I am fascinated by morning routines. From Steve Jobs to Ben Franklin to Tony Robbins, there is an undeniable trend that morning routines are a core feature of the best, brightest and badass.
Cultivating them is a process of habit formation, and often requires a commitment to an earlier start to the day. But the difference to your mindset, your productivity, and your positive psychology far outweighs the extra 30-minutes of smashing the snooze button. I used to think I wasn’t a “morning person.” I’ve become one, if only for the sheer tranquility of the hours between 6-8am when there is a stillness about the world I find particularly appealing.
Unhurried. Focused. Calm.
Whether you look at Tony Robbins, with his morning breathing ritual, or Ben Franklin’s “to-do-list“, each is different. So there is no definitive answer or “best routine.” It’s what works for you. For that reason, I’m going to share my morning routine, why I’ve developed it, and why it works for me. You might take something from it.
First, here’s the why, the reasons behind why I value the importance of it and deliberately make time in my day for it:
1: It’s a time of quiet in a hyper-connected, overly distracted world. It’s a time with no emails, no phone buzzing, no fluff.
2: It’s a time of focus. With no distractions, it’s the perfect time to get into a flow state.
3: It’s a time to take a deliberate act in framing your mindset for the day.
4: You get to make your own coffee, thereby avoiding Starbucks.
5: You get to eat the frog.
I’ll explain each by reference to my own routine.
First thing I do – a load of mobility work. Some people like to workout in the mornings. For me, a full workout leaves to me too amped up to then come back to a more focused concentration or flow state. Instead, I have a mobility routine that takes about 5-10 minutes, depending on how long I linger with it.
It’s a combination of things I’ve picked up over the years. Some is taken from the Gymnastics Strength Training Fundamentals course (that’s not an affiliate link), and this mobility routine from Eric Cressey.
If you do yoga or Pilates, you could do a few poses or stretches. It’s a low-intensity way of waking up the nervous system and doing the one thing we don’t do enough of: moving. There is an obvious benefit beyond simply easing into the day: I feel and move better.
If the stretching brings my body into the day, meditation brings my mind into the day. Meditation can seem too esoteric for some people, but I think when you look at the benefits you forget about your perceptions of the method.
Meditation improves attentional regulation, emotional regulation, improves working memory and increases visual-spacial processing. It improves your stress resilience. And this all happens with actual, physical changes to your brain: increased grey matter and changed activation patters in areas of the brain that regulate memory, attention, and emotion.
There’s conflicting advice on how long you need to meditate for to get the benefits, but one thing is clear from experienced practitioners: little and often trumps long and intermittent. Hence why guys like Leo Baubata, author of the blog Zen Habits, recommend 2-minutes a day.
2-minutes allows you to form the habit. I used this hack to build up to it. For me, 15 minutes is my sweet spot. It takes me about 7 minutes of recognising “monkey-mind” is trying to jump ahead to the research I’m doing, or the client meeting, or, or – squirrel!!! You know how it is.
Then I reap the benefits in the second half. And finish with clarity. No rush. Nothing needs doing. Early morning stillness.
I do this while I’m still on the meditation cushion – one extends into the other. Externalising gratitude has been another core feature of research in positive psychology; it leads to increased optimism, more positive moods and self-acceptance, and reduced levels of stress and depression.
It also promotes consideration of other people’s perspectives, through a process known as ‘prosociality‘, in which externalising gratitude precipitates increased empathy and sense of responsibility for others, and greater generosity. It stops negative emotions like greed, bitterness, envy and anger in their tracks.
That’s a pretty compelling case for keeping a gratitude journal. So, after meditation, I write down:
a) 3 things I’m grateful for
b) What one thing I’ll do to make the day great
It doesn’t have to be anything profound. And it just works. You find an increased optimism inside yourself, and in what you see in others.
But first, I make coffee! After meditation, gratitude, it’s down to the grinder and the Aeropress. Thermometer, the works. Nerd. If it’s a big study day, I might add some Brain Octane and coconut milk and blend it together. Generally, I just like it black.
I made a commitment to do this after going through Jim Kwik’s Superhero You learning program, which included speed reading. I realised I had gone from being a voracious reader my whole life, to barely getting through a book every 3 months. I’m not taking about research, or work-related reading: we all do that. I’m talking about books. Fiction. At one point, I realised I hadn’t read a fiction book since college. And I studied English.
I made a commitment to: a) read as part of my morning routine (while having coffee), and; b) not read books about nutrition. I do enough of that. What do I read about? Neuroscience, psychology, history, and fiction.
We can thank Mark Twain for the quote, but the premise has become a popular feature of productivity hacks: do your biggest (often one you might otherwise be tempted to avoid) task first. Leo Baubata has a similar system of MIT’s – Most Important Tasks. You clear the desk, put down the phone, do not open social media, and you sink into it.
The reason this works as a morning routine, as opposed to waiting to get to your actual work day, is that it needs attention. You can’t find flow in the office. And if you work remotely, it can be hard to find flow at a time of day when you need to be responsive.
The morning allows for focused attention. No distractions. No buzzing phone. Quiet. Still. An opportunity to find flow, to sink in and to crush it out (whatever “it” is for you that day).
And that is how I feel when I finish eating the frog, or I finish my MIT. You’ve won the day.
Think about it. It’s 9am, and your most challenging task, or the one thing you want to get done that day, is already done. You’re calm in mind. Your body is awake. Your mind is awake. Your conscious of your externalised gratitude.
I bet you walk differently into life that day.
Give your own a go. Have you got a morning routine? What does it consist of, and how does it work for you? Comment on the Facebook page and let us know how you kickstart your day.