There’s truth to Robin Sharma’s mantra from the book The 5 AM Club: “Own your morning. Elevate your life.”
Starting the day strong, with practices that elevate your mood, boost your physical energy, and set your focus on the right things, has been the single greatest game-changer in my life this past year.
After years of sleeping through my alarm, scrambling to get out the door on time, and feeling sluggish and grumpy for the first half of my day, it’s incredible seeing the positive impact that a simple, but consistent, morning routine has had on my mental and physical health, happiness, and productivity.
"But I'm Just Not A Morning Person. . . ."
For those who don’t identify as a “morning person,” I hear you. I never did, either. I secretly envied people who would wake up at sunrise and get to the gym and not begin every day in a state of frenzy. But I spent most of my life simply surrendering to the limitations I’d placed on myself: I’m just really not a morning person.
So, although I understand the thought of a morning routine may seem impossible or, well, just outright painful, I am living proof that these beliefs are nothing more than self-imposed limits to reaching your fullest potential. And I am confident that, if you choose it, in just a few months you can find yourself waking up early, seizing the day, having space for yourself, cultivating a healthy mindset, and truly loving your mornings.
How To Get Started on Creating a Morning Routine
This list includes several of the small, everyday practices I’ve slowly incorporated into my morning routine that have made a huge difference in my life. If this is new to you, I recommend starting with one or two at a time. The key is to establish a sustainable, rewarding relationship with your mornings, rather than trying to make a 180-degree shift overnight which will likely lead to burnout and failure.
Also, keep in mind that this list isn’t intended to guilt you or make you feel pressure to push yourself beyond what works for your life or body in certain seasons. If you’re struggling with physical health, or if you’re a new mom who is desperate to grab onto any free minutes of sleep available, please listen to your body. It’s okay to choose rest when that’s what this season requires from you. You’re doing great!
But if you’re feeling antsy to create space and time for yourself, to shift your mindset at the start of the morning, and to have productive days, then I really encourage you to try investing in your mornings, and slowly starting to incorporate one or a few of these daily practices into your morning routine.
1. Practice Gratitude
The single most important practice for anyone to incorporate into his or her morning routine in gratitude. It may sound small, or silly, but writing down 3-5 things every single day for which you are thankful has proven benefits to mood, perspective, and overall wellbeing and mental-emotional health in life.
I encourage you to have a specific journal for this practice — physically write down your gratitude list with pen and paper. Commit to spending just a few minutes each morning writing down 3-5 great things that happened just in the last 24 hours.
Be specific. Although it’s good to be grateful for “my health” or “my family,” these things don’t trigger the visceral, emotional, endorphin-filled response that specific details like “woke up feeling super rested and energized today” or “being able to talk with my parents for 30 minutes on video call” do.
Sometimes, you’ll feel like you could easily list out 10-20 incredible things that happened in the last 24 hours. Other times, it’ll be painful to find just 3, in which case you’ll need to dig deep to find and focus on the positives; they might seem small, like “this cup of coffee” or “the rain has stopped outside,” but I promise, the practice of desperately searching for pieces of gratitude will change your life even in the tough seasons.
2. Set Your Goals
I start every single morning writing out and reflecting on my goals. I can’t stress enough how important this is. Wandering through each day without ever spending the time deciding where you’re going, or what “success” looks like, is certain to leave you feeling unguided, lost, off-track, and unproductive.
You wouldn’t start driving to a new destination without ever pulling up a map or putting the address into your GPS navigation, right? Right. So, don’t do that with your life.
Of course, we all know that goals change, and what we think success looks like now will likely be different in 1 year, or 5 years, or 20 years. That is okay. The key is to have something specific that guides us in our decisions, priorities, time-management, and risk-taking now.
I recommend having a series of different lists of “goals” to write out every single morning.
First, write out your 10 biggest, scariest goals that you have for the next 10 years of life. If you don’t know where to start, set a timer for 30 minutes and write down absolutely everything you can think of, from what you want your marriage to look like, to how many employees you want and the business you hope to start, to the car you want to drive and the house you want to live in, etc. Be extremely specific, and then after 30 minutes, start narrowing it down until you have just 10.
Then start your morning writing down these 10 goals as if they have already happened. Rather than “I will own a business with 5 employees,” write “I own a business with 5 employees.” This helps you actually visualize this reality, stirring up imagery and emotions that studies show, will be better at motivating you to actualize your goals.
Second, write down the 1 single goal that you will accomplish in the next 90 days. This goal should move you forward in at least one of the 10 goals you listed before.
Third, write down 1-3 goals for your day ahead. These should be 1-3 things that will help move you forward in some way, in the 10 big goals you’ve set for yourself. They should also be the 1-3 things that, if you accomplish nothing else for your day other than these things, you will still feel accomplished or productive at the end of the day. Do not write down any more than 3, or else you risk having an overwhelming “to do” list that will set you up for scattered attention, lack of focus, and inevitable failure.
3. Move Your Body
I realize that some people prefer to exercise in the afternoons or evenings, but for me, moving my body first thing in the morning always changes the entire course of the rest of my day.
I commit to moving my body for at least 30 minutes every morning. It’s a totally manageable amount of time, and has so many incredible benefits including:
- Feeling proud of myself and accomplished first thing in the morning, boosting my mood and self-esteem, and strengthening my confidence in performing tasks throughout the rest of the day;
- Affirming my self-identification as a “healthy person,” which makes me more likely to make healthier decisions throughout the rest of the day;
- Receiving a rush of endorphins that wake me up and energize me (even more than a cup of coffee), giving me so much more energy to stay focused, work hard, and remain happy for the rest of my day; and
- Quickly energizing and focusing my mind, which last for most of the day (this means that even taking 30 minutes in your morning to move your body, will result in saving hours of time throughout the day thanks to more focused, productive, effective brain).
Of course there are so many other important mental, emotional, and professional benefits to daily exercise, even beyond just staying physically fit and healthy. But these are the three I notice most clearly (and now I notice they are lacking when I skip a morning workout).
Remember that moving your body for 30 minutes doesn’t necessarily have to mean a HIIT workout or a gym session or a pilates class. It may mean yoga in your living room, or taking your dog on a walk, or riding a bike with your friend. Just choose something that works for you and makes you happy and excited to incorporate into your morning routine!
4. Calm Your Mind With Meditation
I didn’t really get into meditation until this past year, when I began struggling with anxiety and couldn’t cope with stress in my typical fashion (which is, booking a flight and traveling somewhere) — thanks 2020.
Meditation seemed a little strange and new-age-hippie to me, so I wrote it off as “not my thing” for years.
But thankfully, I had many people in my life this year, including a counselor, who really encouraged me to give meditation a try and recommended some great free resources to help me get started.
I now notice such a huge difference in my focus, my mood, and my perspective throughout the day when I do a quick morning meditation, versus when I skip it. Even just 5 minutes of a guided meditation, or a breathing exercise, is going to have a big impact on your day. It may not feel that life-changing in the moment, but subconsciously your mind, body, and emotions are receiving rest, positivity, quietness and stillness, and a subtle perspective shift before the chaos of life creeps up on your.
Try starting with just 5 minutes using the Calm App or Waking Up App (or any other the other guided meditation and breathing exercise apps or YouTube channels out there) and being consistent with it for a few weeks. I’m confident you’ll see a difference!
For some excellent free or low-cost apps to begin or grow your meditation practice, read this article.
5. Try Intermittent Fasting
This definitely isn’t for everyone, and isn’t so much something to “add” to your morning routine as it is something to “remove” from your mornings. Please consult a doctor and do your research before making any changes in your diet that could cause strain on your body.
I have always been a breakfast lover, and would wake up in the morning feeling super hungry and thinking about food as soon as my eyes opened.
When I began intermittent fasting, which is where you don’t eat for a certain number of hours per day (for me, my eating window is typically 1pm-8pm and I fast the remaining hours of the day and night), it was an extremely difficult shift and I felt weak and hungry at first.
After about two weeks, I noticed my body grow accustomed to the intermittent daily fasts, and I stopped craving food in the morning and even throughout the day. Whereas before, I spent so much of my day craving foods, deciding what foods I wanted to eat, and using snacking as a procrastination tool or emotional filler, intermittent fasting essentially freed me from the control that food once had on me. I now realize the difference between my body actually needing food, and my mind just craving instant gratification or procrastination.
Along with no longer wasting the time or mental energy I once did on satisfying or resisting cravings, I also have noticed greater focus and energy in the morning and afternoon, because my body is no longer sending all its energy into digesting my morning breakfast. The sluggishness and weakness I used to feel around midday is now gone as well, and I no longer wake up feeling desperate to run downstairs and open the fridge.
There are so many scientific studies that have been done on the various benefits of intermittent fasting — including increased mental focus and clarity, better results from workouts, weight loss, gut health, and more — and there are lots of ways you can modify and adapt an intermittent fasting (“IF”) routine to your particular body and physical needs.
But if it sounds interesting to you, and like something you might want to try (I actually had no interest in ever trying it and was sure IF was just not for me, but I decided to join along with a friend who was trying IF . . . I got hooked!), then do some research and give it a go for a few weeks. The first couple of weeks may take some adjustment, but after that your body should start getting used to the new routine and the benefits will emerge.
6. Wake Up Earlier
Oof — I know, this one might sound absolutely dreadful to some of you. It did for me, too, and my parents would have laughed in my face if I told them I wanted to start waking up with the sun each day. (Actually, they did laugh in my face when I told them this, which is understandable considering I was the girl who couldn’t get out of bed before 9am and regularly slept until noon on the weekends in college).
Waking up early has, however, been completely life-changing for me. I have more time to get things done, and more quiet and still space at the start of the day rather than feeling rushed and scrambled or behind as soon as I wake up. I now feel calm, ahead of my day and my schedule, and even more rested than I did when I was sleeping in until 8:30 or 9:00 each morning.
In fact, the vast majority of successful business leaders, executives, and millionaires are early-risers. Although there is likely a whole variety of reasons behind this, giving yourself a couple of hours before the workdays officially "begins" allows these leaders to get a head-start on the day, giving a greater sense of control and proactivity in life rather being reactive, responding to time-demands and emails and calls as soon as they wake up in the morning.
If mornings are hard for you and the thought of waking up early seems impossible, try these simple but effective strategies:
- Have an accountability buddy. My roommate was pretty good at waking up for sunrise each morning and sitting outside with a cup of coffee, so I decided to start joining her each day. If I slept in, I felt like I was missing out (the FOMO is real, and highly motivating).
- Start in smaller increments. If you usually sleep in until 9am, setting an overnight goal to begin waking up at 6am is likely not going to work, or won’t be sustainable. Instead, try setting a goal for 8:30 for the next few weeks, then 8:00, and so on. Even making a goal to wake up just 5-10 minutes earlier than usual can set you on track to making BIG, sustainable changes in the future.
- Go to sleep earlier. You aren't going to be able to start waking up earlier than normal if you’re still scrolling through Netflix or playing video games until 1am. Try setting a reminder on your phone to have the TV turned off and computer closed by 9pm, and to be in your bed by 10pm. Without these modes of distraction available, you’ll naturally be likely to fall asleep earlier.
- Schedule something for the morning. For me, this meant booking myself for a 7:30 gym class every day. It was something set in stone that forced me to get my booty up and out of bed on time each day. If I stayed up too late the night before or snoozed my alarm too many times, I’d feel tired and sluggish at my workout and would be motivated to avoid that feeling the next day. If I slept through the gym class, I’d be reprimanded by my gym and eventually lose privileges. Whether it’s a gym class, or meeting a friend at the park for a daily run, or catching the bus at a certain time, the key is having something time-set, with positive rewards when you attend and consequences when you skip it.
Time to Own Your Morning and Elevate Your Life!
I encourage you to find a morning routine that works for you and brings you joy, mental focus and clarity, daily positivity, and physical health. THere is no better way to start your morning than this, and no better way to ensure a successful rest of your day (and life) than starting each morning on the right foot.
Try incorporating 1 or 2 of these practices into your morning routine, or all of them if it is sustainable for you!
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