There are many things you can do in life which will help you set yourself up to succeed, but there is one thing that I consider to be the cornerstone of successful habits; having a meaningful morning routine.
Am I talking about dragging your sorry arse out of bed 45 minutes after your alarm clock goes off, necking a pint of coffee and a biscuit and rushing to work to arrive at a timely 9:01am? No. Whereas this can certainly be construed as a morning routine, it is not one that is going to set you up to get the most out of your day – in fact, you begin the day hungry and stressed because you haven’t left yourself enough time to get ready and so find yourself rushing around the house in some sort of mad frenzy trying to get you shit together and avoid the inevitable awkward conversation with your boss that arises from consistently being the last one to turn up in the morning. As you sit at your desk and look around at your colleagues who all look like they’ve been there for hours already with their warm brews and collected composure, you find yourself wondering why you’re the only one who feels stressed out and ready to go back to bed at 9:05am.
Their secret? More than likely, it’s the difference between their morning routine and yours.
I used to be one of these people, as little as 12 months ago in fact. I’d set my alarm an hour before I needed to be at work, and even then I’d smack the snooze button until I literally barely had enough time to pull on yesterday’s clothes, down my caffeine infusion and race to the office. That all changed when I was gifted a book called The Miracle Morning: The 6 Habits That Will Transform Your Life Before 8AM by author Hal Elrod.
Contained within it’s chapters was a recipe for success borne from observing the discipline to wake an hour earlier each morning, and follow a morning routine specific to you yet grounded in some core principals. I used to always tell people that I wasn’t a morning person, until I realised that was a belief that was holding me back, and that I could be whatever type of person I wanted to be. So, having read the book, I started straight away – the next day I set my alarm for 6am and promised myself I would wake as soon as it rang out to notify me of my commitment. I’ve not looked back since.
I feel I should clarify at this point that I do not wake up at 6am fresh as a daisy, and I still struggle to open my eyes properly for the first 5-10 minutes of every day; but the results are worth it. You need to know that it will be hard, especially if you are like me, but you will see huge gains in your personal performance in all areas of your life. I always feel fired up and ready to own the day when I follow my morning routine and there are always creative ways to adapt it should you have less time some morning’s than others, or any other reasons which mean you need a routine that’s flexible (like children who also wake before the dawn).
There are several key principals to a morning routine which when applied together have a powerful effect on the ROI you realise on your time. These are outlined as follows:
- Movement (or, that scary word ‘exercise’)
Before I expand upon these key principals, the following is how I interpret them and how I accommodate each in my morning routine:
- Writing down things I am grateful for in my life
The amount of time you choose to dedicate to each principal depends largely on that day’s schedule and how much time you are physically able to make available for your routine each morning. In an ideal world, I like to allow an hour to an hour and a half for my full routine, but there have been days where I have not had the luxury of time for one reason or another and so I have compressed each one to fill 5 minutes each, or even 1 minute each when I’m really stretched. You pick your level, you’re in control – but bear in mind, the more you give, the more you get.
For me, the first thing on my list (after brushing my teeth and making my morning coffee) is silence. For this, I meditate. When you sit in complete an absolute silence, especially at 6am when it’s still dark outside and most people are still sleeping, you have a rare opportunity to observe your thoughts and practice mindfulness. Meditation is not really about having a completely empty mind so much as it’s about returning to a centred point of focus. My mind is never empty – there’s far too much going on in my life! So, when I meditate, I focus on the rhythm of my breath and when I notice that my mind has wondered into my thoughts, I gently take my focus back to my breath. Each and every time you return your focus to your breath you are demonstrating that you have become aware of yourself and have taken back control. This has powerful applications in everyday life, from helping you keep your cool when that arsehole cuts you up on at the junction on the way to work, or during a tense discussion with your boss. Essentially, you are practicing self control, and developing emotional intelligence. Naughty chimp brain – get back in your box!
There really isn’t anything like moving your body to prepare you for the day ahead. There’s a reason you hear of people waking early and going to the gym before work; is it because the experience is enjoyable? Hell no! It’s because the aftereffects of that morning workout leave your body pumped full of feel good endorphins and feeling strong, both mentally and physically. That said, you don’t have to haul yourself to a gym – some of my favourite morning workouts are going for a run down the country lanes, throwing my kettle bells around like a savage, or practicing some yoga to help improve my strength and flexibility. There are so many on-line workout videos available on platforms like YouTube these days that there really isn’t any excuse. Check out Fitness Blender for loads of awesome workout routines from HIIT to KB’s, ranging from 5 minutes to an hour – pick your level, but do something! It get your blood pumping, your lymph system moving which improves immune response, and kicks starts your metabolism to get the fat burning and the muscles building. There are so many health benefits to exercise that you really can’t afford to skip this one – more detail on the health benefits of regular exercise in a following post!
You can write about many different things from what you’re grateful for to planning out your day. Either way, the act of sitting and writing really gets the creative juices flowing and gets your mind moving to a state of resourceful abundance. Isn’t it amazing how so many people seem to wander through life complaining about everything? You’d be amazed at how much those people have to be grateful for, yet they give all their attention and focus to what they portray to be the negative things in their lives. Just taking 5 minutes each morning to think about and write down 3 things you’re grateful for puts you in such a joyous state of appreciation that you’re expectations are no match for it. The source of all our suffering in life is our expectations not being met in one way or another, so surely the best way to end our suffering is to exchange expectation for appreciation. Take some time to appreciate all you have in life, because even when your chips are down, you still have an awful lot to be grateful for – you just need to be smart enough to shift your focus to where you are open to seeing it.
The importance of reading on a daily basis cannot be understated. I read every single morning without fail, even on days where life has conspired against me and I have time for nothing else in my usual morning routine. Learners are earners, and one of the best ways to learn is to read. Books really are a gift – the author has taken 20-50 years of life experience, all their experience in their professional field, and their specialised knowledge from years of study and condensed all the best bits into their books. We are so lucky to have this opportunity! We get the privilege of all that knowledge and wisdom gained through decades of hard work in a few hours by opening the pages of a book. Even in reading 5 minutes a day, you are learning in a year more than some people learn in a lifetime. The possibilities are endless when you set yourself up for this level of commitment to learning new skills and new ideas. There are so many insanely smart people in the World, and most of them have written books in an attempt to disseminate that which they spent years developing. I have become 10 times the man I was a year ago and learned more than I could possibly have imagined through the simple act of reading every day, and it is a gift available to us all if we choose to use it. Read – it will change your life in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.
Know what you want, and focus your energy on it to manifest it in your reality; enter, affirmations. Affirmations are short paragraphs or sentences you write that define what you want from your life and who you aspire to be. You must say them out loud! The reason for this is that whilst a thought or desire is in your head it is yet to enter the World, but when you speak your mind, and say your vision for who you want to be, it instantly becomes tangible and real. The word, once spoken, comes into existence in your world – it becomes real. The act of reciting your affirmations on a daily basis keeps your minds focus where it needs to be – on the achievement of your stated goals. It makes them real and commits you to their realisation. If you can speak it, you can do it. What the mind can see and believe, the mind can achieve… so see it, and believe it into reality. You see, your mind doesn’t know the difference between something that has actually happened and something that you believe happened but really only existed in your head. If you believe something enough, if you focus on something enough as if it were already manifest, your mind will work in weird and wonderful ways to make it so. You are what you tell yourself – so give yourself some credit! It’s a bit like tuning a rally car – it can perform in many different ways depending on how you tune the engine, and your mind is the same. When you repeat your goals and desires by way of your affirmations on a daily basis you are tuning your mind to be more resourceful so it can get creative in providing you with tangible and resourceful ideas to help you achieve your goals. Remember, if you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.
If you’re in doubt as to the value of adopting such a routine, then I urge you to test it for yourselves; pick a timescale and stick to it as a test run. I guarantee you’ll reap the benefits and wonder why you hadn’t done this sooner – the proof is in the pudding. Set yourself up for success; start each day by observing each of these principals by way of your own morning routine and take control of your life.