Perhaps I am getting older, but I have started enjoying the leisure hours available in the morning far more than the leisure hours available before bed. I have developed a morning routine, and feel like it has contributed to a rather large increase in productivity and well-being. However, making the switch from night owl to morning shark took some time, and a lot of concerted effort.
From 19-28 years of age I stretched the last hours of the night as long as possible. As the clock got closer and closer to midnight I’d be calculating how much later I can stay up, and deciding how quickly I can wake up and get to work in the morning. Sometimes at my weakest, in an attempt to justify staying up later to watch another episode of whatever show I’d forget in two months, I’d decide to skip breakfast the next morning or have a protein shake instead of waking up at a decent time and eating a real meal, giving myself ten minutes to wake up and be in the car on the way to work.
In my experience this started a cycle of always being behind, and I gained very little in that extra hour of two where I chose to stay up, rather than just go to sleep. By stretching the last hours of the night, and shortening the morning, I was starting my day off behind. I’d be waking up in a hurry, getting ready for work in a hurry, driving to work in a hurry, and not really enjoying a significant part of my day. This stressed state was self-inflicted by my choices and lasted throughout the day. By night time when I was finished everything and it was time to relax, I’d be looking to stretch those hours once again, since the preceding hours of the day I had never left that stressed state I started in the morning. A vicious cycle had been born.
When you get caught in this cycle of seeing how little time you can spend awake before getting to work/class, etc. you are in for a hell of a ride and a month or two can pass before you even realize what you’ve been doing for yourself.
I inadvertently stumbled into a way to change this, and have my appetite to blame. I decided I wanted to commit to trying the Wim Hof breathing techniques. I was lured in by claims of being able to retain your breathe without oxygen in the lungs for over three minutes. It is important to do the breathing techniques on an empty stomach and since I crush food most of the day this meant that I had to wake up a bit earlier in the morning to give myself a half hour to do the breathing.
I first began to dabble with this about 9 months ago and it took about 7 months for the habit to set in and be easy. For about two months now I have been waking up an hour before work (even when I am my own boss), to go through my morning routine. I would say I consistently do this 5/7 days a week. If for some reason I have a shit sleep, I will take that hour for extra sleep, because adequate sleep is so important for my functioning. I feel so much better throughout the day, now that I have a consistent morning routine.
My morning routine is as follows:
1- 2 Sun Salutations + roughly 1:00 of freestyle stretching/movement (Arms swings, etc.)
2- 3 Rounds Wim Hof Breathing Technique + 100 Strokes Kapalbhati
3- Boil Water > Pour into French Press with Fresh Coffee
4- :30-:90 Cold Shower
5- Coffee Time
Now, I am sure a few readers are going to view this morning routine business as a luxury and think it is not realistic for people with careers, bosses, and families. I can imagine settings in which that may be the case, like if your kids wake up before you do, and your mornings start that way. However, I think for a lot of people, giving yourself more time in the morning simply means going to bed a half hour earlier and waking up half an hour early. I don't mean simple as effortless as it took me 7 months to figure it out.
For most folks it will mean turning off Netflix , the depressing late-night news, or Sportscentre just a bit earlier each night. As I mentioned before, in my own experience, I was not adding much value to my life by stretching out the evening, especially during the week. Furthermore, I was shortening my morning, which led to a feeling of being behind as soon as I woke up, and this lasted throughout the day, until it was evening time again.
Adjusting to this was not easy. I had written down in my schedule to wake up and breathe for weeks before it worked. I would be lying in bed staring at the ceiling, pissed off at myself for failing again, knowing I wouldn’t want to face a 6 hour sleep just to breathe. But, eventually I wore my bad habit down and have taken control of the morning hours, and can feel the influence it has has on my mental state throughout the day. My anxiety levels have definitely decreased despite a much more extensive work load in the past months.
Now, my morning routine is just one possibility. There are a million different morning routines out there that could work for each individual. It doesn’t have to involve breathing or yoga, or anything fitness/wellness minded (however anything you do to improve your well-being can be considered fitness). Your routine may be waking up, letting out the dogs, making a tea, and writing out what you intend to achieve that day. By slowing down the morning, you create a sense of calm and a better relationship with time that lasts throughout the day. Furthermore, by spending more time awake before you have to be “on” will lead to better performance in work and relationships. How many times do you get to work at 8 or 9 am and feel like your brain doesn’t turn on til 10am?
If you don’t believe me, here is a link that can serve as a gateway to the world of morning routines. Timothy Ferris, author of Tools of Titans, interviewed a large sample of highly successful people and the morning routine stood out as a part of people’s success. He describes it as the most important 60-90 minutes of your day. By accomplishing something small first thing in the morning, you set the day off right, ready to kick ass.
If you have a morning routine, please share it in the facebook comments, so others can gain insight into how different morning routines may look.
Grit Human Performance