It seems like I was a latecomer to the “early morning routine” trend. I didn’t really trip over that concept until 2014, when suddenly (to me) it seemed to be everywhere I looked. Leo Babauta had written about it long before on his great blog ZenHabits.net. Tony Robbins has been talking about it for ages. Hal Elrod wrote a whole book about the “miracle morning” in 2012. But somehow I’d missed all of that until two years ago, and then it took until the second half of 2015 to finally find a way of doing it that changed my life.
The morning ritual is something that’s been written about in Fast Company, Inc., the Wall Street Journal, and about a trillion other publications. It’s been popular among high achievers for centuries. Marcus Aurelius had a morning ritual. Benjamin Franklin had one. Mark Twain contributed the often-quoted advice more than a hundred years ago, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day” (translation: get the hard things out of the way first). The theory is that, by starting your day with a routine that combines contemplation, goal-setting, and various kinds of activities, you can set yourself up to have a productive, focused, and happy day—by intent, not by luck.
Leo Babauta (one of my heroes) first wrote about his morning routine in 2007 here. His routine starts at 4:30am and takes about two hours. Tony Robbins often talks about his “Hour of Power” and even had a podcast you could tune into if you couldn’t motivate yourself to do it alone. Hal Elrod has a handy acronym for his version of it, S.A.V.E.R.S. – short for Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, Scribe — which I tried for a while. It took about 30 minutes, and covered a lot of bases.
Each would last about two weeks. Then I’d find all the excuses in the world not to do it.
No matter what it says about me, I found that ALL of these were just too much of a time commitment to be sustainable. I’m a person who does her most inspired work in the early morning within an hour of waking up, and I couldn’t seem to get myself to consistently postpone that creative window with a big block of time for a ritual.
In August of 2015, though, I attended a workshop offered by local entrepreneur Katy Moses Huggins called Kick Start Your Business. Lots of super-useful stuff came out of that workshop, much of which still inhabit my work systems. But the part I implemented immediately, and which has made a monumental difference in my work in the world, was her morning ritual, which takes about 10 minutes. It looks something like this for me:
3 minutes of movement. Whatever gets breath, body, blood moving. I usually click on the coffee pot, set a timer, and do 3 minutes of whatever movement seems to fit that morning. Stepping up and down the carpeted step down into my family room, walking around lifting hand weights, easy yoga positions or stretching, standing crunches, whatever feels right.
1 minute of deep, rhythmic breathing. I am a person who routinely robs her brain of oxygen when stressed, by shifting my breathing to shallow, short breaths. Conscious deep breathing oxygenates my brain and gets me thinking more clearly almost immediately.
3 minutes of gratitude. Even on the most stressful of mornings, I force myself to be quiet and think of all of the people, places, things, fateful life events, everything and anything good that has graced my life and made me what I am. Instead of diving right into everything that’s wrong and needs to be fixed, I start with what’s right.
3 minutes of powerful actions I can take that day to make progress toward the life I want. I keep a special, inviting multicolored journal and pen on the coffee table to sit and do this part. It guides my entire day. Taking a hint from Leo Babauta, I write down my three “MITs” (most important things) that I want to be sure I complete before the end of the day. And then anything else that my gut says would bring me to day’s end feeling complete, powerful and happy.
That’s 10 minutes. This short amount of time works for me. I have a very slow-dripping coffee machine, and I find that I can usually complete the whole ritual while it’s doing its thing. Then I can move into my day, which usually involves doing some writing first (daily writing being one of my goals for the last few years), then working on my MITs.
I’ve never been one who could easily stick to a routine. I’m just not wired that way. I follow sparks of inspiration hither, thither and yon, and sometimes I get to the end of my work day and feel as though I had fun, but didn’t get anywhere near the work output I’d hoped for.
This morning ritual has been part of my life since last summer, and I can honestly say that when I DON’T make time for it, for whatever reason (insomnia, early morning crises, etc) I feel it just as acutely as I would feel forgetting to eat, or having a bad cold. I’m “off” in every way, and at the end of the day, it feels like I’ve been wandering around like a Roomba, running into limitations and turning around and around, covering the territory of my life but sooo inefficiently.
And frankly, there are too many things I want to do with my remaining days here on Earth to waste time that way.
Do you have a morning ritual? What does it look like? I’d love it if you’d share it with us below.