- By: Dr. John Stenberg
- Date: Aug 11, 2017
Many of the world’s top performers attribute their success to a morning routine or “ritual” that sets the tone for the day. If we are honest, there are very few days that go according to plan. While there are countless things that are out of our control, optimizing those things which are in our control is essential for building momentum toward achieving our goals. The way that you start each day is one of those things that you can control, and personally I’ve found that a structured start to the day increases my productivity and reduces stress. There are a variety of tools, journals, apps, etc. to help you with this practice if you’re into those sort of things, but they certainly aren’t necessary to begin a practice that is sustainable. First let’s establish a few principles behind the practice, and then I will give a glimpse into my typical morning routine – including the specific tools and practices that I am currently using to “win the day.” (Read time: 5 minutes)
Principle #1: This practice is meant to ENHANCE your productivity and quality of life, not to detract from it. Before you initiate any new routine, you should give it some thought. The whole point of a morning “ritual” is to front load your day with small victories so that you’ve accomplished something tangible before you head into work, school, or begin tackle responsibilities at home.
Principle #2: You don’t need a lot of time to establish a consistent routine. While some of the more popular programs out there advocate for a “power hour” or significant amount of time, I’ve found that 15 minutes is enough time for me to do the things that help me start the day on a positive note. Work with what you have and adapt over time.
Principle #3: Consistency is key. If you begin any new activity or practice without first establishing what is realistic in terms of consistency, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Even the best morning ritual is ineffective if not practiced consistently for an extended period of time. The goal with this is to craft a practice that becomes a consistent part of your lifestyle.
These principles have shaped my current practice for “winning the day”, which has become something that I look forward to even on days when I don’t “feel” like it.
Your responsibilities dictate when you need to wake up. If you are the type to wake up in just enough time to make it out the door at the last possible minute, you may need to consider going to bed or waking up earlier. Starting my day slow and methodically is the only way that this practice is sustainable, which means I have made it a point to wake up earlier than I “have to” to maintain consistency. With that said, I typically wake up 2.5 hours before I need to leave the house (and no, my routine does not take 2.5 hours). I like the flexibility that some extra time allows.
The first thing I do when I wake up is to measure my heart rate variability (HRV). I currently am using an app called HRV4training which is available for Apple and Android, and requires no special equipment (measurements are taken through our phone’s camera). Tracking this metric over time helps me to understand how my body is functioning and adapting to stress. This is a new practice for me and one I’ve found to be very insightful – and it’ done before I even get out of bed. For more information on HRV, the app, and why this is an important thing to track for long term health check out http://www.hrv4training.com/blog.
Moving your body around first thing in the morning is important for waking up the body and mind. The first thing I do each day once I’m out of bed is to go for a short walk (about 15-20 minutes). I’ve found this to be the single most beneficial practice and one that is non-negotiable. If I accomplish only one thing in the morning – this is it. Besides the cardiovascular and neurological benefits of consistent movement practices, this seems to wake me up and get me excited about the day. Currently I prefer walking, but I’ve also done body weight exercises at home to get the same effect. If you start anywhere – start here. Add a 5-10-minute walk to your morning for one month and see what changes you notice in your attitude and physical health.
After completing my walk, I immediately go into a 5-minute mindfulness meditation practice. This is something that I’ve ignorantly scoffed at for a long time. There is a reason why so many of the world’s top performers include some sort of meditative practice into their daily routine – it just works. For the record, I’m not one to get into the esoteric woo-woo world of meditative transcendence, but you can have a mindfulness practice without going off the rails. Currently I use an app called Simple Habit which has a variety of guided meditations that you can use for free. I’ve found that even 5 minutes (which we all have time for) makes a big difference.
Following my walk and mediation the morning can head in a number of directions. Lately I’ve been doing several corrective exercises and/or stretches immediately following meditation. For me it’s an opportunity to work on certain weaknesses/inefficiencies in my own spinal stability and it only takes a minute or two. Current favorites include a gluteus medius activation circuit and serratus anterior push-ups. At this point my morning routine transitions into the practical and includes making breakfast and coffee for my wife and I, and doing random chores around the house. These are simple things that bring structure to the day and a sense of accomplishment. I am personally one who thrives on accomplishing tasks, and doing these little things routinely builds momentum so that when I head into the office I’m feeling ready to tackle the day.
There are infinite ways in which a morning routine or ritual can be crafted. The above happens to illustrate my current practices and are things that I’ve gleaned from others who have advocated for a consistent morning practice. From a health perspective there are certain non-negotiables that I believe NEED to be included in a practice, should you decide to craft your own. These include movement of some kind (a walk, exercise of your choice, etc) and meditative practice. If you add 10 minutes to your day to accomplish 5 minutes of each, you will see improvements in your quality of life and mental attitude. The meditative practice should include some sort of breathing exercise, as many guided meditations do. Again, the whole purpose of this concept is to front-load your day with small victories. If this becomes a source of stress for you, then perhaps you should re-prioritize your day or scale it back to a more manageable routine (be honest with yourself about this and DO NOT make excuses). My challenge for you is to give this some intentional thought and then design a realistic practice and implement it for 30 days. Make a commitment and stick to it – you’ll be happy that you did.