I’m sure you’ve experienced this: On the days you simply do not manage to get into gear throughout the day, everything seems annoying and you’re grumpy. Chances are that you just started the day on the wrong foot. Leveraging a healthy morning routine is extremely powerful and influences how the rest of your day goes.
What's a Morning Routine and Why Is It So Powerful?
We have all read stories about how successful people swear by their morning routines and argue that it's one key to success. Research shows that how you start the day influences if you have a productive day or not. There is, however, no one size fits all. Just because Marilyn Monroe had two raw eggs almost every morning does not mean we all need to do that to become successful.
A morning routine is a set of activities that are ideally the same every day, are easy to execute, and work almost automatically (like a system). A regular routine takes the hard work of thinking out of your mornings (more on this later). Everybody who wants to follow a healthy morning routine needs to figure out the right activities for themselves.
Busting Some Morning Routine Myths
Benjamin Franklin famously said: “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
Does that mean we all should wake up early to become rich and smart? No. I never really understood the fuss about waking up at 5 a.m. This may work for some but others are simply not a morning person. It all comes down to personal preference. And you need to like what you do, otherwise you will already face a burden early in the morning.
Every person's circadian rhythms are slightly different and everybody has their most productive moments, which may not be in the mornings. It’s important to get to know yourself and then design your daily routine to accommodate it rather than doing what everyone else is doing.
Social media increasingly exposes us to the “perfectionist presentation” phenomenon. Professor Gordon Flett from York University defines it as the tendency of people to present flawless versions of their lives. Same is certainly true about how the media (and probably many of us) present early morning routines. However, there are some principles which do seem to work very well in general, popular or not.
General Principles for Good Morning Habits
A general principle is: "Do what you like." This is probably true for everything but especially for the early morning when we are particularly fragile (well, at least I am). Having something to look forward to when the alarm goes off is very powerful. For me this is a freshly brewed mug of coffee or having a little walk outside in the sun.
Another aspect that's helpful when testing your set of morning ritual activities is what's easy to do. You don't want to do or think about anything hard when you can barely open your eyes.
Systems are a great way to make a morning ritual easier. Systems include automatic behavior reducing the required thinking and willpower. Willpower is limited and we don't want to waste this precious resource on endless pondering about having oats or eggs for breakfast, but leverage it later for productive and creative activities.
Finally, avoid social media in the morning as a general principle. It's too easy to get caught up in pointless, endless, and unproductive scrolling.
Examples of Proven Morning Habits
Let's talk through a couple of proven morning routines. I do all of the following myself at the start of my day. I don’t always do them in order or do all of them (no need to fall into the perfectionist presentation trap!).
Wake Up and Get Up
As soon as the alarm clock goes and you wake up, get up! Get out of bed. Don't hit the snooze button. Don't roll around. This will make it harder for you to get into gear.
One technique that helped me personally a lot and I use it every day is to wake up using a smart alarm clock. This is an alarm clock that measures your sleep and tries to wake you up in the ideal moment within a certain, configurable time window. It makes sure, for example, that it does not wake you up while you are in a REM phase. There are various free apps available. I use Sleep Cycle.
Most of these apps also allow you to track your sleep, which is useful if you want to improve your sleep quality. The apps help you to correlate sleep quality with, for example, exercise or nutrition. Over time you will learn what activities have a positive or negative impact on your sleep. And don’t forget: Sleep is the king of recovery.
I also recommend to always wake up pretty much at the same time every day (including weekends) so you don’t confuse your circadian rhythm. After waking up and getting up, follow your morning ritual, which ideally makes use of a system (as introduced earlier). If you are like me, someone who likes to follow this idea of quantified self (tracking personal data to improve quality of life), you'd want to measure whatever metrics are important for you right after getting up, like your body weight on an empty stomach.
Drink Lemon Water
While we sleep we lose a lot of water. This is due to perspiration and respiration while we spend six to eight hours sleeping. In order to re-hydrate, it’s recommended to drink a large glass of water as one of the very first things in the morning. This is very easy to do and should really form part of everyone’s morning routine.
To add a little flavor, experiment with lemons. We all know lemons are rich in vitamin C, so they’re good for strengthening your immune system. In addition, a freshly squeezed lemon is also a great source of potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
On a side note drinking water is essential for health and well-being. Too often we underestimate the amount of water that we should consume daily.
Get a Healthy Breakfast
Nutrition is an essential aspect to health and athletic performance. Hence, start the day with a healthy breakfast. You hopefully follow a certain diet, a fitness and health program, or at least have some nutrition principles that work for you. I always start my day with strong black coffee (nothing added) and a protein-rich breakfast. If I have an early workout, I make sure that I eat some more carbs for the energy boost.
Here are two simple and healthy breakfast ideas that I like (check out the recipes): protein pancakes or overnight oats. Other great alternatives include protein smoothies, especially with greens like spinach, kale, or cucumber. It’s also wise to focus on anti-inflammatory foods for breakfast. This can easily be done by adding berries to your protein shake, or creating an avocado spread to go on rice crackers and adding some nuts.
Get a Cold Shower
The benefits of cold exposure like a cold shower are well known:
- Elevates energy levels
- Speeds up recovery from exercise
- Reduces stress
- Improves immune system
- Improves sleep quality
- Makes you feel good and alert
Taking a shower under cold water can be a bit intimidating. My recommendation is to approach this slowly and get used to it. Start easy by adding just a couple of seconds of cold water at the end of your normal warm morning shower. Gradually increase this. Your body will adapt. Soon you’ll be able to comfortably take a couple of minutes of a cold shower. I do this six times a week on average.
Our bodies are built to move. But in our modern society, moving is becoming less and less necessary, which often leads to chronic physical or mental discomfort or even illness. That is why I like to get some sort of movement into my body as soon as possible in the day. It gets our blood flowing and our joints and muscles moving.
A short morning walk is a great way to achieve this. Other options are a couple of pushups or my all time favorite full body workout: burpees. Don't go crazy. This is not a workout but just to wake up our body and get ready for the day. Some people like to do yoga or go through certain stretching routines to focus on areas which are tight or sore. It's a great way to support recovery.
If any of these movement alternatives are not possible, another option is to go through some breathing exercises. I am a big fan of Wim Hof-style breathing. Here is an excellent Wim Hof video guiding you through a 10-minute breathing routine. This intense breathing will blow oxygen into your lungs, blood, and brain and will get your body ready for the day.
Get Out Into the Sun
Another healthy habit can be achieved in combination with the previous habit of moving your body as part of the morning ritual.
It's even better to do that out in the sun so you get exposed to natural sunlight. Apart from it making you just feel good, you can receive that valuable vitamin D. Vitamin D is important because it helps absorb calcium better, leading to better bone health. It can reduce the likelihood of catching a flu, it can support weight loss, and it can reduce depression, which is why it’s also called the happy mood vitamin.
Of course, if you don’t manage to get out into the sun, you miss out on natural vitamin D. Vitamin D3 deficiency for active people can decrease skeletal muscle function, force, power, and testosterone production, and impacts recovery time from training. In this case, I recommend supplementing with vitamin D pills.
Organize Your Day
Creating a to-do list to organize your day is another effective technique that should form part of your morning routine. It only takes five minutes to create and prioritize that list but it gives your day structure.
Tackle the important tasks first. As Brian Tracy puts it, "if you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first." Everything else that follows will be easy. A big frog is a task that is important and difficult, potentially even large or annoying but it will have the biggest impact on you or your life. So get it done first. Don't procrastinate.
In my opinion there is a lot of fuss around mindfulness (and a lot of business around it). But it’s very simple: living in the here and now and appreciating the current situation. This can definitely help relieve stress, especially in combination with the previous habits.
I feel a lot more at ease if I write down my to-do list for the day because I know I cannot forget anything important. Then I do really enjoy my 20-minute walks outside in the sun. I do explicitly try to be mindful during these walks, like stopping and appreciating the color and sound of the sea, for example. It relaxes me a lot and gives me a lot of energy. Lots of ideas come to my mind during these walks.
Other things that work similarly well like walks can be stretching or mobility routines, yoga, meditation, reading, or any other intellectual activities (e.g., learning a new skill like a language).
Create Your Healthy Morning Routine to Win the Rest of the Day
A good morning routine can have profound effects on the quality of the rest of your day and your well-being. There are many tips and myths about morning rituals and things to do. Find the right habits that you like and that are easy to do. There is no right or wrong, you just need to find the most effective and enjoyable set of activities that you can stick to in a sustainable way.
We all know that results and health benefits only come from consistency. Your morning habits can significantly contribute to your health and fitness in the long run. As part of our Build Bullet-Proof Health program, we introduced the Weekly Improvement Moments (W.I.Ms) that help our clients to achieve sustainable habit changes with step-by-step practical weekly activities. Check out our free trial and see for yourself.
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