaded Morning
At a high level, I’ve always considered myself a morning person. Not a particularly effective one, but just a morning person in the sense that I’ve always been quick to wake up as soon as the alarm rings and be ready to do something—anything—versus “needing time to wake up.”
In these later years, after studying my sleep patterns, I realized that my REM and deep sleep often occur at the beginning of my cycles, and I’m almost always in light sleep just around the time I wake up. This is helpful and can be trained over time by having a consistent bedtime and wake-up time.
The point is, I am a person prone to at least being able to wake up early and feel like a functioning individual. I know this might not be the case for everyone, so keep that in mind.
Although I don’t have any statistical data besides asking my friends, I believe most people hate mornings by default. That is, at least until they become deliberate about creating a morning routine that works for them. I’m not any different.
Even today, with a fairly decent morning ritual in place, I still have moments of weakness when I’m about to allow myself to sleep in. Sometimes, it’s an uphill battle, but I am confident that anyone can learn how to win their mornings with enough discipline and consistency.
What Is a Routine?
Routines, habits, or rituals are things that we do on automatic pilot. When you wake up and trudge to the bathroom and pick up your toothbrush and clean your teeth, that’s a habit. You’ve done it so many times, you almost don’t even think about it, and you don’t forget to do it. It’s embedded in your daily life.
This is extremely powerful because we need to brush our teeth so that our breath doesn’t stink and our teeth don’t fall out after a while. So the routine enables us to automatically perform these activities, which frees our brains for thinking of more complex things and making decisions in other areas that require more thoughtfulness. This is important because the number of decisions you make in a day affects your brain’s capacity, and the result of the diminishing return is significant. Higher levels of decision-making could lead to decision fatigue, and our judgment would begin to be faulty.
To avoid all that, it’s best to set several decisions ahead of time, like brushing your teeth daily and letting your body develop them into habits.
Now, you might say at this point: “Wait a minute, I am not a routine kind of person. I don’t have a morning routine, and I’m not willing to create one.”
Let me challenge you on the first point. You do have a morning routine. Everything that you do in the morning is your routine. It’s just not deliberate.
What I am advocating here is, instead of having a routine driven by years of fixed-mindset beliefs and the needs of others, to have a morning routine designed with intent by you and for you. You deliberately create a routine to help you get the most out of your day and live a more fulfilling life in the long run.
Now, on the flip side, please understand that a good routine, no matter how good, is not in itself going to change your life. A good routine should weave naturally with your overall life plan, and it will contribute to adding structure and clarity and weeding out non-essential things from your life. It will help you become a more organized individual, and it will help you accomplish more. But don‘t simply look at it as the thing that will transform you. It’s a piece of the puzzle, albeit an important one. Just keep it in perspective.
Why Is Morning Critical?
The morning is important for several reasons:
- You are rested, both physically and mentally. Sometimes you are not emotionally rested if you carry a lot of anxiety and stress from work or your personal life, but at least two out of three is a win. As you wake up and move throughout your day, you will get tired in all aspects, so it’s important to effectively use the time you are most prone to conditioning yourself in the way you want your day to go.
- It’s usually a quiet time where you can afford to be with yourself. I say usually because there are exceptions, especially when you have small children. But generally, it is probably the most tranquil part of anyone’s day. This is one reason why you should wake up a little earlier than you’d like to. If you wake up before everybody else, you have the time to yourself, and you don’t have to feel guilty either.
- The way you set your mind at the beginning of the day will drive your attitudes and behaviors throughout the day. If you start in a peak state, there’s enough room to burn that energy. If you start at the bottom, you’ll be crawling.
- Your body is hungry in all aspects (physically and mentally) and very receptive to being fed (however, this doesn’t necessarily mean food, and we’ll discuss this soon.)
Now, before you get all “but I’m just not a morning person” on me, let me make one thing clear: having a morning routine doesn’t automatically mean waking up early or even earlier. It simply means using the morning from the moment you wake up until you start your usual activity for the day in an effective manner. Your routine should not depend solely on your wake-up time. Of course, this being said, waking up earlier will provide you with additional time to perform your rituals, but in and of itself, the morning doesn’t have to be early. It’s whatever you make of it.
How to Get Into the Peak State?
A peak state is a place where you are at your best physically, mentally, and emotionally. When those three connect at their highest, you have the most capacity to go about your day and accomplish your daily goals with a sense of joy and fulfillment. But how do you get there?
Things You Should Avoid in the Morning
- Don’t snooze your alarm.
This is tough for most people, and it gets me sometimes, too. Think about what snoozing the alarm means. The night before, you made a promise to yourself to wake up at a certain time. By snoozing the alarm, you begin your day by losing a bit of trust in yourself, eroding your self-confidence. You fail at the very first thing that day by pressing that button. Don’t let the first action of your day be an act of procrastination!
- Eliminate input of useless information.
Although you slept during the night, your brain worked relentlessly. It organized all the information from the previous day, made new connections, committed information to your long-term memory, and derived new ideas based on the new information. When you wake up, although it seems like your brain might be void, there’s a lot of new information just sitting there, waiting for you to become conscious about it and process it. This means that you need to let that information out first thing in the morning and not pile new information on top of it. So the most important thing to not do in the morning is to add a lot of new information to your brain that doesn’t contribute to its growth and acts as an immediate distraction. That means do not:
- pick up your phone and read the news
- check social media
- turn on the TV or radio
In other words, refrain from giving your brain new things to think about, be worried about, get anxious, or even excited about. Doing that, you will bury deep down what is already on the fringes of your brain.
- Don’t read your email.
Especially your work email. This is a hard one for most people, and it was challenging for me because I am a people-pleaser, and knowing that there might be emails out there that I haven‘t read gives me anxiety. But it took me a while to realize that reading my work email first thing in the morning accomplished only one thing for me: It gave me anxiety about the things I had to do without being able to do anything about them right then and there. That’s because, in the morning, I have to get ready to leave, get my kids to school, and so on. How is it helpful to know that somebody needs something ASAP and wants to talk to me as soon as I walk in? Between now and that time, it does nothing. I can’t change it or answer it right away, but now I have to run through my morning with that thing in my head, deterring me from everything I need to do and making me unable to focus or be present. The email hijacks my brain, literally.
- Don’t complain.
If you open your eyes and the first thing you do is bitch about everything around you, from the weather to the president, you will set up your mind in that negative space from the early morning. Those thoughts will come, but don’t let them vocalize. Don’t really quash them either because that’s avoidance. Instead, switch focus. Understand that there are things outside of your control, like the weather, and they won’t change no matter how much you complain. But you have the option to choose your focus. A properly designed morning routine will steer you toward the important things in your life. The truth is that it takes a lot for us to feel happy, but very little to feel sad or annoyed. One simple crappy thing and our whole day is upside down. The morning routine will counterbalance this propensity for bitching, and in time you will condition yourself to think differently.
- Don’t eat a huge breakfast.
As you may know, I am a big proponent of intermittent fasting. I understand that many people are not; however, even if you are not intermittently fasting, spiking your insulin levels first thing in the morning is not a good idea. The idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day was debunked years ago. There are other ways to fuel your energy than with a triple-stack of pancakes dripping with sugary sauce. To learn more on the subject, please check my beginner’s guide to intermittent fasting.
- Be certain it’s deliberate.
Don’t set an early wake-up time for no reason at all. Waking up early just to be up early and not planning to spend that time effectively is just as bad. Nobody gets medals just for waking up early. If you don’t have a plan, you’re better off sleeping in. Just wanting to be trendy is not a good enough reason.
Things You Should do in the Morning
- Stick to the wake-up time
Okay, so you didn’t snooze the alarm, but did you get out of bed? When your pre-defined wake-up time arrives, get out of bed. Right away. If you need to use tricks like putting your alarm far away from the bed, do it. If you need to reward yourself with candy every time, do it. Whatever you need to do to get out of bed within one minute after your alarm rings, just do it!
- Keep a consistent wake-up time.
Maintain the same wake-up time throughout the week, including weekends. There’s something called the circadian rhythm in sleep theory, which is the sleep-wake cycle that repeats every 24 hours. Based on this cycle, your body adapts to when it needs to go to the bathroom, when it needs food, and so on. During the sleeping period, you go through several sleep cycles as well: Deep sleep, REM sleep, light sleep. Once you keep your pattern steady for a while, your body adapts and learns when to put these cycles in to optimize your sleep and make sure you awake slowly out of light sleep. But, if you keep shifting your bedtime and wake-up time every day, your body can never catch up. That’s why it’s important to keep the same schedule.
This sounds silly, but multiple studies show how smiling releases cortisol and endorphins. Instead of complaining about things first thing in the morning, stretch your hands up and smile for a while.
- Brush your teeth
D’oh, pretty obvious—but do it as soon as you are out of bed. That bad smell in your mouth is bacteria that grew overnight. You need to wash that out ASAP before you drink anything (thus swallowing the bacteria).
- Drink water
Hydrate your body with water. Drink a full glass of water with some lemon juice in it. Your body needs some liquid fuel. Avoid filling up on coffee or tea right away. First, give your body water.
- Breathing Exercises
Your body needs oxygen. Of course, you breathe all the time; otherwise, you’d be dead. However, breathing exercises are a sure way of calming down and priming your brain as soon as your day starts. You can combine this with meditation or yoga practice. If you want to experiment with something more extreme, check out Tony Robbin’s priming exercises.
- Write down your thoughts.
Push all thoughts and ideas out of your head to create space. This is where journaling comes in. I know many people hate this idea, and it’s tough to implement. I’ve struggled with it for years, and I’ve tried every single method, including the one-line-per-day method. But journaling first thing in the morning is important because, as I mentioned above, your brain was still thinking overnight. As you wake up (and hopefully avoid adding new useless and distracting information as explained above) and you push thoughts onto paper, they crystallize and become real. Besides, you create space in your mind. One technique that I’ve been using successfully over the past three weeks is Morning Pages: It’s a tool created by Julia Cameron and explained in her book, The Artist’s Way, which I highly recommend regardless if you consider yourself an artist or not. You can read more about the morning pages here, but in a nutshell, they are three pages of a notebook or journal written by hand, not typed. You are not supposed to read them later, critique them, or show them to anybody else. They are just meant to release all the stuff lingering on the fringes of your mind at that moment. Of course, you can substitute this with the regular practice of journaling. Simply write down your reflections or ideas about the day ahead of you.
- Express Gratitude
This is another theme that you hear harped on a lot lately. It’s a hard concept to implement because deep down inside, we all think that we show as much gratitude as we should. But the reality is we don’t; it requires practice, which is where this part of your morning ritual comes in. At the beginning of each day, pick one item you are grateful for. It can be an object, idea, event, or person in your life. Anything. Write it down and allow yourself a minute to just experience that gratitude. This is the polar opposite of “Don’t complain” above. Both feelings will exist inside you, but by choosing to focus on the positive rather than the negative, you allow your mind to be in that positive space. Some people recommend choosing three things to be grateful for, out of which two should be really small. That’s because we are used to only being grateful for the big things in our lives, and we forget the little things. Practicing micro-gratitude is a way to establish that routine in your life, leading to more fulfilling experiences.
- Intense Physical Exercise
In the words of Tony Robbins, emotion comes from motion. Morning exercise is the best way to physically put yourself in a peak state, especially when done in a fasted state. I recently published an article where I talk about how simple it is to create a home gym. But you don’t even have to do that. You can run, you can bike, you can use any of the home-based body-only exercise routines available on sites like Beachbody on Demand. And you need not spend over 20 to 45 minutes on exercise. The health benefits of exercise, in general, are huge, and nobody denies them. Why not put them to use in the first hour of being awake? Note that I called this intense physical exercise. Make it count!
At least for 10-15 minutes. I’ve personally struggled with this one a lot. I’ve never believed in meditation and its benefits. Quite simply, I thought it was stupid. My wife introduced me to the Headspace app about one year ago, and I’ve been using it ever since. It has helped me a lot with focus, being present, and learning to rest my mind. I strongly suggest you give it a shot. Combined with breathing exercises, it can make a world of difference in your day-to-day attitude and ability to cope. Sometimes, you might start by reading a few inspirational quotes to get into the mood to bring you into a motivating state.
- Review your plan for the day
This is a great time to review your daily calendar or to create it. If you’ve planned your day the night before (which you should!), review your schedule. Get clear on what your priorities are for the day. Make sure your plan is still realistic, be aware of what you have to do today and when, and your top priorities. Reviewing your day during your morning routine is one of the most important things you can do.
- Advance one goal or priority task
Even if a tiny one, make one step towards your main goal or highest priority task of the week. This is a critical item. All audacious dreams can be broken down into smaller steps, which will carry you toward the big goal over time. Regardless of whether you have created a full life vision for yourself or create smaller weekly goals, making one step in that direction each day is critical. If you are writing a novel, put some words on paper. Do you have a home project you’ve been putting off? Do something with it today. If you need to research your vacation, do that. If you must pay your bills, pay one of them. Whatever it is, start your day with one tiny accomplishment toward your priority for the day.
Now that your personal morning routine is complete, you should find yourself in a decent place. Perhaps you won’t be in the peak state every time, but you are in a good place. Your mind is clear, your plan for the day is defined, you are physically ready, and you have a high sense of self-confidence. You are great. Now, connect with your loved ones. If you live with your family, hug your wife or husband. Kiss them. Hug your children and tell them how much you love them. Your cup is full; now, give to those around you, unconditionally and wholeheartedly, demanding nothing in return. If you live alone, make a point to connect with your neighbors or coworkers later in the day.
Now imagine if you could do this every single morning of every single day. Would your life be any different? I think it would. Feel free to pick and choose from these items as long as you design your routine to touch all four of life’s dimensions: the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. I also suggest creating these routines step by step. Maybe introduce one item at a time every week and see how it goes. Build it according to your needs but make sure it’s deliberate and that there is a deep sense of why. Don’t just do it because I said it’s cool to do it. You must know why and then the how will come to you.
Additional Tips and Ideas
1) Remember that the morning routine begins with your evening routine. Set up your morning in the evening. If you work out, prepare your workout clothes in advance. Perhaps you drink coffee in the morning. In that case, make sure everything is set up the night before. If you go to work, choose your clothes in the evening, depending on the weather forecast. Prepare your calendar. Everything you do in the evening, including going to bed at the right time, will contribute to a successful morning.
2) Use a tool to track your different morning routine habits. I use the Strides app, but anything will do, even a piece of paper with a checklist. It serves as a reminder and helps with establishing a trend and monitoring your progress. This simple fact will motivate you and act as a confidence booster, especially if properly combined with a system of rewards.
3) Do your best to bring all the spaces you operate in the morning into a neutral state. This means making an effort to put everything you’ve touched back in its place. I said above that the morning begins with the night before. It actually begins with the morning before. If you leave a mess after yourself, you are much more likely not to stick to your rituals the next day because now you need to spend extra time fixing things. So make cleaning a part of your morning ritual. Improve the organization in your life, and you will find it easier to implement a solid morning routine.
4) Your morning ritual is an integral part of the process of investing in yourself. If you are the kind of person who thinks investing in themselves is selfish or self-centered, think again. Investing in yourself and putting yourself in a peak state means that you are a more effective person in all of your roles. Stephen Covey says that to be an effective, interdependent person (in your relationships), you must first be an effective independent person. So don’t skip out on your morning ritual because it makes you feel shut off from the world. You’re supposed to be for a little while.
I’m always interested to hear how other people manage their mornings. Please leave your comments below and share this post on social media. Thank you!Create your morning routine with intent, and soon, you will be unstoppable. Click To Tweet
Other Morning Ritual Resources
On Sleep Cycles
On Morning Pages
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Have you created a deliberate morning routine for yourself?
- What are some of the most effective morning rituals you’ve implemented?
- How did your morning routines help your life?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!