The Morning Routine: How to Create One & Stick to it

Start the Day Right: The Morning Routine

A Typical Start

It’s early morning and you’re awoken by the intrusive ringing of your alarm. With the rest of your body paralyzed, you throw your arm onto the bedside table and use your finger to frantically search for the snooze button. As the bleeping stops, you bury your head back into the pillow, hoping to return exactly where you left off.

Nine minutes go by before, defeated by the alarm’s second wave, you grab your phone and see what’s happening in the world. First, it’s WhatsApp, then Instagram and finally YouTube. You reply to any unread messages, catch up on last night’s stories and then check for something of interest in your subscription feed. Fifteen minutes go by before, eventually, you decide to get out of bed.

Now aware of the time, you rub the sleep from your eyes as the Nespresso machine slowly reels you downstairs and into the kitchen. From there, the warm and friendly smell of coffee signals that you’ve arrived. Your eyes widen on that first sip. Another day has arrived.

Win the Morning

There are a myriad benefits to designing your own morning routine – or “bootup sequence” as Tim Ferriss, American entrepreneur and podcaster, refers to it. The certainty of having a structure, for one, can act as a powerful counterbalance to the everyday uncertainty of life. Each morning, you wake up knowing what your first few steps are. In this way, you reduce decision fatigue and become more purposeful with your time.

A morning routine can allow you to implement positive habits that you may not otherwise find the time for. Perhaps you’ve heard of the benefits of meditation but you’re always forgetting to try; maybe you keep skipping workouts, too tired after a long day at work; or perhaps, like many of us, you’re just sick of starting each day on your phone.

Derren Brown describes the latter issue in his book, Happy:

“Those first few moments of the day, when we are still suggestible enough to slip back into dreams unfinished, have been invaded by the outside world’s blaring cries for our weary attention. And our brains, still spongy and soaked in semi-sleep, have had nothing of the preparation needed to distance themselves from the onslaught.”

You’ve probably already heard the quote “win the morning, win the day”. By ticking off ‘small wins’ early on, you build momentum that naturally spills over and sets the tone for the rest of the day. What’s more, with the current COVID-19 crisis, many of us are now required to work from home: this is the best time to reassess how we are starting each day.

Anchor Your Routine

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that our habits unfold in a three-step process he describes as following a cue, a routine and a reward. He notes that habits cannot be removed but that they can be replaced by changing how we respond to a trigger.

For this reason, it’s worth anchoring your routine to the act of actually getting up. Quite often, people will make the mistake of trying to anchor the routine to a specific time, but as we all know, waking up earlier is not always easy. For the sake of consistency, it might be worth lowering your initial expectations. In this way, you can still follow your routine if you wake up hungover on a Saturday afternoon. You’re not trying to create the ‘perfect morning’ but, instead, a sequence of habits that you consider worthwhile and can frequently come back to.

Gradually Build Up

Sadly, life isn’t a Drake song and going from 0 to 100 just isn’t possible. Anything of real significance takes time to create and a morning routine is no exception. It’s pretty unlikely that you’ll suddenly carry out an hour long routine if you’re not yet in the habit of carrying out a five minute one. Start small.

One of the easiest ways to build a new habit is to ‘stack’ it on top of an existing behaviour. This is how, with time, your morning routine can take on a life of its own. But – take note – it starts with a single act, or a ‘keystone habit’, as Duhigg refers to it in the same book. This is why it’s worth starting with something simple that you can easily keep up.

On average, people lose between one to one-and-a-half pounds of water each night so perhaps the easiest place to start is with a glass of water first thing in the morning. Not only will hydrating help you wake up, it’s also a relatively easy habit to introduce and to be consistent with. Making your bed is also good, along this same reasoning.

Once your keystone habit becomes automatic, you can then stack another habit on top of it through the use of “if-then implementation” plans. It’s pretty straightforward – essentially you’re just following a formula of “if x, then y”. For example, if I make my bed, then I will drink a glass of water. By following this pattern, you can slowly build a more detailed morning ritual where you’re eventually swinging between each habit like vines on a tree.

Aim for Consistency

Naturally, on some days you’re not going to wake up in the mood to follow a morning routine. This doesn’t mean that you can’t follow through with it anyway. The excuses you have today will likely be valid tomorrow as well. Remind yourself that, any routine you’ve created, you’ve likely done so with your best interests in mind and so, to reap the rewards, you’ll have to be consistent and trust the process.

There’ll be a lot of days you won’t want to do – nor see the point – but, by making a conscious effort, you’re practicing skills that will spill over into other areas of your life. For a start, you’ll be practicing being more deliberate with your time, building discipline and, hopefully making time for the things you consider important. It’s difficult to truly see the effects you’re putting into motion until they’re unmissable. Ask yourself, what are the consequences of starting each day in this way?

Make it Your Own

If you’re unsure as to why you’re doing something, you probably won’t keep it up for very long. So, with that, try and focus on stuff that’s important to you. For example, if you find it difficult to sleep at night, you might consider going for a morning walk so you can get early exposure to daylight and help regulate your circadian rhythm. If you often find yourself feeling stiff at work, you might consider ten minutes of yoga.

Your morning routine should be personal to you and correspond to your own set of goals and personal standards. However, it doesn’t have to be a single, rigid process without variation. Treat it as a helpful guideline rather than a list of strict rules. In taking this approach, you’ll be more likely to enjoy the process.

Ultimately, a morning routine can be a great way to incorporate different habits into your lifestyle. By following a routine you free up mental bandwidth and avoid the slow start of time needlessly wasted on your phone. As the pattern becomes more familiar, it becomes easier to follow and its effects should hopefully become more pronounced.

In Summary

  1. Do whatever you can to ensure high quality sleep each night.
  2. Anchor your routine to the act of getting out of bed, rather than a specific time. This will help in being consistent.
  3. Start with a single ‘keystone’ habit that you can easily stick to. For example, drinking a glass of water or making your bed.
  4. Implement new habits gradually (i.e. one at a time, over the course of several months) and make sure they’re in alignment with your larger goals. You probably won’t stick to something if you don’t know why you’re doing it.
  5. Create an order to your routine using ‘if-then plans’ to help make it an ingrained pattern.
  6. Try your best to do it on days you don’t feel like, reminding yourself of your reasons for having started.
  7. Consider the routine a guideline rather than a strict set of rules. Add variation where you can and switch it up if it’s feeling like a chore.
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