- Drink 1 large glass water
- Make bed
- 10 minutes yoga
- More water
- 35 pushups
- 2 min plank
- Cold shower
- 5 minutes meditation
- Read 1 chapter of a short non-fiction book
This is how I spent the first 45 minutes of today. And yesterday, and the day before, and well, you get the idea. I’ve been doing some version of this morning routine for the past couple years and though still sometimes difficult, I love starting the day like this. After an instagram post received some interest, I thought I’d write a little more on my morning routine and some tips on how to create, and do your own. This post contains everything from designing a routine to getting up early to some tips n’ tricks to overcome resistance.
My Morning Routine Reflects My Priorities
Each step in my morning routine reflects a priority, and by starting the day like this I get many small wins in before starting the day.
- Physical health: Water, yoga, pushups, plank, cold shower.
- Mental peace and clarity: Meditation, making bed.
- Discipline, practice in surrender to discomfort: Cold shower
- Focus: Meditation, reading.
- Focus: Meditation, reading.
- Learning and knowledge: Reading
By starting the day like this – before the business of the day begins to give me excuses for why today isn’t the best day – I get a small practice in all of these areas. Even if I do nothing else for myself through the day, when I get into bed for the night, I sleep knowing that I did at least something for myself and my wellbeing.
Your priorities, and therefore morning routine, will probably be different. If you’re learning to play the guitar, maybe you’ll have 10 minutes practicing. If attention and focus is important to you, maybe you’ll do 20 minutes meditation. Getting in shape? More exercise. I’ve chosen long term goals or values and the morning has become a cornerstone for me.
Now you might want to start your own morning routine. If you’re just starting on the morning routine journey, I’d suggest starting small and gradually stacking. V1.0 of my routine was just water and yoga. After some months I added a short meditation. Reading came in at the start of 2017. Pushups and cold shower last summer. Plank shortly after. It’s been a continued and evolving thing that started small and built from there.
Once you’ve designed your routine, you need to do it. Simple, but not easy. Here’s a few tips.
Remove Obstacles The Night Before
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
– Benjamin Franklin
To give myself the best chance of succeeding I remove as many obstacles as I can that stand between me and those actions. I do this before going to bed to make each action as easy and frictionless as possible on waking up. Some examples:
Put a glass of water next to my bed. On waking up I don’t need to go get a glass. Just drink. I also leave a full 1 litre bottle of water bedside so I can refill my glass as I drink through the routine.
Roll out the yoga mat. One less hurdle. Just position my phone, press play, and I’m off. When I was doing yoga on youtube, I would choose and load the video the night before and position my laptop at the front of the mat. All I needed to do was get on the mat and press play. I also lay my clothes ready.
Pre-decide number of pushups. I don’t waste time or energy thinking ‘how many pushups should I do today?’. I know I have to do 35, so I do 35 then move on. Simple. Sometimes I swap in pull-ups, squats or kettlebell swings for the plank but if I do, I decide this and the number the night before bed. This reduces decision fatigue.
Kindle/book on the page that I will read, on the desk next to where I meditate. After the meditation, I pick it up, swipe, read. No remembering where I left my book yesterday or finding my place. Again, making it as easy as possible.
Decide and write down the full routine. To be able to prepare like this I obviously need to know what I’ll be doing in advance. I take 30 seconds each night to write it down on a piece of paper. Again, no wasted time or energy thinking ‘what should I do next?’. I just follow the list.
This all takes me about 5 minutes before going to bed but makes everything go more smoothly and easily in the morning.
Getting Up Early
The first step to being able to do anything before work is getting up early enough. If you’re a serial snoozer like me you know very well that getting up just 20 minutes earlier than you need to can seem totally impossible. I’ve always struggled with getting up early but have found a few things that help me.
Alarmy (Android . Apple) This app has been a total game changer. Getting vertical is the hardest part of getting up for me, but once I’m on my feet the chances of me going back to sleep reduce massively. With alarmy, I have to get up and take a photo of a shampoo bottle in the bathroom to stop the alarm. I then take a pee, splash my face with water, chug some water, then head for the mat. On alarmy you can set your own photo based on how far from bed you need to go to be safe. There are other options like a barcode that you have to scan, or maths problems you have to solve, so you can pick what suits you. Another option is to just place your alarm clock on the other side of the room.
Go to bed early. Makes it a lot easier for obvious reasons. It also means that it’s harder for my sleepyhead morning self to kid me that “no but seriously, you’re really tired, you need more sleep. Just get another hour.” Fact is, I’m always sleepy when I wake up. But less so after a good night’s sleep. To help get a good night’s rest I have a digital sunset 1 hour before sleep and listen to a guided sleep meditation in bed.
You can nap later. Sometimes the lying voice that tells me I need more sleep is really convincing: “You need your energy for the day, you’ll just get tired later”. My response now is “fine, if I really get tired later, I’ll take a nap.” Of course, I hardly ever take the nap – the voice is just the sleepyhead in me craving the snuggle zone, a deceiver that has lured me into countless unnecessary lie ins over the years.
Warm the room. Getting up early is so much harder in the winter than the summer because leaving that warm bed for the cold air outside is ungodly. Even if you make it out, the promise of returning to those snug warm sheets is so irresistibly appealing that you’ll probably hop back in and off to the land of Zs. So having a warm room helps. I currently close all windows at night to trap heat inside my room. In the summer, this can make it really hot but this actually helps spur me out of bed. Depending on your situation, you could try this or have the heating come on 30 mins before your alarm.
Start with yoga. Stretching first thing is a nice gentle way to wake me up so that by the time I’ve finished, there’s no danger of going back to bed.
No Regrets. Another one to combat the big snoozer voice in my head (its relentless and persistent). I remind myself that I have never regretted waking up early and doing the morning routine. Ever. Not once. Out of hundreds of times. I am always glad I did it. And while I do still enjoy lie ins, I prefer them to be the exception rather than the rule. When I have too many they become dirtied with guilt. Remember, you won’t regret it.
One Thing At A Time
Sometimes before I start those pushups I think “I can’t be bothered today. And then I’ve got to do the plank after. And then…” When I start to think like this I tell myself ‘just do the pushups, then you can decide on the plank after.’ Of course I finish the pushups, then do the plank.
Having the morning routine written down on paper helps here. When I get too much in my head, I look at the list, find where I am, and zero in on the next one thing. Not the list. The next one thing. I can always do one thing. Sometimes when 35 pushups seems like too much, I tell myself ‘just do 10 today’. Then after 10 I do 10 more. Then 10 more. Then 5 more. Breaking things down like this makes them more manageable and way more do-able.
Don’t Think. Just Do.
Sometimes the next one thing even seems like too much. When that’s the case, the voice of resistance instead changes to ‘I’m too tired for pushups today’. Override by just starting the action. If it’s really too hard I’ll find that out down there, by at least trying to do them.
Starting is the hard part. Once started, doing is easy.
Don’t get caught in a discussion with yourself about why you might need a break today – you’ve already planned out the whole thing the night before and have thought out reasons why you’re doing this. So what are you thinking about? All that’s left is to do. To do, start. So end the discussion, get down, and start doing pushups.
Reward At The End
It’s no coincidence that my routine ends with reading and coffee. They are my reward for completion, and damn do I enjoy that coffee.
Use Technology To Help
Sure, it might in some way be breeding a generation of people who can’t think for themselves and have no attention span, but technology isn’t all bad. It can be used for nobler purposes.
Alarmy is an example of using tech to help. I also use Down Dog for yoga, it gives different routines each time and has options from 10 minutes upwards. I’m not a yoga pro so I like having someone to follow. Before using down dog, I used to follow videos on Yoga With Adrienne (I started with her course 30 days of yoga).
The meditation is one on Aware (3, 4 & 5 minute meditations available) and there are other short ones you can use here and here. If losing weight or doing more exercise is a priority for you, use a Tabata timer to crush HIIT workouts, or follow lighter workouts on an app like Home Workout. Using apps helps to automate decisions – you don’t need to decide your workout routine or series of yoga postures, just follow. Whatever your aim, I’m sure there’s an app out there designed to help.
I mentioned that mental peace and clarity were priorities that are factored in to my morning routine. So as well as the meditation, I use the shower and coffee as mindfulness rituals. More on this here:
Experiment, Adapt & Update
The idea of a morning routine might seem rigid, but I actually think flexibility is important.
Your ideal morning routine this month might not be the same as it is next month. As mentioned before, my routine has changed over the last couple years, and is still changing – next week I’m planning on trying out extending the morning meditation.
If I’m sharing a room with someone or working away and it’s difficult to do, I might strip it back to just water and yoga and follow the yoga with only audio using some headphones. Or even just find a spot where I can at least do some sun salutations. Point is, things change, so don’t be afraid to try out different things and adapt your routine to what’s going on in your life.
A few books with chapters that can be read in under 5 minutes. All go well with morning coffee.
The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living – Ryan Holiday
Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zin
The War Of Art – Steven Pressfield
Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu
The Obstacle Is The Way – Ryan Holiday
Comfortable With Uncertainty – Pema Chödrön
Got good book recommendations? Comment with them below.
I’m always interested to hear about others’ routines so feel free to share yours below or any tips you might have. Until then, make the most of your mornings!