dhammapada book
  • Wake
  • Drink 1 large glass water
  • Make bed
  • 10 minutes yoga
  • More water
  • 35 pushups
  • 2 min plank
  • Cold shower
  • 15 minutes meditation
  • Read 1 chapter of a short non-fiction book
  • Coffee

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.
    • Learning and knowledge: Reading
  • Enjoyment: Reading and coffee

coffee

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.

Start Small

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.

yoga mat

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.

write 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 . AppleThis 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.

morning routine post it

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.

down dog app

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.

Mindfulness Rituals

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.

Book Recommendations

A few books with chapters that can be read in under 5 minutes. All go well with morning coffee.

dhammapada book

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
The Dhammapada

Got good book recommendations? Comment with them below.

Good Luck!

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!

tea teapot

How’s your mindfulness practice going? Approaching monk like presence? Mind still wandering a lot? Either way, if you’re here, I’m sure you’re looking for ways to improve. Today I’m going to share a way for you to become more mindful without taking any extra time out of your day. No extra meditation sessions, no more time needed out of your day. The principle is so simple that you can even practice while drinking your tea.

tea teapot

Transforming Existing Habits

If you’ve read a bit about habit forming, you’ll already be familiar with the strategy of attaching new habits to existing ones. This is the basic idea here, but rather than attaching mindfulness to our habits, we’re actually going to be transforming the habits into mindfulness practices. This is an idea I came across a few years ago after reading Thich That Hanh (who seems like the most chill man alive), and has been hugely helpful in bringing present moment awareness from my meditation session to the rest of my day.

Creating Mindful Checkpoints & Triggers for Awareness

What we want to use are everyday habits that are spread throughout the day. This is to create a series of mindful checkpoints to keep us on course and develop consistency and continuity of practice. It’s easy to get swept up in the momentum of the day, becoming rushed and going from one task to the next without truly being present. Later, we come round when the day has come and gone, and realise we’ve only been “half-there”. We’ve been absently gliding through on autopilot, and we’ve missed much of the day without being sure where we’ve really been.

“Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Ferris Bueller

ferris bueller life moves pretty fast

Mr. Bueller, a wise man

By transforming existing habits into mini-meditations, we can sprinkle mindful moments throughout the day, using our checkpoints as triggers for awareness, calling us back to the present moment, and giving us a chance to choose where we put our attention.

The Basic Method To Turning Any Action Into A Practice

Totally focus your attention on what you are doing in the present moment. When your mind wanders or you realise that you’ve begun thinking, just bring your attention back to what you are doing. Focus on the sensations you feel in your body, what you can see, what you can hear. Keep your attention tuned in to your activity as best you can.

5 Habits To Turn Into Mindfulness Practices

Here are 5 everyday habits turned mindfulness practices, complete with cheesy alliterated titles to help you remember them.

1. Awakening Ablution: The Sensual Shower

shower water

Listen to the sound of the splashing water. Notice how the water landing on your skin feels; the temperature and pressure. Take in the smell of your shower gel. As you dry yourself, feel the rub and the texture of the towel against each part of your body as you dry it, scanning your body for sensation.

Bonus: Cognizant Cold Shower
If you find that in the shower your mind easily wanders off elsewhere, flip it to cold and see how quickly you are back in the room! As your natural inclination to tighten up kicks in, relax your shoulders, and breathe deep. Surrender to the cold! As well as being effective at bringing you into the present moment, cold showers have numerous other benefits and are a good way to build discipline and practice embracing discomfort.

2. Conscious Coffee: The First Sip Of The Day

coffee

Wrap your hands round the mug and feel the warmth of the coffee permeating out against your fingers. Get your nose in there and yes, smell the coffee. Take that first sip like you’re on death row and chose coffee as your last drink – its the last sip of coffee you’re ever gonna take. Taste that goodness.

Alternative: The Taoist Tea
Not a coffee person? Do it with a tea, or whatever your morning drink is.

3. Savor The Flavor: Mindful Mouthful

food mindful eating

Choose one meal or snack in your day and make the first bite a mindful mouthful. Before you start eating, stop to think about where all the ingredients have come from and their journey to your plate. Look at the colours of the food and take on how it smells. Then, chew the first mouthful at least 10 times, taking the time to pay attention to the texture and flavour of the food. Enjoy.

Bonus: Mindful Meal
If you’re feeling ambitious, make it a full mindful meal. This will work best with a meal that you eat alone. Before you start, put your phone on airplane mode and put it face down. This will help stop your flickering mind from finding a distraction from your food. And don’t worry, the world will go on just fine without you for the course of a meal. Then, repeat as above, but making each and every bite a mindful mouthful.

4. Tuned In Toothbrushing

Just before you’re about to put the toothbrush in your mouth, stop. Take a deep breath and relax your shoulders. Now switch hands and brush your teeth with your left hand (or if you’re a leftie, your right hand). This will feel a little weird but the awkwardness will help to coerce you into being present with the act and make a normally unconscious act conscious. Focus on the task of brushing.

Extra: Using your opposite hand can be applied to many everyday tasks and can apparently help increase creativity and grow your brain. Give it a go, try stirring drinks and putting your key in the door with the opposite hand.

5. Receptive Rest

rest sleep mindfulness

This is for when you’re ready to get your sleep.

Lie on your back and feel the weight of your body on the bed. Rest your hands on your stomach and feel them rise as you inhale, and fall as you exhale. Now you’re breathing from your diaphragm, begin to make the exhale longer than your inhale.

  • Breathe in for a count of 2
  • Hold for 1
  • Breathe out for a count of 4
  • Hold for a count of 1

Continue this for a few minutes.

Adjust the 4-1-6-1 ratio as you like, the only rule is that your exhale should be longer than your inhale.

The tummy rise and fall is to make sure you’re breathing from your diaphragm (a relaxed form of breathing that occurs in mammals during a state of relaxation), and making your exhale longer than your inhale has a physiological effect that calms your body – your heart rate drops, blood vessels relax – perfect for bed.

And… a bonus 6th one, as it doesn’t strictly qualify as transforming a habit – it’s a classic habit-attach. Still, too good for me not to include…

6. Desk Downtime

Visit this website when you arrive at your desk (or before you get up from it). A surprisingly effective way to give yourself a 2 minute breather and tune back into the present. Try setting it as your homepage so its the first thing you see when you switch on.

Create Your Own

These are just examples, but you get the idea. Be creative and make your own checkpoints by transforming other daily habits into opportunities for awareness.

Implement The Practices. One by One.

Daily habits can potentially act as cornerstones to bring you back to presence throughout the days that make up your life, so it’s worth taking the time to implement them as mindfulness practices. It’d be easy to try and take them all on at once, fail, and then give up altogether. Instead, I’d recommend installing them one at a time.

Choose one, for example showering, and really target this window of your day to make it as mindful as possible. Have ‘sensual shower’ on your to-do list every day. Leave a note on the shower nozzle to remind you. Fully dedicate the shower to mindfulness. After a few weeks, it should become second nature and you won’t need to have it on your to-do list to remember doing it. Congratulations, you’ve successfully installed a trigger for a mindful habit (though you will still need to practice the mindfulness during the activity).

Whilst continuing with your sensual showers, choose the next habit to install. Let’s go for conscious coffee. Now go about it with the same amount of effort: Have it on your to-do list, leave a post-it on your coffee mug etc. Stack your mindfulness practices this way and in a few months you will have a series of mindful checkpoints throughout your day.

Monthly Challenges

calendar month mindfulness

To make a game of it, choose a calendar month and make a mindfulness challenge. For example, March is going to be sensual shower month: “Every single shower I take in March, I will pay attention to my senses.” By April, you’ll be ready for conscious coffee month: “I will take that moment to make the first sip of the day a conscious one.”

That’s it. Good luck. I wish you many more mindful moments!

meditating beach

meditating beach

Meditation is on the rise. As it grows, so do the number of meditation apps and there are now so many available that I wouldn’t be surprised if you felt overwhelmed at the choice. Not an ideal way to start a journey to calm your mind. So on my quest to help anyone who wants to try, start or keep up meditation, I’ve tried out a selection of apps and compiled this list of the best ones (yes, I’ve been meditating a lot in the process).

Find One That Works For You

Some are simple timers, some have profiles and progress trackers, most have guided meditations. There are many different types and they will suit different needs. I suggest looking through to find one that appeals to you and then try it for a week or two. I’ve put a summary below each app so you can skim through. If you’re new to meditation I’d recommend starting with one that has an introductory course – info on these with the summary.

N.B. All of the apps in this list have at least some free material, whilst others are entirely free. I can’t comment on the paid versions or features of any of these apps, the info here is on the free versions.

Without further ado:

Insight Timer

insight timer app meditation

The most popular completely free meditation app, insight is comprehensive and has a tonne of features. There are loads of guided meditations available, with and without music, even in numerous languages. You can of course use as many or as few features as you like (I typically only use the timer).  However, if you like extra features and think that tracking your progress or storing presets for different timed meditations would be useful, this one might suit. There are really too many features for me to include here, far more than I’ve ever used, the best way is to just download it and have a look round for yourself. You can create a user profile, add friends and send messages to other meditators. It is almost a bridge between a meditation app and a social networking site. I like that whenever you finish a meditation you are told how many people around the world meditated at the same time as you, and have an easy option to tell them ‘thanks for meditating with me’. Nice touch.

Summary:
– Totally free
– Comprehensive app
– Thousands of guided meditations with and without music, ambient music tracks.
– Customizable timer with options for reminder bells throughout.
– Personal profile; Track progress over sessions per day, and as well as logging your sessions, add friends & send messages.

Download: here

Headspace

headspace meditation app

When you start on Headspace you will be led through ‘Take 10’; an excellent free ten-day course for beginners with a ten minute guided meditation each day. Take 10 is perfect for beginners as it introduces the practice of meditation in a very accessible way and has a few short animations on some days which help to illustrate and explain some of the ideas and concepts behind meditation. The meditations are guided by British founder Andy Puddicombe and I found them to be very relaxing. After the 10 days are up you will be invited to subscribe. If you are new to meditation I would recommend doing the 10 days to learn the basics, and then decide if you want to pay subscription or go on to one of the other free apps to continue your practice.

Intro course: Take 10 – a ten-day course for beginners with a ten minute guided meditation each day.

Summary: Best free introductory 10-day course out there. Sadly nothing else in the free version.

Download: here

Calm

calm app meditation

Slick app with a nice layout. When you start you will be led through ‘7 Days of Calm’, a week long course for beginners in which you can learn the basics of mindfulness meditation through a ten minute guided session each day. The course introduces ideas like awareness and working with thoughts, and teaches mindful breathing techniques, concentration, and how to recognize distraction. The free version is much more extensive than Headspace and after the intro course there are loads more meditations which come under headings of; body scan, loving kindness, calm light, and forgiveness. You can choose the length of the meditation with options between 3 and 30 minutes so you can find a meditation that’s suited for you. There is also a free sample collection of 10 minute sessions from the daily calm program that are based on themes like choice, resilience, gratitude, impermanence, and letting go. All the meditations are guided by an American female.

Intro course: 7 Days Of Calm – teaching the basics of mindfulness in a 10 minute guided meditation per day.

Summary: Slick app. Many features on free version. Good introductory 7 day course. Many different types of meditations at different lengths. Other features including profile for tracking stats and streak, daily meditation reminder, and simple timer for a timed or open-ended unguided meditation.

Download: here

Zazen Meditation Timer

zazen meditation timer app

 

Super basic meditation timer that I like because of its simplicity. When you open the app you all you need to do is press ‘Start Meditation’ and you will get a 5 second countdown before a bell rings to start a 10 minute meditation. Another bell will signify the end. That’s it! Perfect for a no-fuss way to have 10 minutes in silence.

If you want more or less than 10 minutes, you can enter the settings and change the length of the practice.

Summary: No-thrills timer for a silent meditation. Default is 10 minutes but time of meditation changeable.

Download: here

Aware

aware meditation app

Aware has a 21-day course which will build you from 10 minutes a day to 20. The first week is free and each is 10 minutes. The sessions are similar to headspace but without animations and led by an Indian rather than a British male. What I like about Aware is the ‘energizers’ – short 3-5 minute meditations that you can slip into your day. I’ve been setting an alarm around 1pm everyday to do one of these and it always seems to catch me when I’m starting to feel rushed. After the short meditation I always feel calmer and more relaxed. The benefit of these shorter ones are that they’re too short to say no. If it was a 10 minute meditation I’d be tempted to skip it but I can always find 3 minutes. Even though its short it halts the momentum of my thinking mind long enough for me to feel a difference to my mood.

Intro course: Free first 7 days of introductory course. 10 minutes per day. Similar to headspace.

Summary: Good ‘energizers’ which are 3-5 minute meditations. Good for slipping into busy schedules.

Download: here

Stop, Breathe & Thinkstop breathe & think meditation app

OK so this is number 6 – I’ve added this on as an update to the article because I’ve been using it recently and think it deserves a mention.

When you open Stop, Breath & Think you’ll be prompted to close your eyes for 10 seconds and check in with how you’re feeling mentally and physically, and then input what you’re feeling and your emotions. Based on this, you’ll be given suggestions of two or three different types of meditations, and after choosing one, you can then choose the length. Alternatively, if you know what type of meditation you’re after, you can just choose it straight off the bat. Nice variety and another good option.

Summary: Sleek app. Many different types of meditation at different lengths. Nice check-in feature before you start a meditation.

Download: here

Good Luck!

Hope you find one that can help you build a regular meditation habit, as I genuinely believe it is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Good luck!

Did I miss any great apps? Let me know and leave a comment below.

 

The other day I stumbled upon this short video which begins with an interviewer saying to Bill Murray:

“Tell me what it is that you want that you don’t have.”

His answer is surprising and meaningful. I’ve long been a huge fan of Murray as a comedy actor (who isn’t?) and I was pleasantly surprised to hear him talking about the power of mindfulness and being present. I won’t speak for him so I’ll say no more on his intriguing answer, you can see for yourself.

– If you can’t watch the video I’ve posted some quotes below.

  • N.B. The volume is low on this video so you’ll probably want to crank it up a little.

Without using the word mindfulness, Bill is clearly aware of the benefits of raising your consciousness and being more aware and present, and I hope someone recommends him to start meditating. If anyone knows Bill please send him over to my page 😉 – Why You Should Start Meditating Today

Quotes

‘Are you here? And most of the time you’re not’

‘That’s not me there, that’s what I’m doing now, but that’s not necessarily me’

‘I’d like to just be more here all the time and I’d like to see what I could get done, what I could really do, if I were able to not get distracted, to not change channels in my mind and body – so I’m my own channel, really here, and always with you. You could look at me and go ‘OK he’s there, there’s someone there…”

‘This is not a dress rehearsal, this is your life’

‘You kill a man, you kill every opportunity he ever had’

‘It resonated, it rang a bell inside of me, a bell that rings a lot that says “Remember Bill, come back, remember, remember. This is your life, this is the only one you’ve got”‘

 

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

 

Do you know of any other famous people speaking about meditation or mindfulness? We’d love to share it too, send us a message or leave a comment!