Many top business leaders and high-flying celebrities credit part of their success to a well thought out and disciplined morning routine. This post will explore some of the options you could build into your morning and how you can craft a powerful and intentional start to your day.
The short answer is yes! Time and time again research has shown that there are a number of benefits to starting your day right. However, don’t be fooled by the word ‘morning’. There is no suggestion that you have to be part of the 5am club to become a success story – rather, making sure to start your day right (whatever time that is for you) can set the tone for the rest of the day and help you to meet your goals.
Get productive – this can work in two ways. Firstly, the routine itself is a form of productivity. By putting your morning ‘tasks’ into a logical order and automating them, you are able to efficiently start your day. Secondly, many people’s morning routines involve a sense of goal setting or prioritisation for the day ahead as well as activities that replenish their energy – allowing them to hit their to do lists with gusto and get more done.
Save your energy – this one may seem counter intuitive to start with. When you set up a new routine or habit it does take energy or willpower. However, once a behaviour (or a whole morning routine) becomes automatic for you then the behaviour is much easier to carry out which frees up some of your mental and physical energy to dedicate to other parts of your day.
Build self-efficacy – this means your belief in your own ability to complete tasks and achieve goals. Navy admiral William McRaven said, “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. And by the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.” Starting the day with small achievements can motivate you to do more throughout the day.
Increased control – once the day gets going sometimes things can get on top of us. Unexpected emails, changes of plans and curveballs in our day can be sources of stress as we try to adapt. The beauty of the morning routine is that it is a way of imposing your little slice of order onto the day before anyone else’s randomness can get in. This can give you a sense of grounding and ownership that starts the day well.
Happiness and enjoyment – your morning routine isn’t just about grinding through tasks. It can also be a great way to enjoy your day. Podcasts, motivational music, reading or time with family can mean that you start your day in a positive mood ready to carry into the next part of your day. Starting each day with a burst of happiness will help to look after your mental health and wellbeing.
Consistent health behaviours – The phrase ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ wasn’t just about eating fruit. It was actually a nod to the idea that small behaviours done daily lead to a better health. Many people with morning routines incorporate elements that contribute to their physical and mental health such as exercise, healthy eating, hygiene or self-care activities. These small actions done consistently become a healthy lifestyle.
You may be curious to know what a handful of successful people do to start their days:
Leadership and Business Entrepreneur, Tony Robbins has an intense morning routine which features waking up from three to five hours of sleep followed by: a nutritional shake, 10 minutes of meditation activities, 15 minutes of exerting exercise, a plunge pool and a nutritional breakfast.
Arinanna Huffington of the Huffington post gets a solid eight hours sleep each night and starts her day with some deep breathing, a gratitude practice and setting her intention for the day along with some home cycling and longer meditations. See her interview here.
The Zetl blog compares tech entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg. Their morning routines differ a fair bit with Bill Gates exercising daily, and others not exercising as regularly, or at all. Warren Buffet starts his day with coca cola. Being in the tech industry, many jump onto their phones, emails or social media accounts straight away to see what is urgent. But all of them have a pattern which they follow which sets up their day and contributes to their business success.
The point of this analysis is to dispel the myth that there a ‘right way’ to do your morning routine. No guru can tell you the ‘5 secrets to a successful morning’ and guarantee that they will work for you. Rather, use the ideas out there to gain inspiration and experiment until you find a pattern that fits your priorities, gives you a sense of enjoyment and sets the tone of the day you are looking for.
Say it again; ‘there’s no right way to do your morning routine.’ Instead, you should think about the buffet of possible options available to you and weigh up which ones would help to start your day well. A helpful way to balance your routine is to consider the four different types of wellbeing:
By exploring ideas which fit into these broad categories you can try to create a balance between the, that works for you.
A good breakfast – generally speaking you should avoid processed foods to start your day and favour whole foods. Grains, fruit, proteins and fibrous foods can give out body a blend of slow-release energy as well as vitamins and minerals to fuel up for the day ahead. This may look like porridge, yogurt, smoothies, eggs, fruit, cereals, nuts or seeds.
Liquids – your body runs on liquids and starting off by topping these up is important… however, choosing the liquid is down to you. Some people swear by a pint of water, others hot lemon, coffee, green tea or a morning smoothie. Again, the important thing is to experiment on what motivates you and starts your day well.
Get moving – for some people this may look like Tony Robbins high intensity workout, for others it may be a simple walk or a few stretches. Building movement into the morning warms up the muscles, gives you an energy boost and starts the metabolism working. However, it is really important to find a type of movement that works for you – running, yoga, swimming, tai chi or playing with the dog are all equally valid ways to wake your body up. Doing a little bit of exercise every day as part of your morning routine can support wellbeing and mental alertness.
Sleep well – ok, so technically this is part of your night routine too. Give yourself enough time to fully rest. For many adults this averages between 7-9 hours sleep. Research has shown that hitting snooze can make us feel more tired as we fall into another sleep cycle which gets interrupted. So, plan to start your morning (and go to bed) at a time which allows you to feel refreshed.
Tidy your environment – making the bed, clearing your desk or washing up after breakfast can have a surprising effect on you mentally. As William McRaven points out, small tasks completed early can give you a sense of achievement. In addition, clearing these tasks quickly can help to give you a sense of mental clarity and stress relief because you are not thinking about when (or if) you will go back to them.
Read – you might like to keep your mind sharp by digging into some stimulating research, lose yourself in a fantasy, get creative with new ideas or be inspired by some else’s life story. Reading for 5-30 minutes each morning adds up to a lot of books covered over the year.
Set goals or intentions – Research shows that people with written goals are more likely to achieve them, this effect is even bigger if those goals are then shared publicly or with a friend to create accountability. Starting the day by defining a few key goals and then sharing them can create focus, accountability and ultimately mean you get more done over the rest of the day.
Reflect – you may like to take some quiet moments or record in a journal your reflections from the previous day, thoughts about your current projects or maybe even to ponder a challenge you are working on. Evaluating what went well, what you might like, what the options are and creative solutions when you have dedicated thinking time could help you to develop new strategies or a more focused action plan for your day.
Create a schedule – some people like a minute by minute structure for their day and others prefer a loose list of items to work in. Deciding at the start of the day how you will spend your time can save decision making energy later because it is already planned out for you. Of course, you may even like to plan the day before so that you wake up with a plan already in place.
Practice gratitude – starting or ending your day by appreciating what you have is at the very top of most positive psychologists’ wellbeing checklists. It improves happiness, reduces depressive symptoms and improves resilience. Taking 3-10 minutes to think about what you are grateful for (and often write it down) can create a really positive emotional state to start the day. Find out more about starting a gratitude practice.
Affirmations – these are positive statements that you say to yourself in order to lift your mood, increase confidence, create self-belief or generally create a positive emotional state. They are usually said in the present tense such as ‘I am brave’, ‘I have a number of talents which I will use today’, ‘I can do what I set my mind to’ or ‘today I choose happiness.’ Some people like to say these out loud, looking into a mirror or with their hand over their heart to create a more emotive experience.
Spend time with loved ones – breakfast with family or a morning phone call with a friend can nourish you emotionally and put you in a good mood for the day. Adding in hugs and affection also boosts your oxytocin (bonding hormone) levels for an added layer of feel good.
Anything that uplifts you – this one is vague but perhaps music, a podcast, art or some other hobby or activity help to create an emotional experience which would really contribute to a great morning for you.
Time with nature – sitting in the garden, going for a walk or being in a natural space can help to connect you to sense of wonder with the world which nourishes the soul.
Faith practices – the morning can be an ideal time for people of faith to carry out their prayers, quiet time or reflections because other tasks have not yet crept in to compete for attention. This can lead to a stronger sense of connection to personal faith which can feel inspiring or grounding for people.
Breathing exercises – although good for your body too, focusing on the breath can help you to feel very connected to your inner self. This may well be paired with affirmation, gratitude or faith practices in order to span multiple wellbeing areas.
Meditation – there are a great number of different types of meditation; silence, visualisation, gratitude, breathwork, mindfulness and so many more. Some focus more on the physical, some emotional and some the spirit. Research has shown that the regular practice of mediation has multiple health benefits such as reduced stress, better control of anxiety, more focus, increased positivity and more.
Avoid your phone for as long as possible – our phones are designed to capture our attention with notifications, scrolling and sources of dopamine. This reward chemical sucks us into ‘whatever feels good now’ rather than activities which have a long term payoff for our wellbeing. Avoiding your phone means you are more able to focus on the routine you set for yourself.
Build in self care time – there may be other activities such as a relaxing bath, skincare routine, time to create or relax which might feed into one of the wellbeing areas mentioned above. If you know an activity relaxes you or boosts your mood then you may want to make a habit out of it.
What are you listening to – do you like to carry out your routine in silence, to an inspirational podcast, a calm music playlist or whilst chatting to the people in your house? Think about what moods you can create with the sounds in your space.
Find an order to stick to it – breakfast or shower first? Or exercise? Decisions take up some of our mental energy and gradually deplete us over the day. Once you have experimented with doing things in different orders, pick the one that works best for you and try to stick to it every time. This reduces the number of decisions you have to make which saves you time and energy.
Prepare in advance – sometimes a plan can fail because in the moment we have a lapse of discipline or willpower. A way to overcome that is the prepare ahead. When things are ready for us, they take less effort. For example, preparing your healthy breakfast the night before means you are more likely to eat it because its there waiting. Getting your exercise clothes out or your running playlist made means you are ready to go. What advanced preparation can you do so that you carry out your morning as planned?
Stick to the same times – waking up at the same time each day is better for our health. It allows the body’s natural sleep wake cycle (circadian rhythm) to be consistent which leads to better quality of sleep, naturally waking up at the same time and, has been associated with better academic performance (presumably because of greater energy and focus). Try setting a bedtime reminder and a morning alarm for a consistent time.
Now that you’ve read this menu of ideas – let’s start crafting your morning routine.
Want support in getting started with a powerful routine? Book a call with The Self Leadership to discuss workshops on time management, habits, self care and wellbeing practices as well as 1:1 coaching options.