Michael discusses the process he followed to incorporate a successful morning routine into his busy life. He goes over the 5 benefits of a morning routine and the 6-step-path to building one into your life.
It’s Friday, December 28th, 2018, and I am enjoying my holidays with my family. Egg nog, Christmas movies, visiting, gifts and lots of food. Yet, there is something off with me. Under the surface there is a faint voice saying, “Things aren’t great. You need to make changes in your life”.
I push the idea away – “I don’t have time or energy to make any changes – I’m maxed out as it is.” As the day rolls along I stop resisting, tune in and recognize this voice as anxiety. As a counselling therapist I know that anxiety is the voice of growth – so maybe I should honor it.
I have a few questions: How would I fit in any changes? Which changes do I make? Am I ready to do what it takes to make things better?
I remember a book I ordered about established a morning routine that I never made time to read. I check the bookshelf – and there it is: “Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod.
Fast forward to Tuesday, January 1st, 2019 and my alarm rings at 6:00 a.m. “What’s that sound!” It was the cue for a morning routine that would transform my life. A routine that would gradually improve my physical health, change what I eat, establish a stronger mindset, bring my work-life into more of a balance, and empower me to set lofty goals and have the time and energy to reach them.
While I have made several adjustments to my morning routine in the past 18 months, my ritual grew to almost 2 hours long (5:00-6:50) with 4 parts – a) 45 minutes of exercise while I watched podcasts on YouTube or listened to music, b) Cool down and a 20-minute meditation, c) 15 minutes of journaling, d) 30 minutes of reading/learning.
This is my routine and it works well for me. You can decide upon the morning routine that works best for you. I strongly suggest you start with something doable, then grow it over time. But before we get into designing your morning, let’s first discuss why you would bother going through the challenge of creating one in the first place.
There are plenty of pay offs for making a morning routine part of your lifestyle.
Here are the BIG FIVE
1. The first hours of the day are the brain’s best hours
Giving these precious hours to yourself is an amazing gift. Our brains work at a high cognitive capacity for the first two hours after waking up (check out this Inc.com article for more) but many of us waste these hours looking at our phones, checking emails, or chit-chatting at the water cooler.
Many success people have identified the first few hours after waking as the most productive time of their day. They set these hours aside to do the most important things on their list. (Check out this article for more).
I notice that I am more creative, and I seem to easily absorb what I am learning and apply it to earlier learnings, building a ‘knowledge snowball’ that I can apply to my own life. When I work out I often watch to Robin Sharma’s Youtube videos. I used to call my workout time my WOW-R HOUR – Working Out With – Robin Hour.
2. It’s ‘Interruption-Free Me-Time’
For most people, nobody needs anything from you early in the morning . As a parent of two teens, a coach, a busy counselling therapist and speaker with many people depending on me, it’s a sacred rejuvenating time. No one is calling, texting, emailing or asking for drives during my morning routine. The house is a quiet space where I get to fill my cup for the day, ensuring I have enough for everyone later. It’s my oxygen mask when the altitude drops. Having a time for personal growth with no interruptions is a reward that everyone should experience. You deserve this!
Another benefit is that I build daily reflection time into my life. Many of us are missing something in our go-go-go, technologically-driven lifestyle: Space for our intuitive voices to be heard. These days we have reserved quiet time for 3 areas of our lives: showers, bathrooms and bedrooms when we lay our heads down to sleep.
But we pay the price for this lack of reflection time. We lose the space to a) listen to our inner voices and our needs, b) calm our bodies, c) know if we need to make adjustments in our days, d) move knowledge from short term to long term storage.
The chance of finding this quiet time during our busy days is slim. Society has sold us the big lie – that busy = successful. So we fill our days up to the rim with activities, and we fill our spare moments up with Instagram, Facebook and Candy Crush. We justify our lack of quiet time by telling people how busy we are – a badge of honour that brings fewer rewards than we think.
“How are you?”.
“Busy. Real busy.”
“You think you’re busy? Let me tell you how busy I am.”
3. You trade evening screen time for valuable morning ‘Me’ time
A 5:00 wake up can be a challenge. To get enough sleep I need to go to bed between 9:00 – 9:30. This isn’t possible for everyone, and I didn’t think I could make it work. There are sacrifices attached to this habit and I had to let go of some things including watching TV and surfing the Internet in the evenings. However, there are more gains than losses.
I take that screen time and add it to my morning, exchanging semi-fun, numbing TV time with valuable ‘me-time’. Sometimes we see our evening TV time as ‘rest’, but we have to be careful to not confuse rest with recreation or tuning out, because they are not the same. True rest is giving your body a break from all of the stimulation – and while you may be on the couch, watching TV does not provide your body with true rest.
Your morning routine sets the stage for the rest of your day. When I come upstairs from my morning routine I have a plan for my day, have swapped my expectations of the world for appreciation of what I have, feel physically fit, am zoned in on making progress in my life, have increased my knowledge from podcasts and reading, and know I am on the path aligned with my purpose. I am intentional and focused. I am proud of myself.
I bring that way of being into my interactions with my family and my work. This progress-oriented mindset carries forward to the evening when I need to start my bedtime routine again, and it acts as cue to fend off thoughts of watching TV for 2 hours, or checking social media posts, or doing work emails. It helps to continue this positive cycle of personal growth and professional productivity. Fulfillment and achievement. It also reinforces my positive Habit Loop of Cue, Routine, Reward.
4. How to get ‘Ready’ to start your morning routine
When looking back at my ‘readiness’ for starting a morning routine 18 months ago I realize I had a combination of unawareness and resistance. My inner voice had been suggesting changes for quite a while – I just didn’t hear it – or did not want to hear it. I wasn’t ready to make the sacrifices I needed to make in order to change things in my life.
So, why was I ready on that December day? Reflecting on that question has taught me that my need to feel better started weighing more than my comfort of staying the same. I had enough of being stuck.
Readiness to Change can be measured and breaks down into three categories: Commitment, Capacity and Confidence. You can measure your readiness to make changes in your life here by taking this Quiz). I had the confidence to be able to make my change, but needed to increase my true commitment to making it – which means moving from contemplating to taking action. I also needed to create space. That’s why the morning worked so well for me – it’s an easy time slot to have free.
The key for most people to get ready is to decide first to be open to creating some quiet and honest reflection time in our lives so we can hear that intuitive voice under the surface. We need to give that ambivalence some space to be processed. Perhaps we talk it through with someone or write about it. This uncertainty can turn into certainty, then into action.
Once we decide to change, we’ve hit pay dirt! Now it’s a practical process of figuring out how this new behaviour is going to look, and we all have the capacity to work that out if we want it badly enough.
5. How You Can Use a Morning Routine to Make Changes in Your Life
If I can do this, so can you.
You have the skills and ability to make massive change in your life if you start small and are strategic. Bringing change into your life doesn’t have to be as painful as you might expect if it comes in incremental, daily steps with a focus on the process rather than a lofty goal. Some prefer the ‘tear the Bandaid off all at once’ process of change, but I believe change sticks better when it’s more methodical, planned and progressive – more ladder-climbing than catapulting.
Get your pen and a piece of paper and take 20 minutes out of your schedule. Ask yourself 2 questions
“What things do I want to improve upon in my life?”
“What would I work on first if I had 20 minutes to myself every day?”
The first question helps motivate change, and the second guides the form in which that change might come. Write down everything that comes up. This is a brainstorming session with no wrong answers or decisions to be made. This is not a time for the logical side to block responses. Let the creative (and intuitive) side have its say.
Process Your Thoughts and Narrow Down Options
Talk with a supportive member of your family, friend, parent or colleague. 18 years as a counselling therapist has taught me that ideas and feelings solidify when they come out of your mouth – it decreases ambivalence and clarifies your needs. You also need support and to know that someone has your back and can help hold you accountable to your decision. After this conversation, revisit your questions and make any changes you need to make. Commit to improving the part of your life you want to work on. Then decide for sure on what you are going to work on for that magical 20 minutes.
Decide on the Plan
Determine the morning you are going to start and how many days per week you will do it. Start with a small amount of time and increase it as it becomes easier. Decide at what time in the morning this is going to happen. The more specific you lay out your plan, the better your chances of it happening. (See the research here)
“I will wake up at ___ and work on ___ for ____ minutes ____ times per week.”
What time will you need to go to bed in order for this to work? You still need to get the proper amount of sleep to ensure you are functioning at a high level for the rest of your day. If it’s a 6:00 a.m. wake up, that’ll mean a 10:00 p.m. bedtime for most people.
There are plenty of resources out there to help you decide on what you’ll do with this valuable time. Check out books by Hal Elrod, Laura Vanderkam, or Robin Sharma for guidance. The categories include physical activity, reflection/meditation, writing/journalling, reading/learning. For a free JOURNALLING RESOURCE CLICK HERE. In the end, it works best when your plan bubbles up from your own needs, and no one knows them better than you!
Preparing the Night Before is Key
Clear your path of things that might derail you, such as needing nice weather for your run, not having what you need when you wake up or a messy workout space. Before you go to bed get the things in place to support your routine and reduce the friction that can sidetrack habit forming. This will include having your morning routine space ready, having the things you need (exercise equipment, journal, book, yoga mat, music) in place, and not depending upon good weather for success.
Over time I learned that my success in the morning started the night before. I had my books set out in my space, workout clothes at the end of my bed, water bottle by the fridge, and coffee ready to brew. Doing my ‘set up’ before bedtime also cued my mind of what was coming up in the morning. I used to motivate myself by saying, “I’m part of the 5% of the world that wakes up early.”
Empower Yourself with Early Wins
Push yourself that first morning to follow-through on your commitment to your personal growth. You will be proud of your accomplishment. Tell people about it. With successive days of waking up early you will begin to alter your sense of identity around mornings.
Soon you will be thinking, “I’m the type of person who wakes up early to work on myself.” Tell your family and colleagues about your mission so you can garner their support. This can be a very empowering process, so soak up as much as you can early to sustain momentum. To support my own wake up process I programmed ‘I am the 5%!’ next to my 5:00 alarm on my phone so that when it rang I saw this message to inspire me to not put it on snooze. I told people about what I was doing and it provide me some accountability.
Stick With It Until It’s A Habit
As it becomes a habit it gets easier to do your morning routine – that’s how habits work. They are automatic actions. How long will this take? There is conflicting information in the literature around this – some say 21 days, some say 66 days. I believe that it takes between one day and FOREVER!
I always have to stay on top of my morning routine to ensure the habit stays strong. It’s now a habit, but there are still days where it’s hard to get up. I need to bring some flexibility and keep the self-judgment away because when I slip it’s easier to get back into it the next day. I call it ‘Habit Resilience’ – taking the judgement out of a setback, and preparing to bounce-back the next day. It will get easier for you if you stick with it without getting upset if you miss a day or two. You can do this!!
Creating a morning routine can be a powerful experience. It transformed my life. It is embedded into my lifestyle now. I am a different person because I work on myself every day. I strengthen my body, mind and spirit each morning of my life. I feel better about how things are going when I know I am actively working on making progress, taking responsible risks, being open to learning things, and having the courage to take what I learn in my morning and apply it to the rest of my day.
I encourage you to take a risk and put some things into place to create your own morning routine. It will be difficult but rewarding. And if you stick with it you will notice your life getting better. And in the end, knowing that we are improving and evolving is what everyone needs to be content.