Thursday, November 9, 2017

My Morning Routine: Why and How I Created One

I’ve never been one for getting up as late as possible and rushing out the door. I am acutely aware of my inability to function as a rational human being before that first cup of coffee, and I try very hard to avoid subjecting others to that version of myself. While in school, I also found that I was most productive in the morning, especially compared to mid-afternoon. I would opt for early morning classes, and on any days off, I ensured my alarm was still set so I could be at my desk by 8am.

I started the field placement portion of my program last January and essentially moved over to working full-time at that time with no more classes. Slowly, without the pressures of managing all of my school work, a part-time job, and a semblance of a social life, I noticed myself trying to squeeze more and more snooze time into my mornings - to the detriment of my productivity throughout the rest of the day.  When I slept a little longer than planned in the morning, I would rush out the door, sometimes eating breakfast and guzzling that first cup of coffee in the car on the way to work trying to wake myself up. I would arrive at work wanting nothing else than to crawl back into the warm bed I had reluctantly left only a short time before. Although the idea always was that I would feel better sleeping in a little bit, I always ended up feeling worse and being unproductive throughout my entire day. I would never truly wake up, and it left me feeling ineffective and discouraged.

My Morning Routine: Why and How I Created One | kathleenhelen
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The Morning Miracle by Hal Elrod

After hiding in a list to “to-read” titles, I finally decided to pick up a copy of The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod in an attempt to reboot my mornings and get myself feeling more productive again. After being walloped by the 2008 recession, Hal fell into a deep depression. As a means of battling this depression, he started incorporating a number of new-to-him habits into his daily routine. Finding that leaving them to the end of the day only set himself up for failure because the excuses not to follow through were limitless in the evening, Hal started setting his alarm clock earlier. By getting up an hour earlier in the morning, Hal found time to read, exercise, use affirmations, meditate, and journal every day, which he attributed to feeling increasingly confident and motivated, allowing him to break his depressive cycle and continue living life to its fullest.

After finishing Miracle Morning, I knew I had to try it out. Through other experiences, I’ve had the opportunity to see the benefits of regularly reading, journaling, meditating, and exercising, but admittedly have found it difficult to consistently include all of those aspects into my routine. I recognized that like Hal, I was much more likely to complete these activities if I gave myself some time in the morning rather than leaving it until the evening when all I want to do is crawl into bed and sleep. I also realized that there was absolutely nothing holding me back from setting my alarm an hour earlier to maximize my productivity. Sure, that would mean I would be tired and ready for bed earlier in the evening, but why couldn’t I start going to bed at 9:30 instead of 10:30? It’s not like I get anything done after 9pm - unless you count mindlessly making my way through my Netflix queue.

The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod helped me to revolutionize my mornings | kathleenhelen

So I tried it. I set my alarm for 5:30am, said some affirmative phrases to the effect of “I will wake up happy and energized when my alarm sounds at 5:30,” and went to bed. When the alarm went off the next morning, I eagerly jumped out of bed to attempt my new routine. And I loved it. I had a fantastic first day and felt very satisfied when I crawled into bed that night.

Since then, I’ve had good mornings where I feel ready to go at 5:30am and get up with a smile on my face, but I’m not going to lie and say that’s been every morning. I’ve also had bad days where I have to drag myself out of bed. What I’ve noticed, however, is that when I do get up and spend some time in the morning focusing on myself, I feel much better than the days I don’t. I’m more energized, more productive, and overall, just in better spirits.

I was also amazed to find that that feeling of motivation and readiness to tackle the day was in no real way linked to the amount of sleep I got. I can go to bed at 11:00 pm and get out of bed at 7:00 am and feel tired and groggy all day, or I can shift those hours and sleep from 9:30 pm to 5:30 am and feel incredible. I can also feel great going to bed at 11:00 pm and getting up at 5:30 am, though not if I continue that habit past a few days. So, although by no means a perfect system, I have been making a determined attempt to get up around 5:30 am each morning.

My Morning Routine | kathleenhelen 

What do my early mornings look like?

1. Wash My Face

As soon as I get up, I head to the bathroom and wash my face. This has always been something that I do shortly after getting up, but because there’s something so refreshing and invigorating about splashing your face with warm water, I’ve switched it to a pre-coffee task. I find that once I’ve washed my face, I’m pretty much awake (although I will still need the coffee to continue in that state) and there’s little chance of going back to sleep.

2. Meditate

Although it may sound counterintuitive, after washing my face, I grab a glass of water and jump back into my still warm bed. It’s usually pretty chilly in the morning, especially this time of year and throughout the winter, so I like to sit in my bed with the warm covers pulled up over my legs for the next few steps while I acclimatize to the temperature.

While sitting up in bed (because laying down is an invitation to fall back asleep despite the face washing), I play a session from the Headspace app on my phone. The sessions are about 11.5 minutes each and take you through a guided meditation session focused on a wide variety of topics. I just finished the productivity pack and really loved the noting technique used in it!

3. Read

After finishing my Headspace session, I set the alarm on my phone for 10 minutes, and I read until the timer goes off. I’ve always been a nighttime reader, but I’ve found that reading in the morning helps to get my brain working and gives me an extra 10 minutes in the morning to escape the real world.

Based on the suggestion in Miracle Morning, I decided to opt for books that fall under the umbrella of personal development for my morning reading. I really enjoy reading non-fiction and personal development books, but I find that I tend to read them more slowly than fiction and pick them up less than fiction. By committing 10 minutes each morning to non-fiction / personal development, I might still be moving through those books slowly, but I am reading them.

4. Write

I keep a very irregular journal because I’ve explored the benefits of putting thought to paper and found that when I am writing them down, I tend to feel better. But it is a very irregular journal and the thought of writing a lengthy entry every morning wasn’t that appealing to me. Aren’t journals for reflecting on your day, not anticipating it?

I decided to pick up a Five Minute Journal to use and have so far loved the gentle prompts. Plus, I’m still absolutely able to write in my other journal when my thoughts really need to be expressed. The Five Minute Journal asks you to list 3 things you're grateful for, 3 things that would make the day great, and a daily affirmation every morning. Super easy. Super quick. And I’ve found that the more days I fill in, the easier it gets not to overthink my answers, and thereby complete the entry more quickly, and more honestly. At the end of the day, the journal asks you to list 3 amazing things that happened and how I could have made the day better, allowing it to bridge anticipation and reflection.

5. Move

I then try to get a little bit of physical activity into my morning. I don’t get too crazy with this, but do go through one cycle of exercises with the 7-minute workout app. Basically, it cycles through 12 different exercises that you do for 30 seconds each. These exercises include push-ups, lunges, and jumping jacks, among others. It’s really quick, and I don’t really have to push myself too much, while still getting the benefit of some movement first thing in the morning. I find myself feeling more awake and ready to tackle the day physically and mentally after completing these sessions.

6. Coffee & Get Ready

Finally, I give in to my body’s yearning for caffeine and make myself a large cup of coffee. I enjoy the hot, delicious, beverage of life that is coffee while getting ready for the day as I’ve always done - you know, hair, makeup, clothes.

7. Breakfast

Last, but certainly not least, I make sure to make myself a delicious breakfast that includes some fruit and protein. Lately, I’ve been opting for some oatmeal with berries (I use frozen berries this time of year) and some protein powder. I also like some avocado toast with an egg. I’m a firm believer in the notion that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and I’ve found that what I eat for breakfast can really affect my mood and energy levels for the entire day. If I get hungry before lunch, there’s absolutely no more hope for a productive day - so I try my best to avoid that at all costs!

Following all of that, I feel incredibly energized and motivated to take on my day in a productive manner!

Obviously, this wouldn’t work for absolutely everyone. But I do encourage you to examine your habits and how they make you feel and see if any small changes can be made to your morning routine to improve your overall day. Even getting up an extra 10 minutes early to indulge in a few additional minutes of reading will most likely be beneficial to your overall wellbeing. Let me know below how you improve your day with your morning routine!

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