What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
Brush teeth? Drink coffee? Maybe walk your dog?
You wouldn’t believe how many people start their day by checking Instagram, the news or email (I used to). And there is some research that suggests it may not be the best idea to do that.
The way you start your day influences how the day unfolds.
Checking social media or emails first thing in the morning might increase the level of cortisol (the hormone of stress) in the brain and in the long-term cause anxiety and even depression. Social media in general can be quite damaging to our self-esteem due to constant comparison with other people.
So what would be a better way to start the day?
Tony Robbins calls it “The Hour of Power”, Robin Sharma calls it a “20/20/20 Formula”, Hal Elrod calls it a “Miracle Morning”. All of these incredibly successful authors practice a similar morning routine comprising of these activities:
- Movement (5-20 minutes)
- Reflection (5-20 minutes)
- Growth (5-20 minutes)
Each activity is suggested to optimize your brain chemistry and your focus, align with your goals and visions, improve health and grow as a person.
Before we get deeper into the topic, I would like to mention that if you don’t have a morning practice yet, to start in baby steps. When you attempt to install too many habits at once, you might overwhelm yourself and give up entirely. I would suggest adding the new habits one by one and/or start with shorter intervals (5-10 minutes).
So let’s get a closer look into each activity and see how we can apply it to benefit our own lives.
The first step is MOVEMENT.
Extensive research indicates that physical exercise does wonders for our brain chemistry:
- Reduction of cortisol (hormone of stress and fear)
- Release of dopamine (neurotransmitter of drive and motivation)
- Release of serotonin (the hormone of happiness)
- If you sweat, you also release BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor) – a protein that helps repair brain cells and accelerate formation of neural networks (in other words, you learn faster)
By completing a short workout first thing in the morning you will feel energized, motivated AND you will stay fit (if done consistently) because it will jumpstart your metabolism for more efficient fat burn throughout the day + keep the muscles toned. Wins!
This step is called “movement” for a reason. You don’t need to do a hard workout to achieve the desired result. It can be yoga, dancing to your favorite tunes, jogging, skipping rope, a quick tabata session, a walk outside with your dog, shadow boxing, calisthenics – any way that you enjoy to move your body! (I like to mix things up to avoid getting bored).
Even 5 minute of exercise in the morning is correlated with better quality of sleep, as found in a study by Appalachian State University. Morning exercisers spend more time in deep sleep (this is where growth hormone is produced, which is essential for cell repair and cell regeneration - hello eternal youth!). They also sleep longer and show better recovery.
Bonus tip: If you finish your workout with a cold or contrast shower (hot/cold) you will also boost your immune system, improve blood circulation and increase your energy for the day ahead.
Not to mention, a good workout and a cold shower will wake you up better than any coffee!
The second step is REFLECTION.
This is where you take time to go inward, to sit with your thoughts, to discover yourself and connect to your inner wisdom. Some quietude and solitude for yourself before you go out into the world of distractions, information overload and interactions with other people.
I personally find that this is the most important part of my morning. It allows me to cultivate inner peace, to contemplate where I’m at in my life, to set intention for the day ahead and get into alignment with my vision.
So many people nowadays don’t have a clue about themselves, their deepest desires and passions, simply because they are constantly being told what they should be thinking, wanting and doing. They don’t hear the quiet inner voice, the one that knows.
Myself included: I had no idea who I was or what I wanted until the tender age of 28, when I had a kind of a midlife crisis. I seemed to have a successful life, I had ticked most of the boxes on that “perfect life list” but I was deeply unhappy.
It was through reflection practices that I was able to connect to my deepest truth, my soul, my wishes and desires. I realized that my entire adult life I was chasing someone else’s dreams.
In order to avoid such a crisis, it’s important to know yourself. And once you do know yourself, your dreams and goals, it’s equally important to set yourself up for achieving these dreams.
Your morning routine is the first step to doing that!
Taking time to go deep within and connect to your essence will impact you in so many ways: increased positivity and creativity, decreased stress levels, better control of emotions, more focus and productivity.
A very powerful way to prime yourself for a great day is to envision the day ahead in as many details as possible, seeing every activity planned go smoothly and focusing on how you want to feel throughout the day.
There is a superb meditation by Vishen Lakhiani, founder of Mindvalley education platform, called the “6-phase meditation” that gets you in a state of love, forgiveness and empowerment, and helps to visualize your day as well as your future.
If you believe that you just cannot meditate – I feel you. I also thought “it just doesn’t work for me”. But the reality is that it works for everyone, just takes a little practice first. I started my meditation journey with 3 minutes of guided meditation per day using a mobile app. In the beginning I felt stupid, I could not stop thinking and it felt like a waste of time. But after 3 weeks I noticed that I could choose how to react in a situation, instead of just giving in to emotions.
Meditation has so many wonderful benefits when practiced consistently over a period of time. However, there are plenty of other options for self-reflection as well:
- Free-writing (writing down anything that comes to mind for a set period of time)
- Breathing exercises
- Deep thinking/ contemplating
- Gratitude journal
- Envisioning your day
Reflection is the best tool for increasing self-awareness, which is essential to leading a more conscious life. Increased self-awareness will also improve your emotional intelligence and your relationships. Understanding and accepting yourself will make it easier to understand and accept others.
The third step is GROWTH.
This is the time to invest in personal development, acquiring new skills, learning about an exciting topic or working on your goals and projects.
When you expand your self-awareness, you will understand your own strengths and weaknesses, interests and passions, skills and opportunities. You will be able to work on all of those areas, consciously building yourself and improving your life as a marvelous side effect.
As you work to create this more conscious version of yourself, you will increase your confidence, uncover and overcome your limiting beliefs and fears, cultivate a growth mindset and become unstoppable.
Information is much better absorbed in the morning hours than afternoon or evening. Especially if the mind has not yet been occupied with other tasks, emails, social media, news and other distractions. And if you do the reflection step before – your mind will be clear and primed for learning!
Some ideas to engage in personal growth:
- Reviewing goals & progress made
- Reading books
- Listen to audiobooks/ podcasts
- Studying a course
- Learning a new skill
- Working on personal projects
Of course this is not a set-in-stone protocol. You create your own morning ritual -have fun with it!
Not every morning is going to be the same – some days I like to take longer to meditate or read and some days I skip the workout altogether.
How to stay consistent
I would recommend getting a habit tracker (here’s mine) to keep track of your new habits. It is important that you reward yourself for completing 5-7 days of a new practice in a row (up to you to decide how many days and what the reward should be). The anticipation of the reward will keep that dopamine flowing and keep you motivated to stay on track.
In the beginning our brain will resist any changes. The human brain is quite lazy – it wants to save as much energy as possible. Any new actions require effort to build new neural connections in the brain. So be prepared to feel some resistance.
Research says it takes between 21-90 days to install a new habit until it’s automated. It really depends on the nature of the habit, on your personality, whether you get the dopamine reward or not – too many factors to be certain how long it would take. So don’t concern yourself too much with the number of days.
Here’s a quick recap of how to create a morning routine:
- Find what you enjoy in each category: movement, reflection and growth
- Start implementing one habit at a time
- Keep track of these daily habits
- Keep cheering yourself on, keep showing up and be patient
- Acknowledge and celebrate your results
Experiment and have fun with it. Nothing motivates more than seeing your own progress. I wish you best of luck!