To be honest, I have never been what most people would classify as ‘a morning person.’ Throughout my university years it was not uncommon for me to stay up until 3 or 4 am having mindless fun, then roll out of bed past midday and only begin to engage with the day well into the afternoon.
Although I do look back at those days fondly, I was certainly not a role model for productivity. It was only towards the end of my first year of working, in 2014, that I realized the pronounced flow-on effect of a healthy morning routine on the rest of my day. I found myself approaching my work with a new sense of poise, purpose and productivity. It didn’t happen overnight, but it has made a significant difference to my life. W.H. Auden once said “Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition” a statement which resonates with me.
It turns out that I am not the first one to have had success with this technique, not by a long shot. Great leaders spanning many faculties have used their tailor- made morning rituals to kick-start their days. These include people like Benjamin Franklin, Margaret Thatcher and Steve Jobs.
The interesting thing is that the morning rituals and habits of these people differ tremendously, so from my perspective your ritual per se is not so important as the fact that you have something to put into practice; something that centres you in your humanity and possibility.
Find a ritual that resonates with you and stick to it!
If you think about it, an excellent way to start your day is to set aside ‘me’ time. A time to recalibrate, focus inward, start your day with clarity of thought and a fresh attitude. Once you head out the door and face the world, you can be sure that your focus will shift away from yourself and onto external matters beyond your control.
These are some of the habits of men and women who achieved greatness which I have successfully put into practice.
- Alarm yourself — Use an alarm to get yourself out of bed each day at the same time. For me, the time is currently 7 am and I aim for approximately 7–9 hours of sleep. It is far more important to wake up at the same time each day than the time you go to sleep as your circadian clock (your body’s wakefulness mainframe) is programmed foremost by light entering the eyes. This triggers a cascade of awakening hormones and shuts off the production of melatonin, a hormone designed to induce sleep. I find that if my waking hours are all over the place, I feel like I have been hit by a train first thing in the morning. Nothing great about getting jet-lagged without the holiday! If I am to change my waking times, I do it in no more than 15 minute increments until I reach the desired time.
3. Strike a power pose — I have become increasingly interested in the effect that body posture and facial expression have on our state of mind. To read more about that, read my article relating to the effects of smiling on the brain. Whichever pose comes naturally to you when envisioning success, strike it for about a minute or so before getting on with the rest of your morning. For me, it is standing, looking out of my window with both my arms raised to the ceiling and plastering the biggest smile I can muster (whether I mean it or not).
4. Frame with gratitude — What better way to start the morning than to spend a few moments on what you are grateful for. We can all find abundance in our lives. This could be absolutely anything from your health to your loved ones to the fact that you woke up at all! Focusing on what you have rather than what is lacking, changes the tint of your glasses for the rest of your day. If you find this difficult, look at Tony Robbins’ blog on the use of morning questions to rewire your mind.
5. Hydrate Early — Start your day with a full glass of water. It is the most abundant molecule in the human body and vital to optimizing the function of all organs including the brain. Read my article on the effects of hydration on cognition and mood. If plain water doesn’t appeal, add a few slices of lemon to get your taste buds onboard.
6. Cold is gold — I currently kick-start my day by throwing myself in a cold pool first thing in the morning (some days are easier than others). The cold rush is a strong stimulator for my nervous system and gets me firing on all cylinders. If you are slightly less gung-ho than myself, when you go for your morning shower gradually decrease the temperature of the water until it becomes cold!
7. Look like a boss (just think of Harvey Specter) — Undoubtedly there is a relationship between how you look and how you feel. If I run out of time to freshen up and look presentable before heading out to work, it inevitably affects the way I carry myself for the rest of the day, which has an impact on my interactions with others. Make sure you look a million bucks before you walk out that door in the morning. Even if I’m working from home, I feel a little flat if I roll around in pj’s all day and that doesn’t exactly make me the most productive human being on the planet.
8. Find your Yogi Bear — Meditating for 10–20 minutes each morning is an extremely powerful ‘mindfulness’ exercise used by many high profile business executives and high performing individuals… and for good reason. It provides your mind with greater clarity, reduces stress and helps you gain a higher level of personal insight. If you are anything like me and have no idea where to start, download a guided meditation app such as Headspace.
9. Shoot a 3– Write down (and I mean physically write down) the 3 most important tasks you want to complete on that particular day and make sure you complete them before the day is done. The majority of us lead very busy lives and things tend to fall through the cracks. Putting thoughts to paper somehow brings the ideas to life from the realm of vague possibility to reality. Many very successful self-improvement writers such as Anthony Robbins, Zig Ziglar and Brian Tracy to name a few, encourage this practice.
Tough it out
I’m going to be brutally honest here. Commencing a new morning ritual is the easy part, sticking to it until it becomes second nature is another thing entirely. There is an initial ‘honeymoon phase’ or ‘inspiration phase’ which occurs after being swept away with an idea that you believe will change your life for the better. Unfortunately, inspiration fades pretty quickly and reality takes its place. It is during this time that completing the new habits becomes really tough and falling back into your old ways is just so very easy. This phase separates the men from the boys (or girls from the women). There are a few techniques which I have found useful in pushing through this phase:
Prolong the inspiration phase. Try to stave off the ‘fight through period’ for as long as possible. Surround yourself with motivational material to maintain your momentum for as long as possible.
Think from the end. Use your imagination to picture how much better your life will be in 2 or 5 years if you push through the tough times now. Don’t surrender to what always was and has been.
Harness your ambition. Consciously think of the battle to instate new habits like any other battle. By framing it as if you are ‘fighting’ to complete a certain objective, you can harness some of your competitive energy in order to succeed.
Get support. Enlist a partner who will hold you accountable if you start slipping on your targets (make the change together if possible). This can be anyone from a spouse to a close friend… just like anything else in life, if someone is counting on you to keep going there is a greater chance for success.
How do you resonate?
As I have mentioned previously, the morning ritual components I have outlined are only an example and do not reflect what YOU must do. Design a ritual that resonates with who you are and what makes you feel good.