The alarm blares. You have exactly seventy-five minutes to be out the door. After relinquishing fifteen of those to one “snooze” period and a few minutes on your phone (e.g. checking email, Facebook), you’re up. You put together coffee, feed the dog and let her outside, get the kids up, and help everyone grab something to eat. Within ten minutes, the clamor and chaos of the morning rush has taken over your thinking – in addition to the nagging reminder that you still have a few emails to send out before the first meeting at 9:00. So much for easing into the day… Even with the tag team approach made possible by a partner, it’s still a major production to hit the shower and get ready. There are bags to be packed, bills or homework to be gathered and final goodbyes to be said as everyone heads out the door. When you get to work, it’s a dash to fit in several tasks before 9:00. Somehow you keep waiting for a quiet moment to pull your thoughts together, to breathe and catch up with yourself, but the chance keeps further distancing itself like a teasing mirage in the desert. Later, you say. At lunch? After work? At night? Wait a second… I forgot my lunch again, didn’t I?
Now let’s look at a better way.
Second scenario… The alarm goes. This time you have two hours and 30 minutes. No snooze at this hour (especially if you want to stay in the good graces of your partner). Before anyone else is up, you grab your ready-made coffee (gotta love pre-programming options) and slip quietly into a remote corner of the house where everything you need is already there. Your phone is off limits except for music to help wake you up (consider it a sound cue to support your circadian wake cycle). After reading or journaling for a few minutes, you do some meditation perhaps and some light yoga or dynamic stretching and get ready for your a.m. workout. You’re enjoying the quiet around you and the focus on your movements. As you take a few minutes afterward, you write out your master list for the day. Following a hot shower, you’re calm and ready to organize the rest of the brood and face your day.
Moral of the story here: drive your day, or your day will drive you. Direct, or you’ll be put in a constant position to react.
While few if any of us get to choose everything that will happen in our days, the morning, in particular, has the power to determine who/what will be leading the way and how much we give to our own interests versus simply responding to others’ as the day progresses. As psychologist Roy F. Baumeister suggests in his well known book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, our willpower is greatest in the morning – before we’ve had to fend off the slew of issues and choices that come our way. In other words, if you struggle to keep a given commitment to yourself/your well-being, you’ll likely be more successful making it part of your morning routine as opposed to holding off until later in the day.
From a physiological standpoint, too, the morning hours offer some extra benefits. Working out in a fasted state, research shows, offers better benefits for fat burning and insulin sensitivity. There’s also the advantage of the natural a.m. cortisol surge. That means extra energy – to offer the day’s workout or to tackle the most challenging tasks. How many of us postpone our exercise and certain responsibilities as long as we can – only to face them during our least energetic and driven hours of the day. By that point, it takes seemingly ten times the physical and mental wherewithal to make ourselves follow through (e.g. the thousand pound workout bag).
What’s more? You’ll be more invested in making healthier choices throughout the day if you’re already on a roll with an a.m. workout, meditation time and/or other positive behaviors. You’ve already got some skin in the game for living healthily that day. You also won’t be subject to that nagging sense of restlessness that can dog us all day. Our bodies are waiting to move and ready to stage an uprising at having to sit at a desk for eight hours first. Our minds likewise grumble at having to wait to get some personal time – to do something they enjoy as opposed to what they must do to collect a paycheck and go along to get along.
We tend to view our deferment as self-discipline. I’d call it self-deprivation.
Why should we put off what all that we want in our day? Why should we come last and not first? With this and other posts’ messages, I know I come off sometimes as promoting a selfish revolution, but the solid fact is, life works better for everyone when our needs are taken care of. We work harder. We play better with others. We eat less crap and can be healthier for it.
Developing a morning routine allows you to assert your own authority over the day. You take charge of your own work-life balance by, in effect, paying yourself first. Too many of us do it the other way around and are left with no time and energy to invest by the time we get to ourselves. As a result, too many people end up feeling at the mercy of their work and family demands. Responsibilities overwhelm, and they end up continually stuck.
When you lead with your own peace and well-being, however, much more is possible. Something essential changes when you begin directing your day rather than responding to it. However we choose to design our morning routine (as long as it truly feeds our needs – and more than just the mundane logistical check-offs), we stake our claim on the day before anything/anyone else can. Our actions – and the pattern of action over time – can effect a powerful shift in our personal sense of self-efficacy and fulfillment.
What would it mean for the rest of life if you devoted a morning routine to your own interests? How would your relationships change if you began your day in ways that brought you joy and health? How would it impact your attitude at work if you started your job with a solid two hours of time invested in yourself?
Won over yet? Start brainstorming ideas.
Do something for your physical health.
First and foremost, exercise comes to mind here. That said, you can fold in other prospects, too. I always make sure I get outside in the morning. The light helps naturally wake me up (easier as we head toward the equinox now), but I also feel more invigorated getting in a morning walk or run if it’s outdoors. Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to move your entire workout time to the a.m. if that doesn’t appeal. Do a short stint or a leisurely stroll in the morning and save the rest for later. The idea here is to do something – some kind of movement (e.g. yoga, walking, weights) in addition to what else you feel would fuel your physical health that day.
Do something for your mental equilibrium.
Again, yoga might fit the bill for some people, as would time outdoors. I know people who have their coffee or breakfast outside, and just that simple action makes a huge difference in their day. Other people meditate for anywhere from 5-30 minutes. Other people read from certain books or journal to center themselves. Some people use it to indulge in self-care. Maybe it will something different every day. Only rule: it’s whatever works for you.
Do something toward your personal vision.
I think this is key because it speaks to the direct-react issue in a more expansive way than a single day’s schedule. How many of us have larger visions for our lives – things we’d like to try, careers we’d like to shift, hobbies we’d like to enjoy, areas/ideas we’d like to study BUT never do. Let’s face it: if you’re waiting until 9:30 each night or that magical “free” weekend, you can file it under “never gonna happen.” Be brazen and actually give a portion of the day’s best energy to your vision – whatever it is. Maybe it’s fitness. Maybe it’s a creative endeavor. Maybe it’s building a portfolio or networking to shift professional tracks. Maybe it’s learning a new language. Whatever – start your day with it. If you stick with it each morning, you’ll be amazed at the progress you can make.
Do something toward the day’s productivity.
As with any of the above ideas, this can mean different things to different people. I’d suggest making a master list for the day. That doesn’t mean dump fifty ideas on a piece of paper. Choose 5 at most, and make sure you do the most challenging or important among them in the morning. Beyond that, take on a chore that will make a difference in the next few days ahead. Batch cook a couple Primal dishes, or devote a condensed and efficient hour or two a week to financial planning/record keeping.
A morning routine literally should be YOUR time. It should be at the whim of no one but you. Put police tape across the door if need be. So few of us are accustomed to giving ourselves this much – or this quality of – time. Putting yourself first in your day can feel disorienting. The fact is, you may not immediately know how to fill the space, or you may feel overwhelmed by how much you’d like to do. Just start and feel your way as you go. If you stick with your routine and use to genuinely nurture your interests, you’ll eventually wondered how you ever lived any other way. Use it for the good Primal life and personal vision you deserve.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Do you have a morning routine that takes you beyond the logistical race for the door? What has it done for you and your well-being? Share your thoughts and suggestions, and have a great end to the week.
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About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.