Build a Morning Routine That Serves You

I love stories of highly successful* people who have the craziest morning routines. Have you heard about any of these routines? These are people who are decorated as society's superheros - how exciting to see behind the curtain. Often the routines they tell tales of are full of discipline and structure. They wake up at 4:30 and drink 2 glasses of water. They run 6 miles without a sweat. Before 7am they've read an entire book. By 7:45am they've raised their children, drank another glass of water and it's time to set their intentions for the day.

I'm impressed. I'm proud. I'm exaggerating. But I also feel like I'm never going to realistically do that. 

In 2015 I listened to a podcast episode from a successful guy who absolutely swears by morning routines. He wrote a book about it and believes having a consistent morning routine is the one thing people can do to be successful. 

I thought, alright I guess I'll try it. I mapped out a plan. It would be about an hour each morning. I would wake up and have 10 minutes of meditation. Then I would take a walk outside (nature was significant in the mornings, he said). Afterwards I would come back to stretch and do a light floor workout. Next, I would make my coffee and do some reading and journaling. 

Whoof. 

I did half a morning of that - truly did not complete a full morning - and then was like, meh. 

I should also mention - I have very little self discipline. 

Truly! For better or for worse, I know this about myself. So in order to force myself to do things I know are good for me (eating kale, showering) I have to find a way to like it - to want to do it. That morning routine had none of that for me, and it didn't stick. 

In reality though, a lot of high achieving people have simple morning routines. We love to see the intense ones that feel out of reach, but I don't think they are the norm. Some people detail a simple morning stretch in bed followed by a written list of 5 things to be grateful for. Other's mention a dip in their pool and a morning paper read. One entrepreneur loves to spend time with his family in the morning before heading to work. 

Do I really need a morning routine?

As parents of young children know, a daily routine makes a huge difference in their lives. For adults too, routines in general can play a significant role in our daily wellbeing. Northwestern Medicine writes that routines can help with better sleep, better health and better stress levels; and they have a positive effect on self esteem, motivation and and health. Having a morning routine is correlated with having more time in the day to complete important tasks, having a better diet and exercising more. Tons of blog posts (that I read in researching this topic) state with no real evidence, but it seems right, that having a morning routine sets you up for a successful day. 

We know it's beneficial. It's the healthy thing to do. But.

You might be here because like me, you're not so disciplined. Maybe you're here because you just don't have the time for a morning routine. Maybe you're like, speak for yourself I'm disciplined, I just don't want to do it, but I could if I wanted to.  No matter the reason, 

have some simple tips for creating a morning routine that serves you (and your busy life)

These ideas and suggestions are complementary from my live in Behavior Analyst (husband), Jake. 

1. Think about your why

What is the point of changing your morning routine? Perhaps I convinced you a little further up. More specifically though, why does that matter to you? Ask yourself, what am I serving by changing my morning routine? What is the point, for me, of building healthy habits? Dig a little deeper than just being healthy. What does 'healthy' get you? Another note Jake stressed: Don't expect it to change your life around. It's not a magical cure, but a healthy goal to work towards. 

2. Write out your entire day step by step

Start out by writing out your entire day. The purpose of this is to get a feel for what habits or routines you already have in place. Are there things going on in your morning now that are better suited for later? Are there things later that you can do earlier in the day? When you have an idea laid in front of you, you can more easily map out an ideal morning routine.

3. Build (smaller) habits first

When you have an idea of a morning routine you want to begin, there is one important thing to ask yourself: Are these things a part of my life already? It will be a lot harder to build a habit into a routine if it isn't already in your life. Don't  necessarily force it into a morning routine. Jake said, "If you want to work on meditation, find ways to acquire that skill if you aren't already doing it. Then you can start programming that into your 'morning routine' steps. If you aren't already exercising, practice that before emphasizing it as a step in the morning routine." 

4. Don't make drastic changes

Start small. If you don't have a morning routine yet, then choose one activity to begin. Make it something short, like 5 minutes. Take a look at what routines or habits you already have in place. Jake mentions, "Some people don't have routinized lives and that's okay. Do you have to do it in the morning?" He also suggests to track your progress visually in the beginning. 

5. Set your environment up for success

There are ways we can ease ourselves into a more successful transition. If you want to journal, do you have an enjoyable space to do that? We can create cues to signal a transition change for ourselves: like how our alarm sounds when we wake up, or how we choose to bring light into our day. Another helpful environmental factor is making it social. If it is more rewarding for you, make it a challenge with a friend. He says, "making it social can provide another dimension to achieving your goal through accountability and encouragement." 

6. Choose rewarding activities

Our behavior is reinforced best through rewards. Building a habit, therefore, happens more naturally when it is rewarding to us. This doesn't mean only choose activities that are simply 'fun'. For some of us, cleaning or checking off a to do list is incredibly rewarding. Often the activities that reward us are the ones that impact our "why". The same activity can go from boring to rewarding with a mindset shift. Something to recognize: "When things are out of context, they might not be as rewarding anymore. Have some history with whatever you're trying to do."

7. Remember to celebrate and reflect

It is important to look back on your progress and celebrate often. The best way to do this is to remember your 'why'. Reflect on your routine and ask yourself if it has been serving a purpose. Do you see any rewards from what you're doing? Jake reminds, "You won't notice immediate effects right away, but stick to the value description." 

Bonus: Watch out for...

1. Resist the urge to make it grandiose. This was one of my initial errors in my 2015 morning routine venture. I needed to hit all the points. Going from 0 to 60 rarely works when building habits!

2. Notice the feeling of having to do it. That feeling is a good indicator that you think you need this in order to be _______. Rethink your 'why' around this habit. 

3. Watch the pressure to move quickly. Habit building is slow!

4. Don't compare! The examples I gave up there of morning routines are all different, but the routines are only successful if they serve the people doing them. A routine is a routine, whether short or long.

 

My goal after researching and writing this is to create a morning routine I can look forward to! I want to start my day in a way that serves me and fills me up.  I don't know how that looks yet - want me to keep you updated? If you want to share your thoughts on this, or tell me what your morning routine looks like, please comment below!

 *for the purposes of this post, success just refers to the general idea of our society. I very much believe success looks different to everyone.

 

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