Making the Most of Your Morning Routine

The other day I was considering how mundane my morning routine had become and wondered how I might shake it up a bit. Sound like a dull topic?  Well, think again.

The impact of first tasks

For discussion sake, here’s how my day normally unfolds.  First task is making my bed, a simple, mindless act which someone once told me empowers an individual to tackle more important tasks during the day. Turns out Admiral McRaven recently delivered the same message to a class of graduating Navy SEALS.  He claims it will help you change the world.  See for yourself in this inspiring video:

Back to my routine.  Next, I grab my iPhone to sign up for my favorite bike at Equinox. Then, I put on my sports clothing and call downstairs for the doorman to send up the newspaper. Next, it’s time for the first cup of coffee, so satisfyingly essential to getting the juices flowing. After I quickly eyeball my emails for any emergencies and draw up my to-do list for the rest of the day, I finally leave the apartment for some form of exercise. Morning routine completed. My day officially begins.

My friends’ morning routines as inspiration

Nothing out of the ordinary here so far, right? Looking for an infusion of newness—something we all crave from time to time—I surveyed some of my friends for inspiration. No surprise, there were many similarities in their morning rituals. For example, unless they were recovery from a broken something, all my friends did some form of exercise—stretching, yoga, running or walking the dog.  Naturally, the making of a first beverage of the day, be it a special antioxidant tea, strongly brewed coffee or just plain water, was included. Everyone also incorporated getting the latest news in their routine either via TV, radio, on-line or hard copy. However, more than one friend commented that “they did it even though it was bad for their mental health.”  My pal Mia even admitted to periodically needing to take a hiatus from the news to keep her sanity. Good thinking, Mia.

Another friend immediately makes a copy of the NYT’s crossword puzzle, then jumps back into bed with her husband, both with pens in hand, to see who can finish it first. “An indispensable part of our morning routine,” she added.

The role of emails in the AM

Ironically, checking emails early on was not always included unless it were critical to their day. For example, my travel agent, Mike, needs to track his clients’ travel schedule and my trainer, Jenn, must check for any cancellations.  Most of my friends put off checking their emails until several hours after they get up to avoid this reactive task consuming their morning.

Unless they were fasting, making breakfast was both an integral and pleasurable part of everyone’s routine, either before or after exercising.  And, if they lived with a four-legged friend, taking care of them was also an early morning must.

Taking a pause for gratitude

Several friends factored in several minutes of reflective, quiet time, something I don’t do.  This was done either while gardening, meditating or just resting in bed a few minutes longer before getting up. The goal is to direct their mind to something positive—such as expressing gratitude for their family, friends or just life in general—as well as to think about a few key goals for the day.  

Starting the day late

There was one exception among my friends who did not choose such a tidy, focused way to start the day. My favorite server at our local LPQ, Zuri, normally hits the snooze button four times before finally getting up and then, only encouraged to do so by her dog Ben licking her face. Already late, she dashes to take a shower, washes her hair and face, all at the same time, which she claims saves a few minutes. She then rushes out to walk Ben, forgoes breakfast and finally heads to the subway. Underground Zuri emails the diner nearest to her job to order her breakfast. “I order the same breakfast day in day out: one waffle, a side of turkey bacon and two medium eggs over light. I pick up my order at my 10:30 AM break and gobble it down.  It costs me $17.50 too!” Zuri groans. She freely admits that her frenetic morning ritual leaves her feeling as if she is playing catch up for the balance of the day. 

Your cushion for the day

A morning routine functions as a cushion for the day.  We all know that our minds are not at their best when we wake up.  Subsequently, having a pre-established pattern of activities allows you to avoid mental fatigue. If you know what to expect during the first 90 minutes of your day, it enhances your control, reduces your anxiety and sets you up for more productivity as the day progresses.  Mark Zuckerberg certainly believes this.  He wears the same outfit every day to avoid wasting time making clothing decisions. 

In analyzing my friends’ routines, there were a few activities I wanted to explore hoping they might add some sparkle to my morning ritual.  The professional term for it is “habit stacking” which means adding it on to something you are already doing. 

Stacking new habits

The first one was to immediately hydrate by drinking a 12 oz-glass of water (thank you, Karen). Then, to find some quiet time to contemplate those things in my life which are positive and make me happy. Finally, to turn the shower on to cold for the last ten seconds.   Frankly, this final addition is a still a work in progress, but it does seem to energize me when I succumb to the numbing blast of cold water.

Do yourself a favor.  Spend a few minutes tonight analyzing how you start your day.  Be honest and see if there is anything you might like to change or any new habits you’d like to “stack.” Perhaps taking a cold shower will not be on your list to try.   However, for a giggle, read this  But, don’t allow yourself to be dissuaded.  Give it a try and let me know if it doesn’t boost your energy level. Leave a comment for us all to read.