What do you do after you first wake up? If you’re like most busy people, you grab your phone and check your email, your calendars, and anything else that will thrust you back into the rat race. If you’re like most 20-somethings, there is no routine—just a mad dash out the door.
There is a third option that has picked up a great deal of steam, as droves of successful people have begun to reveal their morning routine that they “couldn’t live without.” While I don’t believe any routine is “magic in a bottle” or “will fix everything,” the right morning ritual can be an extremely powerful tool. It provides momentum, direction, and clarity to drive production and energy through the rest of your day. Your morning habits can become a powerful incremental dose that, over time, leads to tremendous positive growth, however you might define that.
Busy people need to own the morning! And in our sedentary world, movement must become the centerpiece of it.
People often come to me for advice when they’re trying to make a nutrition change or find time to work out. They seem a little frantic as they describe the unpredictability and frenzied pace of their average day. Their days are a long game of whack-a-mole.
It seems like everybody is impoverished for time and in deep need of some ruthless cutting of the non-essentials. To do that, we need to identify what we really want out of life, and what we really value. Most of us understand that our physical and mental health need to be higher priorities. Once we have an idea of what the real essentials are, then we can go about creating a routine that spurs a positive domino effect.
What Makes the Morning So Magical?
When you wake up, whatever you do first sets the tone for your day. Most of what we do and how we think are habits. They are conditioned responses to stimuli. Each habit is just a loop of cue, routine, and reward. Rewards may be as simple as a feeling of accomplishment, or as ornate as a post-workout smoothie that you love.
Waking up is a very reliable and consistent cue. If you shift your hours to allow a slightly earlier wakeup, you’ll find this extra time allows more control over your attention and your day. Furthermore, when you create positive habits for the beginning of the day, you help create a pattern of positive experiences to follow.
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg labels some habits as keystones. One example he cites is making your bed, which is linked with greater productivity and better budget skills. Other powerful keystone habits are having daily routines, planning your day, meditating, and exercising.
The opposite is true as well. If you begin the day with a Pop-Tart and Facebook, you probably aren’t heading to the gym later. The pattern you’ve created for the day is to reach for comfort, not attack challenges, and your goals just got a lot harder.
The Elements of a Good Morning
There is no shortage of advice about what constitutes a perfect morning routine. From cold water immersion, to 5-minute journals, to repeating personal affirmations in the mirror, you can make yourself crazy trying to do everything. My suggestion is to pick one thing at first, and if you desire, add more later.
Movement is the most important habit you can start your day with. Our psychology is heavily influenced by our physiology. Move with intention, power, and purpose first thing in the morning, and you will create a wave of positivity to carry you into your day. Furthermore, the mobility that is so critical to quality of life and cognitive health is dependent upon moving on a daily basis. If you don’t use it, you lose it. Your body needs the movement, and while it may be cranky at first, that movement leads to a more physically dynamic day.
I recommend beginning the day with a mobility flow, like this one from Chris Holder. I’ve done it every morning for the past year or so, and also use it with my athletes before training. It is a wonderful, total body check-in that will help mobilize all your joints. After this, your schedule may dictate what comes next. A meditation practice at the end of your morning routine is a powerful addition. You may choose to follow your movement flow with foam rolling or a healthy breakfast. I like to go straight into my workout routine, which I follow with 20 minutes of meditation.
A Morning Movement Practice to Dominate Your Day
If you’d like to begin a general morning movement practice, but are unsure of where to start, I have a routine I created for just such a purpose. It is a great total-body circuit that requires little equipment and will give you a strong foundation. For most, it’s low-impact enough to be done daily with great results.
Perform the following movements barefoot, in a circuit and in order, four times through:
Outsmart Your Inner Wimp
The challenge of creating a morning habit is that the wimpiest version of ourselves greets us in the morning. Despite all our best intentions, our 6am selves are a bunch of babies. The best way to mitigate that wimp impulse is to create a habit of getting to bed on time, and creating an environment that promotes getting up. For example, set three alarms, with the last one outside your bedroom door, next to your workout gear that you set out the night before.
With a little willpower, we can create this habit. It will get easier with time, as research indicates willpower improves with training, just like a muscle. We must create the habit of overcoming inertia and starting the day right. The hardest part is to start moving, but after those first couple minutes, everything starts to feel better. Soon, you’ll feel energized and that power will transfer throughout your life.
Because this is hard, give yourself zero wiggle room. 99% is still a wimp. Quitting can become a habit as well. Create a plan and commit. Even on the worst morning, you can put in five minutes of gentle movement to start your day. Who knows where that will take you?