Every morning I do the same 8 things. It sounds boring and restrictive at first glance, but it's actually been a liberating system to help me do the things that are important to me, whether it be managing my weight, reading, meditating, or exercising.
I've had a lot of people ask my to explain it, so here's a quick walkthrough. It's starts out slow (and slightly silly), but stay with me. It's starts to make sense if you look at everything as a system.
- PEE: Don't laugh. This first step is deliberately simple so I can immediately build momentum for the morning. Keep reading...it gets progressively harder as it unfolds. And with all the water I drink throughout the day, I always have to go anyway!
- H2O: Another easy confidence booster to accomplish something good for yourself. Fill a tall glass of water before bed and keep it on your night table so it's waiting for you and a reminder of your ritual. These first two steps are ridiculously simple, but they are cues to my mind that I'm starting my day with intention and these first baby steps are the start of something bigger.
- AIR: I immediately go outside and stand in the brisk air (here in Colorado it's 17 degrees this morning). Gaze up at the stars for a minute and think about your place in the universe for a minute. Your brain is still foggy from a night of slumber. Going outside and breathe deep to clear the cobwebs. I once read and interview with the person in charge of a research station deep in Antarctica. Every morning he would take the crew outside and have everyone guess the temperature. Whoever was closest got the privilege of having the first cup of coffee. He said the reason he had this ritual was that everyone tended to get grumpy in the cold isolation of their research station, and he saw an immediate mood improvement from his team when they all went out for a moment in the cold, brisk air.
- MEDITATE: By now I really want my morning coffee, but there's one more thing between me and the coffee pot: 10 minutes of mindfulness. In the cold winter months I sit in front of the fireplace on a cushion and plug in my headphone to a meditation app. I've tried them all and really like Insight Timer (it's FREE!). My favorite mindfulness guide is my friend Tom Evans in the U.K. Try out his "Be Calm" meditation for an amazing 10 minutes of serenity. Every time I get to this step of my morning ritual, I have the same two thoughts...in this order: 1). BEFORE "I don't have time for this." 2). AFTER "Wow, that was time well spent." I've discovered about 10 go-to meditations that I like depending on what I need that day. Let's me know if you want some more ideas!
- COFFEE: Now I've earned my coffee (decaf). Or tea (green). Take your coffee with you to step 6.
- READ: As my mind and body are now waking up, fill your brain with inspiration and knowledge. No email, news or social until after you're done with your morning ritual. As soon as you dip your toe into those digital waters you'll get sucked in. Go old school and read something on paper if you can. Get through a couple pages from that book that you've been meaning to read. Or write! If I wake up with an idea, I'll also spend a few minutes writing in my journal (but in general I like to do my journaling before bed as part of "Todd's Evening Ritual"). Either way, develop your skills and knowledge a bit so you're a little wiser than yesterday.
- EXERCISE: By now I'm awake and thinking about breakfast, but I have one last thing before I eat: exercise. I find that it's best to exercise before eating. I've been fasting overnight and there's no ready energy available in my system from a meal so my body tends to tap into my fat stores. And I find that I just perform better without a stomach full of food sloshing around while I move my body. I follow a simple pattern of alternating between cardio and strength days of exercise. The question is never "Am I working out today?" Instead it's "What type of workout and I doing today." Working out every day is actually easier for me than doing it just a few days a week and then having to "negotiate" with myself every morning to decide if today is a workout day or not. If I let myself debate something like that I usually lose and talk myself into pushing it off to another day. My workouts are intentionally simple, which is why I've been able to keep this ritual going for years. On my cardio days I usually run or bike for about 30 minutes. On my strength days, I do a routine I made called "The 350". It's a pattern like this: 5 Chin Ups, 10 Squats, 10 Hand Release Push Ups, 10 Leg Lifts. Repeat the pattern 10 times without rest. Ever since our twins were born I gave up the gym and just do this at home with no equipment other than a chin up bar. It's beautiful because I do it on the road in a hotel room, when I'm staying at a friend's house, etc. (I'll write up more instructions on this workout in another blog post soon). Do this 6 days a week (take Sunday's off, but don't just sit on your butt. Go for a walk with your family or friends) and you'll be stronger (and lighter!) 90 days from now. EXERCISE BONUS: Without fail, while I'm enduring the discomfort of a challenging workout (my workouts are short, but dense with effort) my mind usually comes up with the 2-3 most important tasks for the day. These are the "big rocks" that Stephen Covey talks about. Something about physical exertion that focuses my mind and let the important stuff emerge from the background noise. These 2-3 things become my priorities for the day.
- HEALTHY BREAKFAST: The last step is to eat a healthy breakfast. With all the momentum I have created "checking the box" on the first 7 steps of my morning ritual, it's easy to choose healthy instead of empty calories. Without exception (ask my wife!) breakfast for me begins protein, then I add quality carbs and fruit or veggies. When I have extra time this might be a breakfast salad with poached eggs, feta and balsamic. Or a nice smoothie with protein power, flax seed, chia seeds and frozen fruit. But most mornings I don't have extra time so I eat my own "Todd's Power Oats" that I've been making for the past decade. Sunday through Thursday nights I prep a bowl of it with almond milk and then put it in the fridge for a cold-brewed power breakfast that takes zero time in the morning.
I've been doing this morning ritual for so long I don't think about it anymore. It's automatic, like brushing my teeth. And that's the secret of it. Everything that's important to me I want to do every day so that it doesn't become one of those things that "I'll get to someday." I've tried that and it's a recipe for disappointment.
The other thing I've figured out is hidden in the order of the steps in this approach. If I tried to just "cut out the fluff" and say "I'm going to get up and immediately meditate, exercise and eat a great breakfast" I wouldn't be as consistently successful as I am. I've tried that approach, because it sounds simpler and faster. But the problem is that my mind first thing in the morning is slow, foggy, and prone to take the lazy path (i.e. hitting the snooze button; mindlessly scrolling through my social feeds; or just shuffling around the house in my PJs looking though the mail pile). That's why the first parts of the ritual what they are. I start with simple steps that help me build evidence that I'm the kinds of person who starts the day with intention. Before I know it the train is picking up speed and I'm doing the big stuff (meditation, exercise, eating well). But the little things were the catalyst to get me going. Check out Admiral William McRaven talking about making your bed as the first step to something bigger.
How about you? What works for you in the morning? I'd love to learn more tricks for success!
(Here's a page from my journal where I've been sketching out my ritual, and experimenting with some little icons for each step. Gotta keep it fun!)