Can a ‘Morning Routine’ help you be more positive and achieve more?
After having kids and getting into school runs, my mornings became whirlwind of chaos, rushing and panic. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I realised it could be different. I noticed more and more people in the personal development space mentioning their ‘morning routine’ as if it were a sacred thing. And then I heard mention of a book called the Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. So I bought the book and started experimenting with the idea myself.
There are many different ways to structure a morning routine. But in essence, it is about starting your day earlier than you normally would and being more intentional about the high value things you might spend that precious time on. This can range from meditation, to exercise, to yoga, to reading books that might help you progress in work or life, to visualisation and much more.
Don’t, however, think that it’s about jamming more work or tasks into your day and ‘being more productive’. It’s about being more strategic and getting yourself into better physical and mental shape to face the day, which then has the knock on effect of helping you to be more productive.
Here’s a little glimpse of how my previous chaotic week day mornings often went:
- One of the three children (and on occasion more than one!) would wake up / be sick / lose their precious blankey etc. etc. in the middle of the night and I’d stumble to their room to sort them out (or my husband would but I would often still wake up).
- I’d then struggle for an hour or two to get back to sleep, invariably ending up feeling very frustrated.
- Either my youngest would then come in and wake me at some horribly early hour, or the alarm would then go off when I thought I’d just got back to sleep.
- I’d wake up again, feeling very grumpy and hard done by (which my husband can attest to).
- I’d reach for my phone, check my email, feel my pulse racing as some message or other triggered stress!
- My mind would then be all over the place, flitting between work issues, time pressures, all the tasks I had to do, and so on.
- I’d rush around, make different breakfasts for everyone, yell at the kids approximately 10 times each on average to get their uniform on, scramble around to get all their bags, coats, sports gear, and musical instruments together, and usher them out of the house for our daily school run.
- I’d drop the kids off, drive home, grab another coffee, and dash straight into the office, already feeling behind at 9.05 even though I’d have been up about 3-4 hours by then.
It’s exhausting just thinking about this!
I realised this was not a good way to start my day. If I wanted to be more positive and achieve more, surely I needed a better start to give me a strong mindset to tackle the day?
Fixing your sleep
This is a topic in and of itself! I found mindfulness a revelation that has helped me tackle this and I’ll be covering this morning in a future blog. But I think you need to be well rested in order to make such an early morning routine work for you without feeling exhausted by the end of the day.
Experimenting with early mornings
I am not a morning person. But Hal Elrod thinks everyone can be. I tried getting up really early and I managed to get over the struggle of leaving my bed while it was dark outside and everyone else still slept, and I managed to achieve things during that time. But after a couple of weeks of doing this, I just ended up feeling tired later in the day. It was just too early to commit to every single day.
This could be countered by going to bed earlier but who wants to go to bed at 9pm? I go to bed at 10pm most evenings now, unless I’m out at a social event, and that works for me as I value having a couple of hours in the evenings with my husband and no kids around.
Perhaps I should have persevered but I’ve come to an arrangement that is more flexible and I find works for me.
I also don’t cover all the things Hal Elrod recommends in his books (some of them such as exercise I do at different times of the day). But I think it’s fun to experiment with the different things you can do and figure out what works for you (see a list of suggestions you could experiment with below).
Here’s the morning routine that I now follow perhaps 75% of the time.
Wake up earlier
I wake up most mornings between 5am and 5.45am. The exact timing depends on what I’d been doing the day before, how tired I felt, what time I managed to get to bed etc. so I like to keep it a little flexible. Sometimes I just need more sleep and it’s closer to 6am or 6.30am on rare occasions. But I always aim to build in more time, even if it’s 15 minutes, before getting to my boys and starting our family morning.
Ditch the phone
I had to work hard to battle my instinct to grab my phone and check in on my email as soon as I woke up. But it a habit that stuck. I so rarely check my phone in the morning now until after the school drop off – no email, slack, or social media. And while I may not be as responsive as I used to be, it hasn’t impacted my work. But it has made my mornings so much better. I don’t think about niggly little problems or challenges I have to face or feel under pressure to respond to someone else’s view of what my priorities should be.
Ok – I’m not great at this so I need to make it more of a habit to have some water by my bed for when I wake up, but rehydrating and starting your day with a glass of water is energising and good for you.
I’ll then pick a yoga video from Youtube. I search for whatever time slot I have, such as 15 minutes, morning yoga and I have a few favourites now. You can also pick ‘for neck and shoulders, or lower back, or hamstrings or whatever area you might feel you want to focus on.
I’ve found that I really enjoy yoga and seeing the improvements in my flexibility over the past couple of years of doing this, but it also helps to make me feel more grounded and calm and better able to deal with my family!
In fact, when I don’t do it I notice the difference and feel more irritable so I try and make myself do this as many mornings as I can.
Once I’ve completed the yoga video I either sit cross-legged or lie down and focus on my breathing for five minutes. There are different methods for meditative or mindfulness breathing that you can look up but the key is to keep working to train your mind to focus on your breath rather than your thoughts.
This one can be a big struggle when you start. It’s easier said than done to focus on your breath and not your thoughts, when the thoughts keep popping up and you don’t even notice you’ve forgotten your breath as minutes pass by. But you just have to persevere as you train your brain to be calmer.
Visualise yourself achieving your goals for the day
Most mornings I spend a couple of minutes focusing on the three things I’ve identified the day before about what I want to achieve in that day and visualise myself achieving them (I use other times to visualise bigger picture goals but more on that in another blog).
The idea here is to focus my mind on things that will move me forwards on my bigger picture goals, rather than niggly, every-day pressing things that might need to be done. Of course you can’t escape the niggly things, but tackle the bigger things first and you’ll feel more productive and find it easier to then whizz through the others when you’ve achieved something of meaning for yourself.
I also found visualising hard when I started. I wasn’t sure what to think about, how to picture it, whether my thoughts were big enough or not. But having done some work on it, and having been to events (like the Get the Life You Want event which you can read about here), I now feel more comfortable with it.
I then think about three things that I feel grateful for.
This ‘gratitude’ practice has been really valuable to me. No matter what might be on my mind or what challenges I know I’ll face in the day, focusing on gratitude makes me realise how lucky I am and puts all those things in perspective.
Often it will be gratitude about my husband or my boys, but it can also be something about my house, or my friends, or the way I’m able to work, or the sunshine streaming in, or the fact I’m alive. Thinking appreciatively of things just can’t help but make you feel happy.
I emerge a calmer, more controlled person ready to deal more compassionately with my husband, my kids and myself.
As always, don’t expect perfection.
It may not be possible to be perfect and do this every day! The key is to always be kind to yourself and just do what you can. Building in 15 minutes where you stretch, focus on your breathing and think about three things you’re grateful for, just a couple of times a week will still help you feel more in control than not doing it at all.
And once you start to see the benefits of this, you will want to do it more, believe me.
Sometimes the kids are up early and I have to adapt my plans. I can manage to do some yoga with them around (‘helping me’!). But quiet meditation just isn’t possible! If I don’t get the chance to practice mindfulness for five minutes, I might extract myself at some point in the morning and find a quiet corner for two minutes of calming thoughts… Or find another point during the day to do that.
Sometimes I know that more sleep is just too important for me to have a good day and I will forgo the practice. But just try to keep coming back to it as much as you can. Once you’ve established a habit it gets easier to drop in and out of it. But I now feel very motivated to carve out this time as I can see the difference in the way I feel and behave when I manage my morning routine.
Ideas for your miracle morning
If you wanted to play with a morning routine yourself, here are some suggestions for what you can incorporate into yours:
- Reading (ideally positive, personal development or strategic books to get you thinking big picture – avoid the news first thing as it will only bring you down!)
- Meditation / mindfulness
I plan to continue experimenting and building in other practices from this list. Do you have any kind of morning routine? Let me know how you get on with your own experiments for building a more purposeful morning routine in the comments below.