Who are you and what’s your morning routine? That’s how I started an innovation workshop a couple of years ago. I wanted to find out if others had found ways to enjoy getting out of bed, and created a conscious routine for themselves before others started to make demands.
Most talked about savouring the smell and taste of the first cup of coffee, or the refreshing feeling of the warm water in the shower as it flows over your head and body.
At the time I shared how much positive energy and grounding my mindfulness practice gave me. Something must have stuck because one of those participants came back to me recently with a request for me to share more about my morning routine and even teach their children, so that they too could feel better and more focused.
So here is a my usual mix of personal experience, the latest science and ancient wisdom, to help spread more joy and give you ideas for seeing and doing things in a new way for more well-being.
WHEN YOUR SAFETY ZONE BECOMES A PRISON!
When I was 7, I decided that life was too scary and unpleasant to get out of bed. School was stressful, as I didn’t fit in, and home life was all about competition and being the best – which I wasn’t. So I pulled the sheets over my head and just wanted to avoid everybody and everything.
Now during this pandemic with lockdowns going on for months, I know many people are feeling the same kind of listlessness that I felt as a child. You don’t need to have clinical depression to feel a lack of motivation or joy.
So how to find the energy to keep yourself optimistic and focused, even when times are tough and everything seems a bit overwhelming?
STARTING THE DAY FROM THE INSIDE OUT
I’ve learned that the key for me staying calm and joyful even in the midst of chaos is determined by how I choose to spend the first hour of the day.
“How so?” you might ask and “what magical things do you do”? Let me explain the theory..
A mindful morning routine allows you to fill yourself up from the inside before the outside world touches you. You create your own bubble of positivity which can protect you from other people’s negative energy. It’s like a mental fitness routine to keep your spirit strong no matter what life throws at you or how small your “prison” may seem.
FEED YOUR MIND HEALTHY FOOD FIRST
This is the time for me to set the tone for the day and connect with myself, before others influence me or set their demands. This is why I don’t allow myself to touch my phone (no emails, texts, social media or news) until I have done my morning practice.
Science confirms why it is so important to consciously consider what you give your mind to chew over, in the same way you think about effects of the food you eat on your body.
The research shows how important the first hour of the day is to our wellbeing for the rest of the day. Watching three minutes of negative news in the morning makes views 27 percent more likely to report having a bad day six to eight hours later, while those who took in transformative stories on the other hand reported having a a good day 88 percent of the time (University of Pennsylvania & Huffington Post, 2015).
A TIME TO BREATHE RATHER THAN A PUSH TO RUN!
I like getting up early because it’s my “feel good” time. In my 20s and 30s I always set the alarm super early for my exercise routine, but the early morning alarm sometimes felt like a punishment and quite often I would switch it off because I told myself that I needed my sleep more than my outdoor run in the dark.
In contrast it feels much easier to get out of bed to go and sit on my meditation cushion. I drink a big glass of water, light a candle and put my timer on. 12 – 20 minutes of silence, just me and my breath.
GIVE YOURSELF SPACE TO BE AND FEEL
At first it was hard, learning to “be” rather than to do – and to “feel” rather than to accomplish.
I’m the kind of girl who loves excitement and external distractions. Even as a 2 year-old my first impulse was to switch on the radio in an empty room to cover the silence with music. Even today it seems much more appealing to move my body, play some music or engage in conversation with people rather than sit in silence on my own.
So believe me, it took discipline to get me started on this daily routine! I did it because I had read the science and knew the proven benefits of meditation on the brain and emotional well-being. I was determined to “crack it” by forcing myself to sit for 12 minutes every morning for 12 weeks whether I liked it or not. I knew that discipline was the only way to make this happen and really give meditation a chance to work for me. Repetition creates a habit, and a habit is easy because it’s automatic.
Now it has been a daily habit for over 10 years, I don’t even think about it! It just happens. I find it a little ironic that I had to force a “doing” to create time for more “being”. And that something I hated at first has become something that has given me so much peace, contentment and joy over so many years.
The benefits have been transformational. I no longer feel like a victim to my thoughts, feelings and circumstances. Daily meditation has helped me realise that I have much more control over my life and my feelings than I ever thought possible.
I know now that I can deal with whatever comes up. “This too shall pass” is a favourite mantra of mine and meditation reminds of this on a visceral level every time I sit on my cushion.
I learned that I do not need to be that scared little girl any more. I can watch uncomfortable feelings and fearful thoughts as they arise, even welcoming them, knowing they will pass. I can allow them in, feel them, look at them, knowing I can actively let them go.
Sitting with the discomfort rather than numbing it, covering it up or running away allows space for it to dissipate. This makes room for joy. I can nurture myself with kindness in the stillness of the morning air as I keep bringing my attention back to the breath and the light. There is a new peace inside me when I blow out the candle at the end of practice.
OPEN YOUR HEART AND FOCUS ON THE GOOD
What I love about meditation is that is clears my head so that I can listen to my heart.
I write down what I am grateful for after meditation. I think about all the people and things and experiences I am thankful for, what happened to me the day before, I think about the path I’m on and the support I have been given and the hope I carry in my heart for the world.
This focus on the good makes life feel abundant and flowing. Gratitude opens my heart and softens my edges. I’ve heard other teachers call gratitude the joy superpower. And indeed, it certainly fills up my positivity bubble in the morning. It helps me go out to do what I need to do with a new-found faith and courage, even if I woke up fearful or had a sleepless night. The scared little girl has not gone away, she has just found new tools to help her deal with her fear and help her see her own light every morning.
The Buddha said: “Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most”
Starting each morning with meditation helps me clear the decks. Writing down what I am thankful lets me refill the fuel tank with positive emotions.
MAKE TIME FOR WHAT ENERGISES YOU
My feel-good morning routine always has meditation and gratitude in it, you may have other ways that bring you good energy, like exercising or yoga or journalling. Perhaps it’s just the ritual of brewing the coffee or taking a mindful shower, focusing fully on appreciating the present moment with all your senses.
Depending on my time, I will add intention-setting, goal writing and prioritisation, journalling, yoga and intensive exercise to my morning routine as these all increase my well-being and power. There is real value in taking the time to take care of your mental and physical health at the start of the day before others need you!
The key is to find out what works for you and to build up a conscious routine. Many of us (and I used to be someone like this!) stay in bed until the last minute then rush around like a crazy thing. Without the positive anchor of mindfulness “me” time, it’s harder to steer your own course and stay joyful and calm when unexpected problems or difficult people cross your path.
A New York Times article by Benjamin Spall (October 2018) who interviewed 300 high achievers about their morning routines found that they tend to get up early (average 6:27 am) and carve out time in their morning to do things that make them feel relaxed, energised or motivated.
It is interesting to note that many religious traditions also value the early morning for prayer and contemplation. The Dalai Lama gets up at 3 am every day (but goes to bed at 7 pm to ensure he gets his 8 hours!)
You don’t need to go to that extreme but establishing a new routine might mean changing your wake-up time. This in turn might require reassessing priorities at night to ensure you get enough sleep. You might also need to explain your new routine to family members so that they understand and leave you alone in the morning.
To motivate you, I want to share the many benefits of being an early riser! Research suggests that “early birds” have greater levels of happiness and are a lower risk of depression compared to those who are night owls (Large-scale genetics study, Exeter University, January 2019) and are better performers academically, with morning people a grade point average (GPA) higher than evening types (Texas University, 2008).
So what’s stopping you? Perhaps getting up earlier will be easier than you think if you start seeing how much better you feel with your new mindful routine!