The most important part of my day is the 60 to 90 minutes after I wake up.
This time sets the tone for my day, it’s the foundation upon which everything else is built.
If I build this foundation on sand, by dicking around and letting myself stay unfocused and groggy I tend to stay that way the rest of the day. That’s fine for Sundays, but during the week it means my day is useless and I go to bed knowing I didn’t do my best.
If I build this foundation on solid ground by beginning the process of intense focus, restoring my body and giving my body a shot of nutrition the day tends to turn out much better. I’ll retain most of that focus, be more productive (professionally and physically) and go to bed satisfied.
I know for most people the hour after they wake up is the worst part of their day. It’s an hour spent scrounging for caffeine and staring ruefully at their pillow thinking “You complete me."
You might not get going until mid-morning, a few hours after waking.
Even worse you might refuse to leave your bed and have to rush as soon as you gather the strength to stand up. Starting your day with instant stress cannot be a good thing, and most of that stress will stay with you all day.
A lot of big-time thinkers, businessman and athletes have great morning routines. It seems to be a common thread in history. From Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius to Big Wave Surfer Laird Hamilton a disciplined morning routine has helped a whole bunch of impressive people do impressive things.
While everyone’s daily life is different I think there are a few simple rules to follow in establishing an effective morning routine.
When you wake up you want to feel good and function well. That refers to both your body and your mind. You don't want to be stiff and tight all day, and you don't want to carry that 5:30 AM mental fog with you all day.
Follow these basic rules, but add things that are unique to you.
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1. Move Your Body
You knew this was going to be high on the list.
There is a lot of movement dysfunction in the world. A lot of it is posture driven, resulting from sitting in front of a computer or hunching to read your cell phone all day. This causes instant pain and muscular imbalances that lead to permanent pain if not addressed.
We all have a “bad” area: the part of your body that is always tight or verging on the point of pain. This anatomic region needs to be addressed first thing in the morning.
For most people, this will be their shoulders/pecs, hips/lower back or hamstrings.
Spend 2 minutes addressing these areas first thing in the morning by statically stretchings or dynamically stretching.
After you stretch and open up the muscle you need to reinforce the new range of motion by using it. For instance, if your hips and lower back are always tight you would spend 2 minutes doing the couch stretch to address your pelvic orientation and hip flexors. After that, you would spend time sitting in a deep squat or perform some bodyweight hip thrusts to reinforce the new orientation and range of motion.
Stretch, then move. It’s the only way you can restore complete joint function. Stretch, then move EVERY DAY. If you follow through you will feel 100x better in a matter of weeks.
2. Read Something
Do not read Instagram or your Facebook feed. Read something that will challenge you, or better you.
Your mental framework is a lot like your body. It will conform or relax into whatever position you allow. Just like your body slackens and tightens into a Quasimodo like posture if you sit on your butt and read your phone all day, your mind will slacken and tight into a mush of drama and triviality if you don’t challenge it and try to push it towards something greater.
There’s a lot of talk about open-mindedness but no work being done to expand the mind in a meaningful direction. People choose what external factors define them, and they stick with those the rest of their life. It’s why everything is so contentious nowadays. No one bothers to challenge their personal status quo.
Find a good book of vignettes, like Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and read an entry every day. Find a good blog that you can read first thing in the morning that will challenge you to action, and push your understanding of yourself. Hell, even find something that motivates you and read that.
If that’s not your thing find something related to your profession that intimidates you and read about it first thing in the morning. By tackling a little bit every day you’ll be working your way towards proficiency and will no longer be intimidated.
There are a million different skills to learn that relate to your job (no matter what your job is), and the pathway to understanding those skills are now free. There’s no reason to not strive for constant improvement.
The possibilities here are endless, and I’ll be satisfied as long as you read something that does not have to do with politics or the Kardashians.
I know some of you got excited there.
Look, I know most people don’t drink enough water. It’s mind-blowing to me but it still happens.
I have some people that say to me:
“I don’t like water, but I know I need to drink it. How do I drink more water?”
You take a step back and realize how insanely, historically privileged you are to even be able to utter those words. To be able to live in a society where water is so plentiful and cheap that you can even afford to have an opinion on it other than “shit, I need this to not die.”
I’m on record saying I don’t have much sympathy for people who purposely ignore their hydration. I think it’s ridiculous that you can even have an opinion on water. Your body needs it, and you know that. Ignoring that fact is just laziness.
The best way to at least try and get enough hydration is to drink a big cup or bottle of water first thing in the morning.
Keep a water bottle by your bedside, or have a dedicated morning cup that you drink as soon as you wake up.
I don’t care just drink water. If you make it part of your morning routine you might do it more throughout the day.
But if you are one of those people who complain about the flavor of water there is no strategy other than drinking more damn water that will fix your bad habit. I know that sounds mean, but it’s a truth that can’t be obfuscated by flavoring liquid or tea.
Just drink more water and start as soon as you wake up.
A morning routine is guaranteed to better you. Anything that challenges you will spur growth, and growth is always good.
The first week or two might be annoying, and you might hate it, but you need to detach your emotion from your actions. Discipline is only developed by following through, by doing. The discipline associated with routine will bleed over into the rest of your life.
I’m not going to say that developing a morning routine will give you more energy, or put you in a better mood. What it will do, without fail, is force you to follow through. It will force you to learn how to be accountable to yourself.
If you can make yourself do these three things first thing in the morning, it means you can make yourself do other difficult things the rest of the day. Your morning is the starting point of your day, why would you waste it?