The second you wake up in the morning is by far the best moment in your day to develop the most important life habits. The reason for that is pretty simple. Every new habit you want to develop in life needs a strong reminder for what you need to do and a big reward for doing it. The reminder is a trigger you need that sets off the new desired behavior.
The biggest issue with the habit loop (reminder – routine – reward) is that the reminder has to be strong, loud and clear so you hear it. If there are too many distractions in the environment or if you’re too tired, chances are that you’ll ignore the reminder and wave goodbye to the new habit.
There are two moments every day in your life that work great as triggers for new habits. It’s when you wake up and before you go to sleep. Before 9 am and after 9 pm, everything is quiet and peaceful. No distractions, no rush, and an opportunity for your reminders to be heard.
Throughout the day, you’re usually extremely busy, running from one activity to a meeting to another task and so on. Your phone keeps ringing; your inbox is filling up and you face many unexpected events. There is no room for reminders and new habits. But mornings and evenings are different. They are perfect for developing a new habit.
The second issue with the habit loop (reminder – routine – reward) is that you need to have enough discipline muscle strength left to perform a new routine. When something becomes a habit, you do it subconsciously, you don’t need to put in a lot of conscious effort.
But when you’re developing a new habit, you need to force yourself a little bit to perform the new routine. That takes a lot of effort, especially in the beginning, before routines turn into real habits.
Daily challenges and decisions slowly eat away your capacity for discipline and cognitive abilities. It’s quite hard to follow any new serious enforced routine during the day when you’re stressed out and burdened with many things and choices. It’s no different after a hard working day. It’s hard to find any motivation and energy to perform new demanding behaviors.
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Obviously, if your muscle discipline is still fresh and strong in the morning, you want to develop morning habits that take more effort and discipline. On the other hand, your evening routine should be more about relaxation, reflection and calming down.
My morning kick-off routine
Now that I’m in monk mode and without a schedule, I can experiment more with my morning kick-off routine. After a month of experimenting, I’ve found a routine that currently works well for me and empowers me to stay sharp and focused through the day.
I do seven things as part of my morning kick-off routine, and it takes me from 1.5 to 2 hours to complete it. I aim for 1.5 hours, so as to not waste too much time on starting my day right. Here they are:
- Morning reflection and planning meeting with myself
- Happiness index
- Self-analysis and dream analysis
- One thing I am grateful for
- One thing I want in life
- Things I will create today (the three most important tasks)
- True North
- Morning stretching
- Reading something positive
- Power breakfast
- Cold shower
The most important thing for performing my morning routine is to go to bed early and wake up fresh after getting enough sleep. On rare occasions when I go to sleep late, for whatever reason, I simply don’t have enough motivation to perform the morning routine the next day.
It’s no problem if it happens from time to time, but if it happens too often, you quickly fall out of your routine. So I always go to bed early and wake up early.
I know I need 8 hours of sleep and I always make sure I meet that. By going to bed early, I can’t remember the last time I needed an alarm clock to wake up. And when I wake up, before I do anything else, I brush my teeth and drink a big glass of water to rehydrate my body. Then my morning kick-off routine starts.
Morning reflection and meeting with myself
Morning reflection is the most important thing to do in the morning and it helps me a lot, especially to better understand myself, my feelings and needs, my motivations, the people around me and the environment in general. The first thing I do is take a deep breath, listen myself for a moment and note on my happiness index how happy I am on a scale from 1 to 10.
It’s a great way to begin self-analysis and go through situations that are currently happening in your life, things that bother you, things you like and enjoy, your motivations, behaviors, intentions, feelings and other internal processes.
If I remember my dreams, I include them in my self-analysis, especially focusing on how I felt during the dreaming phase and how that’s connected to current life events. This gives me really good insights, especially into my negative feelings and a small glimpse of my subconscious processes. With time, you have access to more and more of your subconscious material.
In the next step, I write down one thing I’m grateful for. It helps me to keep perspective on how blessed I am in life. It’s easy to forget what you have in life. It takes a minute to write it down and it’s not hard to come up with things you are grateful for. You just write down the first thing that pops up in your mind. At the end of each month, I plan to gather and organize everything in one list (also published online), which will be my updated ultimate gratefulness list.
I also write down one thing I want in life every day. From gadgets, countries to travel, things to experience, etc. This is a different kind of exercise, and it helps me to stay in touch with my needs and wants. The important purpose of your life is to fulfill your needs. If you don’t do that, you become a bitter person sooner or later.
You may be neglecting your needs because your environment (parents) didn’t pay much attention to what you really wanted in life. I mean what you wanted, not what was “best” for you. If you aren’t paying attention to your needs at all, you’re on the other extreme of greed. Both extremes cause depression, bitterness, anger and other negative feelings.
The next thing I do as part of my morning meeting is to analyze what I’ve done the day before and write down the three most important tasks I have to do on a particular day. I also ask myself if there are any obstacles preventing me from achieving my daily working goals and how to remove them. I end my morning analysis by asking myself if I’m following my true north or, in other words, following my real life vision and life mission.
It takes me from 15 to 20 minutes to finish this part of my morning routine.
I definitely need to develop better control over my mind. Meditation is the right exercise for that. So, I’m practicing morning meditation, right after my morning reflection. I use the Headspace app for that. The app is really good and recommended by many sources. Meditating for 10 minutes as part of the first 10-day session was a piece of cake and I really liked it.
Now I’m at 15-minute sessions and am struggling quite a bit. Interestingly enough, after 10 minutes it’s hard for me to keep my mind focused and relaxed for another 5 minutes. On bad days, I even become angry and frustrated for not being able to complete the exercise like I want to. So I take it slowly and take a break if I feel overwhelmed.
The plan is to keep meditating, first mastering the 15-minute sessions and then going up to 20 minutes. We’ll see where meditation practice takes me afterward. I learned to keep my goals lean and agile and not to plan too far.
After meditation, I take not more than 3 minutes for visualization I currently have a few important goals in my life and visualization is the most appropriate tool for mental rehearsal of how I’ll get there as well as for adjusting my inner vibrations to my new goals.
It helps me stay focused during the day and not lose track of where I want to go in life. My visualization is especially connected to changing my identity and how I see myself and what I deserve in life.
Reading something positive
As the last step of the kick-off routine dedicated to my mind, I read something positive or eye-opening. I’m addicted to reading and there is no perfect morning without a few minutes of reading and thinking about new ideas.
But I don’t take more than a few minutes for reading something positive (evenings are reserved for that) because there are three more things to do as part of my kick-off routine, dedicated to connecting myself with my body.
Strangely, I’m much more connected to and familiar with my mind (even if it behaves like a spoiled child) than I am with my body. But I intend to change that in the next months or even years. Who knows how long it will take to establish a better connection to my body.
I don’t exercise in the morning because it’s my brain’s prime time. After my kick-off routine, I go straight to working and creating new awesome things. There may be rare exceptions if my energy levels are too low and I need to recharge or if I need to put my body instead of my mind in motion for any reason.
For example, after an argument, I need a walk because I’m too stressed to think. In the summer, when temperatures skyrocket after early morning, that may also change.
Well, exercising in the morning is currently simply not optimal for me. But as I mentioned, I keep everything in my life open, agile and lean. At the moment, I exercise in the afternoons (a few times per week) when my mind is already tired.
Nevertheless, what I do in the morning are some very basic stretching exercises for improving my posture. Stretching also helps me become more aware of my body and reminds me that I have to take good care of it.
At this point, I’m usually pretty hungry already. I always make sure to have enough time to make myself a real power breakfast. Far from the standard breakfast, like a piece of bread with jelly. For me, it’s the most important meal of the day. I need a quality breakfast and I need to eat lunch before 2 pm. Everything else can be flexible.
My diet includes carb cycling. When I eat carbs, I eat the majority of them in the morning or after training. So the kind of breakfast I make myself depends on whether I have a carb or a non-carb day. If I’m on a non-carb day, I make sure to get enough healthy fats. If I have a carb day, I eat a healthy breakfast with complex carbs.
The protein level stays the same every morning or, to be more exact, with every meal. I also take core supplements with my breakfast and drink green tea.
Interestingly enough, I started watching Lynda.com educational movies when I eat breakfast. I know that maybe I should pay more attention to food, but I like knowledge much more than food.
It takes me around 30 minutes to prepare myself breakfast and eat it in peace; and I also get around 15 – 20 minutes of learning out of it.
I’m experimenting a little bit with a cold shower as the last step of my kick-off routine. There are a lot of resources and research claiming that a cold morning shower has great positive benefits for your health and your mood.
It makes you more alert, alive and it boosts your immune system. I’m not there yet, I can’t take a cold shower every morning because it’s still too stressful for my body, but I will get there slowly, I guess.
I will let you know if cold morning showers work for me in the long-term as part of my daily routine. Afterward, I end my morning kick-off routine and it’s time to work and create good things. Like writing this article.
To sum things up, here is my morning kick-off routine that I currently enjoy and have set for myself after a lot of experimenting in the past month:
|Morning reflection||20 min||Mind / Emotions|
|Meditation||15 min||Mind / Emotions|
|Visualization||2.5 min||Mind / Emotions|
|Reading something positive||2.5 min||Mind / Emotions|
|Morning stretch||10 min||Body|
|Power breakfast||30 min||Body|
|Cold morning shower||10 min||Body|
|Total time||90 min|
I don’t need a lot of reminders to trigger my routine. I wake up and I know what I have to do. I go to the bathroom, brush my teeth and drink a big glass of water, and when I come to the living room I see my notebook on the table and start with morning reflection.
I have a checklist of what I have to do, in order to not forget anything, and I keep my transaction costs as low as possible, so nothings burden my discipline muscle too much.
For example, I don’t search from scratch for where to read something positive, but I already have a queue of short texts I have to read. My exercise equipment is always at hand; I make sure I have no junk food at home etc.
To be honest, I don’t always perform my morning routine. I figured out that I have to break out of every routine I follow from time to time in order to really stick to it in the long term.
Thus on some days, usually a weekend day, I do completely different things or nothing at all. In the same way, for example, I do follow a strict diet, but from time to time you’ll see me stuffing my face at McDonalds.
It somehow helps me not to feel caught in something and afterwards I can again more easily follow my routine. It definitely works for me. And I know I have enough discipline to not get into any bad habits. I would say that I do it approximately on 90 % of my days, which is enough for me and enough to see constant little improvements in my life.
In much the same way, I’m currently experimenting with my shut-down routine, which is yet far from perfect. At the moment, I only make sure I go to sleep early and that I read before I fall asleep. I have a rule that I simply mustn’t go to sleep without reading at least one page of a book.
I usually read a lot more, of course, but reading at least one page per day is an achievable and reasonable goal every single night, to keep my reading habits sharp.
I will share more with you once I find the shut-down routine that works for me perfectly. In the meantime, here’s some homework for you.
Go to sleep one hour earlier (instead of watching TV, socializing, etc.) and wake up one hour earlier. Now for one month, try to do four different things from the list below every morning. Try one new thing a week.
Observe yourself and find how different morning habits positively influence your day and your general happiness levels.
See what works for you, develop a habit out of things that work and ditch the things that bring you no value.
Make your mornings a special ritual dedicated only to yourself to celebrate another day of being alive, and see it as an expression of commitment that you will take good care of your mind, body, emotions and the most important relationships in your life throughout the day.
Here’s a list of 50+ things you can try as part of your morning kick-off routine:
- Analyze your dreams
- Brainstorm 100 ideas
- Research business ideas
- Clean your computer
- Clean your house
- Do brain exercises
- Do yoga
- Get to know new technology
- Have sex
- Imagine how the world will look like in 100 years
- Improve your English
- Invent a new machine
- Learn a new language
- Learn new words
- Listen to an audio book
- Listen to classical music
- Make yourself a power breakfast
- Make yourself a veggie smoothie
- Morning reflection and planning meeting with myself
- Organize your desk
- Paint, draw or do any other kind of art
- Perform self-massage
- Philosophy about life
- Picture your ideal day
- Play chess
- Practice belly breathing
- Practice to love yourself
- Practice your hobby
- Read a book
- Read inspirational quotes
- Read something positive
- Recite affirmations
- Review your life vision
- Take a cold shower
- Take an online course
- Take a walk
- Have a deep talk with your spouse or a friend
- Think of life experiments you can do
- Throw away stuff you don’t need
- Try five different teas (without sugar)
- Watch the sunrise
- Watch TED Videos
- Write a love poem
- Write a message to all the people you love
- Write a story
- Write down all the things you are grateful for
- Write down all your past accomplishments