Imagine the following scenario. You wake up in the morning with the alarm ringing in your ears. You know that you must leave for work in an hour or so. You brush quickly, take a bath and put together a quick breakfast, something minimal like a sandwich with jam and a quick cup of tea. The clock is ticking away and the rest of your morning is spent getting dressed as fast as you can and getting your office bag in order, while taking a few quick looks at your phone for new emails and updates. Finally you rush out of home hoping to catch your train / bus to work.
Now imagine that you wake up in the morning and spend a few moments to stretch and take a deep breath. You enjoy the view from your window and steadily start your next sequence of actions. You fix yourself a healthy breakfast rich in nutrients and have it slowly enjoying each flavour. You spend some lovely time with your loved ones. You take some time to work out, meditate and read a book. Then you get ready for the day. You transition from shut-eye sleep to complete wakefulness in small steps, fresh and ready to face the day. You become a healthier and better person day by day.
Which one of the above is you?
For more that 5 years, I could identify very well with the first paragraph, leaving for office within an hour of waking up. While I enjoyed the rush (as most Mumbaikars would), I lost the richness of the morning experience. Over the last one year, Priya (my wife) and I have built a steady morning routine that enables us to ease through the morning, ready to take on the world.
Let us see in this post what a good morning routine can do for you and what are some activities that can make up a good routine.
Benefits of a morning routine
Before I start with the benefits, it goes without saying that you should get a good night’s sleep by going to bed early and wake up in the morning at a reasonable hour. I wake up at 5am, but anything within 8am is a good start to the day. Any later than that and you will most likely be catching up on chores during the productive hours of the day and or may find yourself rushing to start the real work of the day without spending some relaxed time with yourself. That said, it is okay to sleep in occasionally during weekends and holidays, when you don’t have seriously productive plans.
Here are the benefits of a well-established morning routine.
- A morning routine can build up a system for the rest of the day and even for the rest of the week. I spend as much as 15 minutes every morning, writing down my day’s priorities and scheduling my day on a calendar. I find that this can eliminate a lot of useless deeds for the day and make it feel lighter and more purposeful.
- A morning routine gradually gets you into the zone. Just like you cannot drive a vehicle straight into the fourth or fifth gear from neutral, you need to gradually segue into your productive zone from a state of sleep. A morning routine handholds you as you step from eyes shut to eyes wide open to face the world! I used to wake up and rush out of home within an hour to catch my train to work, but it was stressful. Over the last year, I have built up my morning with a routine that takes over a couple of hours and slowly brings me into my most productive mode in a way that is totally stress-free.
- A morning routine eliminates things that you should not be doing too early in the day. My systematic morning routine means that I don’t switch on the TV or peek into social networks within my first waking hour. I spend time on activities which help me be more mindful. It gives me a positive start to the day, whereas TV and social networks often highlight negative and stressful news, completely destroying the term ‘Good morning’!
- A good morning routine helps you reflect on yourself and helps makes you a more mindful and a better person. I cultivated habits such as meditation, morning journal and visualisation (more on these later), helping me connect with my inner self. I learnt more about myself in a deeper way and tweaked myself to bring out a better version of me.
- A morning routine involving the great outdoors helps you soak in the morning sun which is rich in vitamin D and a fresher and cleaner air. Taking up exercise early in the morning revs up your body to give you an amazing start to the day.
- A good home-cooked breakfast has been shown to bump up your energy levels right from the day’s start. I have been consistent at this for more than 2 years now. Having a healthy and filling home-cooked breakfast, that I make myself, helps me avoid hunger pangs that would make me turn to fried, road-side snacks like Vada Pav or a synthetic, preservative-loaded and fat-laced Happy Meal.
- Most of all, I get a high out of being in control of a situation. By picking, establishing and executing a morning routine, I tell myself that I am in complete control of how I start my day and that motivates me to love everyday.
The above list of benefits is definitely not exhaustive and I urge you to build a routine to tangibly see what magic it can weave for you.
Morning routine activity suggestions
I have been trying quite a few suggestions for activites during a morning routine. After experimentation, I have retained a few that work for me. But here is a list of activities that I love as parts of a routine. I stumbled upon some of them, but the majority of them are ideas inspired by thought leaders whom I regularly follow.
- Meditation: Woodcutters and chefs sharpen their knives after every performance. Meditation does the same for the mind. There have been many arguments about what constitutes a perfect meditation, but everyone agrees upon one thing. You silence your mind such that it stops thinking too much, so that it gets the pause it deserves. The principle to is focus on things like a single neutral word, or to the sound of your breath or to a soft music-only melody or to a guided voice. Meditation can be verrrry hard at first, but once you get a hang of it, it becomes easier. Personally for me, soft music with absolutely no lyrics works best. When Priya and I are travelling, we use the ambient sounds like the sound of waves, flowing river, a waterfall or bird chirps as our focus sound.
Home or away, this is the first morning routine activity that I do everyday.
- Journaling: Journaling is the system of recording your thoughts on paper. There is something cognitive about putting your thoughts out on paper with your hand. The thoughts get better organised and structured and this helps you solve problems that you thought were impossible to solve. There are two categories of journaling. Structured journaling is when you have a specific format, such as ‘five things I am grateful for’, ‘my top three priorities for the day’, etc. Unstructured journaling is like doodling your running thoughts and freezing them on paper. Both formats work equally well and you should experiment with what works for you. The formats that I personally use and recommend are the 5-minute journal and the Freedom Journal.
- Visualisation: This is the process of visualising your future goals in your mind very vividly. And I mean the vividness literally. E.g. if you dream of a trip to Ladakh, you should vividly imagine the cold air hitting your face, the clouds floating in the sky, the snow caps shimmering in the morning sun and whatever it is that you typify about Ladakh. Visualisation makes you feel closer to your goals and the concreteness of the images help you plan for your goals better. E.g. if you see yourself wearing a grey fleece jacket, you are going to remember to buy that jacket before your trip. It is also said that by concrete visualisation, you invoke the positive energies and align the universe to actually provide you with what you are looking for. That does sound both spiritual and sci-fi at the same time, but, hey, no harm in trying, right? The visualisation process does give you an amazing start to your morning, by creating super-positive thoughts. Jack Canfield has written an excellent article about visualisation here.
- Planning for the day: Pick up a paper day planner, Google Calendar or Outlook. But planning your day to confirm and eliminate activities based on your priorities can be empowering and can reduce clutter. Your day will look much more streamlined and aligned to your goals.
After meditation, journaling and visualisation, my mind reaches a certain state of wakefulness and planning for the day is the first thing that I do before I start any other activity. My tool of choice is the Google Calendar and I have written a post about scheduling here.
- Reading: Well, I don’t mean the newspaper. Really! Inspite of keeping you informed, newspapers reek of negativity and sensationalism, two feelings you can stay away from early in the day. I am suggesting reading some really good non-fiction books that help you build your life. I really love to read books like ‘Stumbling on happiness‘, ‘Smarter, faster, better‘, ‘Obstacle is the way‘, ‘Checklist manifesto‘ and ‘Four hour work week‘. These kinds of books help me learn something new everyday and implement it in my life. I am a software techie and I really love catching up with tech blogs over Feedly.
- Cooking breakfast: Sure, your mom or your significant other can make you sumptuous breakfast and give you a healthy start to your day. But there is something amazing about making it on your own. Making my breakfast has had tremendous benefits for me. One is the sense of being in control as I know exactly what goes into my own food. Second is the sense of accomplishment when the disarray of ingredients come together to form a lovely, colourful magic on my plate. And cooking is a passive task where my mind is mostly on idle and I pair it up with another activity such as listening to some wonderful podcasts or uplifting music.
Over the last year, Priya and I have learnt a ton about how to make our life better by listening to podcasts when we cook. In fact the prospect of listening to podcasts has actually made us look forward to cooking.
- Listening to music: If pounding beats and rap are your thing, please go ahead by all means. But they typically don’t work for me, nor do romantic songs. What I like early in the morning are songs that celebrate life and inspire. I have two morning playlists, one for Hindi and one for Tamil songs. Priya and I absolutely love our playlists and any last shreds of sleepiness are completely shattered as we listen to them. Here are our playlists – Hindi , Tamil, Tamil Classic . You can pick whatever songs work for you and get ready to rock.
- Working out: If you love the outdoors early in the morning, you can go for a run, ride your bicycle or hit the gym. Any kind of physical activity revs up your body, limbers your muscles and wakes you up to full alertness. At this hour, the rate of metabolism is also at its optimum.
- Bathing and grooming: A bath early in the morning works wonders to wake you up. You may take your pick of hot or cold water. Cold water increases the blood rush, while hot water is therapeutic on sore muscles. As with most of India, I use warm water in peak monsoon and winter months, while cold water is extremely inviting in summer and the onset of winter.
This can be accompanied with shaving, trimming your eyebrows or whatever works for you. Working on my cleanliness and appearance early in the day makes me feel fresh and boosts my confidence.
A systematic morning routine helps you set the tone for your day and win it. Do you have a set morning routine? What are some of the activities that make up your morning routine? How do they make your day better? Please let me know in the comments.