This article is Part 2 of the Early Mornings series. Part 1 was the discussion about How to Wake Up Early. If you haven’t read that already, I highly recommend you do. You can’t work on morning routines unless you have mornings to work with–cart before the horse and all that.
We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day – US Army
As important as it is to wake up at a consistent (early) time every day, it’s equally critical to have a great morning routine. Otherwise, it’s like being all dressed up with nowhere to go. You know how that story ends, right? You’ll end up back in your bed in no time. What a travesty of willpower (and caffeine) that would be!
The best way to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your early morning buck is to have an iron-clad morning routine.
About Morning Routines
This article lists nine activities to do as part of your daily morning routine. These are based on the habits of successful, productive, and, more importantly, happier folks. The ones that wake up in the morning with a purpose, eager to get started with the day.
Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re sure this does not apply to you because you are “unique,” and you think this is advice for someone unlike you—someone who’s Type A/competitive/young/old/” xxx-insert your own excuse here.”
If there ever is such a thing as a one-size-fits-all approach, then this is it. Yes. Even if you are the kind who says, “Goals? Pfft”.
Because this is way more than that. It’s the only way you can pursue what makes YOU happy.
“I don’t want to be happy.” Said no one ever.
Why do you even need a morning routine?
Isn’t it enough to wake up early?
Early morning risers may be tempted to ease into the day. We tell ourselves there’s plenty of time during the day to run around like headless chickens. So, we justify the desire to linger over our coffees or scroll through social media. I even know people who simply sit back and bask in the glory of having woken up to the alarm instead of hitting snooze. In silence. Blissful. I know.
Yes, waking up before the sun does is an achievement, especially for those that are new to such a thing, but spending two hours celebrating that achievement is a tad counter-productive.
More than just keeping your eyes open
No, I’m not suggesting you go from zero to a hundred as soon as you wake up. But you need to make that time count and engage in activities that help you feel fulfilled and further YOUR purpose in life.
Why are mornings critical in this regard? Why not any other time in the day?
Because, at the most fundamental level, personal growth requires two factors to operate in tandem:
a) You need a chunk of uninterrupted time AND
b) You need the energy and motivation to do something different from what you’ve always done.
It’s hard to overstate this.
The best thing going for early mornings is this: it’s when you have some semblance of control over your time, AND your mind and body are rested and primed for creativity.
We all have busy lives and plenty of responsibilities—work, family, community, and social, to name a few. Selfish, as it sounds, if you don’t carve out the time to do what YOU need, you’ll end up fulfilling others’ dreams but not yours.
Morning Routine— 9 things to do by 9 a.m.
In a world that wears busyness as a badge of honor, here are nine activities to do early in the morning to reclaim your time (and life).
Here is the vanilla template to create the kind of peace and contentment only you can. You’re free to embellish this with crazy toppings and turn the template into something exotic, but the essence is simple.
It’s all about getting your mind, body, and soul in balance.
1. Honor your Body
Take care of your body; it’s the only place you have to live – Jim Rohn
With a glass or two of water. Just to be clear. You’ll have plenty of time during the day and the evening to indulge in other “hydrating beverages.”
Early mornings and water are made for each other. After hours of sleep, the body craves water. The science of staying hydrated is established. But, I admit, there’s no compelling scientific evidence about early morning water versus water at any other time. That said, I believe water in the morning helps wake you up and gets your metabolism revving.
For those allergic to the word exercise, mornings are the time to get it done and over with. Think of it like this:
Exercise in the morning before your brain has time to figure out what your body’s doing.
While some may prefer to workout later in the day, some physical activity (a few pushups, jumping jacks, or anything that gets your heart pumping) in the morning is highly encouraged. It’s all about getting blood and oxygen flowing well in your body and brain.
Please read this post - why you need exercise to survive to understand why physical activity should be an integral part of your day.
Ostensibly while most people would like to have a consistent fitness regimen, their number one reason to not do so is the lack of time, which is why early mornings are a great time to get your exercise done and over with.
2. Feed Your Soul
Meditate. Because smacking people is frowned upon.
Spend 5-10 minutes writing out a list of a few things from the previous day you’re grateful for. I’ve written a whole post about the benefits of gratitude here.
Here’s how I define gratitude:
Finding something good or positive in your life and attributing some of that goodness to someone other than yourself
Starting your day in the spirit of thankfulness is interpreted as a win by your brain.
You release feel-good hormones when you’re thankful, so your brain likes to think you’ve already done something right. And that starts a cascading chain of feel-good moments.
Selfishly, therefore, being grateful actually makes YOU feel better. Without side effects.
Cicero: Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues but the parent of all others.
Okay, I’m kidding. I meant Meditate. Yes, the ‘M’ word that’s scary to many.
Don’t expect epiphanies to occur or some inspiration to pop up in your brain. You’ll have good, terrible, sleepy, happy, quiet, or disturbing meditation sessions. It’s all part of the game. Your only job is to sit on that cushion in quiet introspection for 15-20 minutes (or longer if you have a more flexible morning schedule).
Meditation, in its truest sense, is to reflect on what is and staying present. As we rush through lives like hamsters in wheels, quiet contemplation helps us eventually see where we are now and where we are headed.
I’ve written a whole post about meditation here if you’d like a refresher on why it’s so critical.
Depending on your disposition, meditation can be spiritual, enlightening, epiphany-generating, or simply calming. And the early morning quiet is the perfect time to meditate before the busyness of the day clutters your mind.
Spending about 15 minutes in the morning reading or listening to something uplifting can help set the tone for the rest of your day. For a religious person, this may be reading scriptures. If you aren’t a religious or spiritual sort, immerse yourself in other motivational content.
We are so caught up in our day-to-day existence; it is essential to elevate our thinking to a higher state. Not just to find our place in the universe but to aspire to be a better human being.
Don’t dismiss this step as something woo-woo.
As you think, so shall you become.
Devote your complete attention to someone who enriches your life. Connect with your partner. Find a few minutes to meaningfully bond with your kids. Call your parents or other loved family members or cherished friends.
We thrive on the strength of our social connections and relationships. Taking time out of your morning to acknowledge how important these people are to you not only makes your day go better, but helps spread that joy to those you are bonding with, as well.
3. Train your mind
Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try! Dr. Seuss
Check off a difficult task
In the early morning, you are like a cellphone that has been fully charged overnight. Why not use that time to knock-off one battery-draining (intellectual or physical) activity you have planned for the day?
We’ve all heard about how willpower is like a muscle. It’s easier to exercise your willpower in the a.m. than at the end of the day (after it’s been tested continuously).
If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first - Mark Twain
We all like to put off some things, especially if they are unpleasant, boring, or tedious. It may be a hard-to-write fundraising email, a difficult conversation, or bags of donations that need to go from your garage to the charity.
Pick one such task a day and just get started on it. You can thank me later.
Create. Don’t consume.
We spend the majority of our lives consuming. We use (way) more than we create.
Early mornings are the time to reverse that trend.
Pre-dawn moments are supposedly the most creative – see the Brahm-Muhurt reference in this previous post. Use this time to indulge in some creative pursuits—anything that is not mechanical or regimented is fair game.
Work on your passion
Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result
Carve out time every morning to make progress on that "someday" goal you'd like to pursue. If you’re always complaining about your job, then spend a dedicated hour or so in the morning learning a new skill that will enable you to quit your current job for something more enjoyable.
This activity is probably the one that will give you the most bang for your buck in the long term. Conversely, this is the one activity that will always fall through the cracks if you don’t intentionally commit to it.
Mornings are the perfect time to get started on such tasks. You can always continue working on them as the day progresses, but by carving out a set time every morning, you signal to your brain that you’re serious and intentional about making progress.
Planning your Morning Routines
Fail to plan, plan to fail.
Mornings are too precious. You need to be “doing” in the morning, not “planning.” This, in turn, requires you to plan your morning ahead of time.
According to Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg, author of the popular book “Tiny Habits,” behavior only occurs when three conditions are met – Motivation, Ability, and Prompt.
For instance, a planned morning workout is likely only to occur if you meet all three of these conditions :
- You are motivated to actually workout (instead of being forced by someone else).
- You have the ability to do the workout you’re planning—it’s moot to try to do 50 pushups when you struggle to do 5.
- Something in your environment triggers you to exercise. For instance, if you lay out your workout clothes and shoes the night before right next to your coffee maker, it acts as a trigger to get you moving.
Keep the above factors in mind when planning your morning routine. You’ll inevitably see progress.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
(That was a metaphor. Please don’t eat elephants).
If you hate water, guzzling down 2-3 glasses of water first thing in the morning may be problematic. Instead, start with maybe half a glass of water.
Small, consistent changes over some time grow to become solid, established habits.
Put your smart devices away. There is no slack time built into morning routines to deal with distractions. That’s what the rest of your day is for. So, do yourself a huge favor and stay device and distraction-free in the early mornings.
Mornings are sacred and have immense transformative powers.
They are the best antidote to “Could have, should have, would have.”
Having a consistent morning routine will mean you don’t need to run around frazzled, playing catch-up all day. Even if you don’t, the people around will appreciate the change in attitude.
The joy of a morning spent well is bound to seep into the rest of the day, making you a calmer, happier, and a more fulfilled person.
Be pleasant until ten o’clock in the morning, and the rest of the day will take care of itself - Elbert Hubbard