How often do you start your day feeling like you got up on the wrong side of the bed, or that everything is awful and the day stinks before you even get out of your house in the morning? This was me for most of my life and it is probably the case for many of you as well. We press snooze multiple times, which both disturbs us from our rapid-eye-movement (REM – aka deep) sleep and causes us to postpone any plans for the morning. We finally get out of the bed at the last minute, get dressed as quickly as possible, grab a muffin or a pop tart from the fridge, race for the door while spilling our cup of coffee before turning around to grab that important document we forgot to put in our briefcase. Then we get in the car and sit through 30 minutes of blood-curling traffic before finally arriving at the office where we work all day before collapsing into the sofa, too tired to do anything besides veg out in front of the TV. Sound familiar? This was my morning for most of my adult life and even with the switch to remote work is still an accurate representation to how I start my day, except I am slumped into my living room chair rather than commuting to the office.
If what I just described sounds painfully familiar to you, then you are not alone, and the good news is that with a few simple habits and lifestyle changes you can completely turn this around. A large part of the issue with mornings is that we don’t have routines. Instead of setting goals or intentions and following good habits, we simply wake up and see what happens. If we feel a little tired maybe we sleep in instead of doing that morning workout. If we didn’t take the time to have a healthy meal ready to go, maybe we turn to one of those all too readily available poptarts or some other sorry excuse that is marketed as “breakfast food.” The morning is the most pivotal part of our day. As famous author and self-help guru Tim Ferris says: “if you win the morning, you win the day.” The morning is where we set the tone for everything we will achieve or accomplish, and how we will feel. Life is chaotic and time is scarce. Unpredictable things can and do happen which can derail our plans. Maybe you had intended to do your workout after work but something came up at your child’s school and you had to skip. Maybe you had intended to cook that healthy dinner after work but got stuck late at a meeting. These things happen and while they are of course important, they can often derail us from taking care of ourselves.
Sure, things can go wrong in the morning too, and some people truly are so pressed for time that they simply aren’t able to build a healthy routine even before the sun comes up. But most of us do have the time, and the best way to make sure that we don’t cancel or postpone those important tasks of caring for ourselves is to make sure that we do them first thing in the morning. By taking care of this early, before any thing else happens, we significantly reduce the risk of having unforeseen circumstances interfere with our intentions, and we are able to feel great all day long.
This post examines the morning routines of several high achievers. A few things that all, or most of them have in common are: start your day early to ensure you have time to stick to your routine; put healthy nutrients into the body – this helps the body feel awake and energetic, and prevents the body from having unhealthy cravings later on; exercise, each of these individuals understands the importance of physical exercise to not only their physical but their mental health, in order to be healthy and happy, you must take care of your body; reflection, whether it be meditation, journaling, or reading, each of these people understands that clearing ones mind and focusing on the tasks that need doing, and the type of person they want to be come begins with proper reflection in the morning.
Let’s take a look at the details of the routines. I will mostly gloss over the early wake-up time. The best time to get one’s day on the right track is first thing in the morning. To ensure that one has time to do each of their desired tasks, it is wise to wake up early, or at least earlier than one normally would. This isn’t to say that suddenly waking up at 4 will make you feel better if you just mope around in your robe and feel miserable. But if you wake up with ample time before any distractions get in the way, you are on the right track to having a meaningful day.
Nutrition. What we put in our body will have profound impact on our mood, energy level, and health throughout the day. It is vital that we put nutritious substances into our body right away. Legendary Strength and Conditioning coach, Charles Poliquin, began his day with a large glass of chilled ice water mixed with lemon or lime juice and a couple pinches of Himalayan salt. The importance of the water, as we may recall from yesterday, is to immediately return the body to optimal hydration levels following the night where our kidneys and digestive tracks use up a great deal of water to digest food and remove waste. The lemon and lime juice are both high in vitamin c, which boosts the immune system, and contain d-limonene which assists in waste and toxicity removal. The salt helps balance electrolyte levels and aids in digestion. Tim Ferris begins his day with a blend of teas he has concocted that includes: black tea, green tea, turmeric, and ginger, coconut oil or mct oil. This potent blend gives him high levels of energy that lasts long into the afternoon, and aids his body in the metabolism of fat. Both Charles and Tim also consume a protein rich breakfast as part of their morning routine, as does former US President Barack Obama. Did you know that protein actually derives from the Greek word “protos” which means primary or first importance. Proteins are the building blocks of our bodies, and arguably the most important macro-nutrient. Consuming a protein rich breakfast early in the morning helps maintain healthy hormonal balance, proper liver function, and overall good health. Charles’s recommendation for the ideal breakfast would be beef, which is high in dopamine pre-cursors and rich in protein, along with nuts, high in healthy fats. He recommends avoiding carbohydrates early in the morning in order to help maintain healthy glucose levels in the blood and avoid feeling drowsy.
Let’s turn next to exercise. Each of the three aforementioned individuals includes exercise as part of their morning routine as does my good friend John Lindsey, whom I interviewed last week. John begins his day with some functional range of motion activities that are designed to move every joint in his body. This helps him feel loose and pain free to start his day, and has the added benefit of “waking the body up” as it were. Personally I don’t really want to do my main workout early because I like to look forward to it at the end of the day, but I do begin my mornings (recently anyway) with some movement drills inspired by John. It doesn’t have to be a full workout that gets your heart pumping 150 beats per minute, breaks a sweat, or strains your muscles, just something to help you check in with yourself, feel your body and enjoy the increase of energy that typically follows. Another added benefit of including exercise in your morning routine, is that it helps ensure that it doesn’t get skipped. Things come up and unfortunately one of the things most of us will sacrifice is our workout time. That is why Barack Obama insisted that he begin his day with 45 minutes of exercise – non negotiable. His argument was that he would do his job better if he had that time to work on himself. As the old saying goes: “you cant take care of others if you can’t take care of yourself.” I think President Obama did a great job at taking care of us, for what it’s worth.
The final pillar of a successful morning routine is mindfulness. Taking some time to clear your thoughts, set your intentions, or simply become a blank slate is very important in a world that can overwhelm us with its chaos. If we approach our day without having taken the time to properly think and feel our minds, we may give in to emotional reactiveness, anger, fear, greed, or any sort of behavior that isn’t in alignment with our core values. Mindfulness can take many forms. Tim Ferris is fond of meditation as is the Dalai Lama, unsurprisingly, who meditates for 3-4 hours every morning. Meditation, as I understand it is about understanding one’s place in the world, feeling connected to the universe around us, and is intended to ease anxiety. Other forms of mindfulness may include journaling or intention-setting. Tim Ferris likes to spend 10 minutes journaling which includes making a list of things that make him anxious as well as things for which he is grateful. The gratitudes help him approach his day with a sense of joy and optimism, while stating his anxieties allows him to recognize his insecurities or fears and to move past them. Setting intentions also helps you stay on task. If you set your goals for the day, you begin to develop a plan, and then can check in on those intentions later in the day to ensure you achieved what you set out to do.
My morning routine (which I am just now getting good at establishing I) involves a large glass of water to get rehydrated. Then I begin with some stretches similar to what my buddy John does, waking my body up and working on my flexibility – something terrible lacking (my real workout comes at the end of the day). Then I drink my coffee while I sit on the couch and meditate. I am newish to mediation but making progress. Typically, I sit and remind myself to be nice to everyone and to choose happiness, no matter what my day will bring. Then I turn to reading. My morning reading almost always involves “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday along with some other non-fiction work of philosophy or psychology, currently I am reading Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Then I spend some time on one of my hobbies, which is learning languages. I try to spend at least 15 minutes each on French and German. This is something that brings me joy but also has the added effect of causing a heightened sense of awareness and sharpness. Then finally, I begin my day.
Each of nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness have great meaning towards helping us achieve a greater sense of happiness, health, and contentment. Exactly what your routine looks like is up to you. Only you can decide what is most important to you. It may be that you are already in great health and nutrition and exercise are not something lacking. Instead, maybe you have a hobby that you wish to pursue like guitar, but you lack time to practice. Make playing guitar part of your morning routine (don’t turn up the amp too loud or your neighbors will hate you) so that you know that no matter what, you have time to commit your 30 minutes toward something that makes you feel good. Whatever it is that matters to you, the morning is a great time to work on it.
I have added Tim Ferris’s best selling book “the 4 hour workweek” to my books section. I highly recommend it for anybody looking to build healthy routines and habits.
I have also added “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. This book is extremely helpful for anybody looking to improve in any aspect of their life. Clear’s whole message is that we often get intimidated by our goals when we only consider the end. Instead, we should simply focus on getting just 1% better each and every day, allowing us over time to reach our goal.
In my haste to post yesterday, I COMPLETELY forgot to discuss one of my favorite routines. US Navy Admiral William S. McRaven starts his day with the same task every day. He makes his bed. McRaven believes that this simple accomplishment sets his whole day up for success. As a US Navy Seal and then an admiral in charge of an entire fleet of ships and sailors, McRaven knows just how chaotic life can be. Sometimes you have a day where absolutely nothing goes your way, and in McRaven’s case, those days could mean people’s lives were lost. But by starting his day with one simple task, making his bed, he was able to guarantee that no matter what else happened, SOMETHING went the way it was supposed to that day. He has an entire book on his philosophy called Make Your Bed, also added to my book list now. Enjoy, and my apologies to Admiral McRaven.