Cracking the Morning Routine Code: The Secret of a Successful Daily Ritual

morning-routineDo you make the most of your mornings?

My guess is maybe not.

Many of us wake up and immediately pick up the digital candy by our bed for an early morning mobile phone fix.

We check social media, browse messages and reply to emails, reacting to the world’s cacophony, all before our brains have even woken up.

It’s no wonder that we feel like we’re playing catch up for the rest of the day.

Surely there must be a better way? Well yes, you clever little dolphin. Yes, there is.

Every Morning You Have Two Choices

You can either pre-plan the activities that edge you closer to your true self or hit snooze and curl up in the comfortable warmth of the duvet.

Creating a morning routine is uncomfortable, and at first, you won’t like it.

That’s because, from a young age, we’ve been conditioned to avoid discomfort and chase honey and rainbows.

We dislike the pain of change. Getting up early to go running on a cold, dark morn? No thanks, amigo.

However, it’s only through embracing the pain that we become content and by definition, happy. Everything else is just icing –  a short-term thrill but ultimately unsatisfying.

Creating a morning routine is essential to mould the type of person you want to become.

To forge a new identity.

So make the right choice. Start your mornings with meaning and start your life.

A Healthy Morning Routine

A daily ritual is healthy. You begin your day as you mean to go on, in control and activity-aware.

According to William H. McRaven, it doesn’t take much. Making your bed every morning may even be enough to change the world:

So take note. When you’re stuck in life, doing something as seemingly inconsequential as making your bed in the morning can make the rest of your day.

The power of such small habits immense.

Just look at the most successful performers in the world and their daily consistency.

What may seem robotic gives them the mental space to create their best work. And it all starts in the morning.

While the actual start time of your morning may vary, the actions you take after waking up will determine, to a large extent, the quality of the rest of your day and by extension, your life.

In his book, Daily Rituals, Mason Currey examines the schedules of some of history’s most influential people and discovered that, hedonistic though some of them were, they all had a preferred routine which liberated their creative muse.

The reason morning routines are so powerful is because they’re within our control. Before any of the usual pressures of life intervene, we can dictate exactly where we will invest our energy.

Naturally, it makes sense to allocate it for your most high value, high return activities. This will, of course, vary for everyone because we’re all unique little snowflakes and our goals naturally differ.

My Morning Routine Checklist

Waking Up Early

I’ve recently been playing with my wake up time, to see where I can squeeze the most out of the day. The main reason for this is that our mornings should actually begin the night before.

I’ve finally realised that I’m absolutely useless at doing anything productive in the evenings.

Whereas some of us are drawn to the dark, quiet hours for its uninterrupted solitude, all I’m good for is watching 80’s films for the ninth time.

Therefore, in terms of maximising my day, it makes way more sense to sacrifice a couple of potential evening hours, get an early night and re-allocate that time to an earlier start.

This way I produce more rather than consume. In that vein, I’m currently trying to nail a 5am waking habit.

If you want some extra inspiration for waking up early check out Jocko Willink’s Instagram feed, a former Navy Seal Commander, who rises at 4.30am every day and embodies the power of the early start.

Meditation

My first activity upon waking up is currently meditation.

Mediation is one of my core activities, and although its effects are subtle at first, the cumulative effects are apparent.

This isn’t necessarily my preferred initial activity, as I’m still a bit dazed and confused upon waking, but it fits in with well within the household routine.

However, I do find that the morning is by far and away the best time of the day to meditate to ensure it gets done.

I do 30 minutes of meditation and generally follow the course laid out in the book, “Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World”.

Although the course is eight weeks long, with various approaches, I tend to alternate between the breath and body scan meditations.

Morning Stretching Routine

Straight after meditation, I’m into stretching.

Despite playing a huge amount of sport growing up and being trained as a physio, regular stretching is only a recent addition to the repertoire.

As a physio, it used to be a case of,

“Do as I say and not what I do.”

Either that, or it was more reactive stretching when I felt particularly tight in a certain muscle group.

Despite struggling with the motivation to stretch, I’ve actually come to enjoy it.

Not only is it an extension of mindfulness practice as you experience the gradual release of tension in your body, but it also feels awesome afterwards.

Not to mention the fact that it’s improved my running technique.

During my stretches, I pay particular attention to my hip flexors, as I struggle with impingement syndrome, which is exacerbated by prolonged sitting through the day.

A full body stretch is recommended and takes around 30 mins.

Morning Exercise Routine

After stretching, the next stop is the gym.

Perhaps it’s because I was so active in adolescence that I feel the need punish myself every morning with obscene discomfort.

Either way, I know that if I don’t do some resistance training and get the old heart pumping, I’m overspilling with energy later in the day.

I ignored my intuition about my need to exercise for much of my 20’s and I definitely paid the price, both physically and psychologically.

After lifting heavy things and stretching my legs on a treadmill, there’s an instant endorphin release, powering me up for the rest of the day.

Shower

When I get home I’m a sweaty mess and need a shower. Nothing particularly crazy about that.

I absolutely love showers and could spend hours in there, just to emerge as a big, wet wrinkle.

Despite my love of heat, at the end of the misty goodness, however, I force myself to endure a few minutes of cold “therapy”, while doing some Wim Hof style deep breathing exercises.

There’s been some research done on the benefits of cold showers, but more than any performance gains, I just feel it helps me build credibility with myself.

I’ve talked before about the need to embrace discomfort to grow.

At some point, we’re forced to confront challenges in every area of life and so this exercise serves as a mini-reminder to lean into hardship.

Journaling

Shower done, I make myself a cup of tea. I find the best morning tea for me is English breakfast, with no milk or sugar. It has a nice bitter tang that gives a good kick for the work to come.

I then take out my notebook for some journaling. I’ve talked before about Morning Pages, Julia Cameron’s method of inducing creativity.

This is part of the morning routine that’s been hit and miss over the past year, but having read widely about the benefits of daily journaling and gratitude, it’s an activity I’m determined to adopt.

In one notable study, the diaries of nuns were analysed for positive or negative emotional content. Amazingly, the nuns who had a habit of focusing on the positive aspects of their lives lived for longer!

Shawn Achor, in his great book, The Happiness Advantage, talks about a psychological phenomenon called the Tetris Effect whereby, depending on our visual lens, we are either identify positive or negative cues in our environment.

Unsurprisingly, now that many of us aren’t in mortal danger every time we leave the house, it makes sense to prime ourselves for positivity.

So I try to true to imbue my journaling with a general sense of optimism and even if I’m struggling with something, I attempt to reframe it as a positive challenge. If you’re not familiar with reframing, an important component of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, check it out.

Part of the diary process also involves listing three small things I’m grateful for. This could be something small like the meal I had the night before or seeing a friend.

Much research has been done on the benefits of gratitude and this again allows you to tap into the power of a positive mindset.

Finally, the journaling process culminates with the overarching vision.

Now, I’ve never particularly been one for visualisation, and watching the secret and law of attraction folks talk about the universe manifesting our every desire seems, ahem, rather far-fetched.

However, there have been a few studies done about athletes using visualisation to improve their performance and also a mind-boggling study showing that people can increase their muscle mass simply by imagining they’re going to the gym.

The fact is, the power of our thoughts can change physical reality.

Think of the placebo effect, whereby people who believe they’ve been given a certain treatment achieve the corresponding benefits, even if the treatment was fake.

It seems that our minds can actually manipulate their pathways through expectation alone, altering our physical reality as a result.

To put it simply, expect something and it may be more likely to happen.

What’s more, my visualisation process serves as a reminder of my overarching direction and why I’m putting myself through perceived short-term pain.

Writing

Next up comes writing.

A new resolution for me, strengthened since turning 35 recently, is to practice writing more.

I’ve tried writing at various points through the day and consistently find that the later the day gets, the more of a muppet I become.

I just can’t seem to concentrate at all come late afternoon or evening, especially with cerebral, creative tasks.

The added benefit of writing in the morning, alertness aside, is that I’m investing in myself and my future before the day drags me off in a myriad of directions.

I like to attempt at least an hour of scribbling and if I can publish a post here, I’ll do that too.

By taking action, putting the reps, and harnessing the power of compound interest, I’m sure that regular daily writing will pay dividends.

And as opposed to any potential material gain, I’m more interested in honing a craft that provides pleasure.

Morning Work

Here’s where I say what I should do, but currently don’t.

As the morning should be used for our deepest and most important work, generating new marketing consultancy work could be deemed a priority.

However, the actual obligations of the day tends to get in the way.

I have to deliver on the projects I’m involved in, after all, so post writing I tend to schedule any vital client work.

Breakfast

A note on breakfast. I don’t eat any.

After struggling with some immune system problems, I decided to experiment with my diet and eating times.

Part of that research led to intermittent fasting, shown in studies to result in various health benefits.

Again, part of this morning routine involves cultivating discipline the night before.

Generally, I eat reasonably early in the evening and finish by 8pm.

I then ensure that I wait until around 11.30am in the morning before eating brunch. This time may vary slightly, especially if I’m eating with others on the weekend, but I always try to wait until at least 11am before breaking my fast.

The effects of intermittent fasting have been surprisingly positive. I’ve found that when my system isn’t busy digesting an early breakfast, I can enter a flow state more easily and become hyper-focused on my work.

Morning Routine App

“What gets measured, gets managed.” Peter Drucker

In order to implement a consistent morning routine, it’s important to track your progress.

Like many of us, you’ll probably have some false starts along the way. The cosy warmth of the duvet will beckon you like a siren back to her folds. This is is to be expected. We’re not robots (yet) after all.

However, by tracking your progress with an app, you’re doing two things.

1. Giving yourself a visual reward for sticking to your ritual
2. Keeping data on whether you’re living up to your plan

My morning routine app of choice is Loop – Habit Tracker.

Whereas many other apps seem to want you to upgrade to a paid plan, this one lets you have as many habits as you want.

If you want to go old school, simply create a daily routine chart that allows you to mark off an activity when it’s completed. In some ways, this extra tactile input can prove even more rewarding.

How to Make a Daily Schedule for Yourself

Regain control of your most important work before the day has hijacked your time and attention.

I’d argue that for the maximum benefit, a large part of your morning routine should be spent on heath and wellness.

Physical and psychological exercises are cornerstone habits that infuse the rest of your day with positivity.

In the short term, these exercises improve productivity while in the long term, they contribute to our longevity.

After all, it’s impossible to work on any significant projects if our health is affected.

Morning Routine Ideas

Although your goals may be different to mine, there are certain things you should do every day.

To start your day off right, you need to cover your basics

Choose morning activities that compound over time. A healthy morning routine involves both mind and body and should include both meditation and physical exercise.

This will keep you healthy enough to tackle any other goals you want to go after.

The Importance of Morning Rituals

Like any other ritual, you should consider your mornings as sacred time, worthy of protection.

Be the American Psycho of morning routines. Ok, maybe you don’t have to do 500 pushups, but be disciplined with the promises you make yourself.

Know that if you try to wait for morning inspiration to accomplish the things most important to you, you’ll be waiting a long time.

So sit down, figure out what’s most important and schedule those activities ahead of time.

Take control of your mornings and take control of your life.

Want more mind tickles?