“We are what we repeatedly do” — Aristotle
Our habits define what kind of person we are today — and what kind of person we will be tomorrow. And next month. Next year. A decade from now.
The smallest of actions, repeated every single day, will steer the course of your entire existence.
Without you even realizing it, some of those habits may well be getting in the way of your potential to lead a successful life.
So, would you rather not take charge, and take the bad habits out of your morning routine?
As a keen learner of anything personal development related myself, I dug into the topic and have been experimenting with different techniques to maximize the way I kick off my day.
In the process, I’ve also identified some ways that do just the opposite.
It became clear that without being aware of what your habits are, you are like a lost ship wandering aimlessly through the ocean.
Begin your day the wrong way, with a foggy mind and a stiff body, and you may be headed for a shipwreck years down the line (or much sooner).
The good news? You can change your habits.
How? By focusing on what not to do, starting with these 5 toxic habits that will practically guarantee you’ll start each day on the wrong foot.
1. Not Carving Out Enough Time for Yourself
Yes, you have many responsibilities and things to juggle in your life.
You may be looking after your kids, getting them ready and taking them to school (on time) every day.
You may have a demanding job, requiring you to start early and finish late, putting long hours in.
You may have other people depending on you for one reason or another.
With all these demands competing for your attention, it might be tempting to go all in and forget to carve out any time for yourself.
But the thing is…
If you don’t look after your own self, you cannot look after others and give them your best.
Once you realize this, you will start managing your time better.
You will not be afraid to say “no” to requests or people which distract you from doing what really matters.
And that means looking after yourself first, before serving others.
This has nothing to do with being selfish, by the way.
Spending time for yourself so you can start the day off energized and ready to give the world your best, does not make you a selfish person. No need to feel guilty.
Helping yourself before helping others is actually a concept you find in Buddhism — hardly a way of life anyone would describe as “selfish”!
How you can avoid this:
Start by calming your mind.
If you start your day off with thoughts running across your mind, ridden by anxiety and jumping to the “next thing” on your list…you are not setting yourself up for success.
If your mind is restless, grab a pen and jot down your thoughts. You should feel a sense of relief by doing this. Your mind will start to clear up, and you’ll be more present in the moment, too.
After getting up, spend even just a few minutes taking deep breaths in.
You can use yogic breathing techniques such as Ujjayi breath, which is deeply calming and helps you take back control over your own thoughts.
Don’t let the “monkey mind” wreak havoc by stepping behind the wheel, shoving you into the passenger seat of your own life — before you’ve even stepped out of the house!
2. Not Expressing Gratefulness for a New Day
Gratefulness is now well-documented as playing a key part in our mental health.
Several scientific studies have backed this up, uncovering some of the potential positive effects of a regular gratefulness practice:
- Increased self-esteem
- Higher mental resilience and ability to face challenges
- Reduced stress and anxiety levels
- Improved sleep quality
So why would you not take this opportunity to create better outcomes in your life, simply by being more grateful?
How you can avoid this:
Count your blessing. Sit down and make a list of all the things you are most grateful for.
Don’t just write them down, dwell on them.
Take time to appreciate how lucky you are to “just” be alive — something we too often take for granted, our minds full of worries about tomorrow, whilst we are blessed enough to be here today!
In our own practice, my partner and I tell each other the top 3 things we are most grateful for that day.
It usually starts with each other’s presence, care and support. Being fortunate enough to have a healthy mind and a fully-functioning body. Then, family and friends around us.
You can go in as much detail as you like.
As 13th-century Persian poet and mystic Rūmī put it:
“Be grateful for your life, every detail of it”
The very act of drawing in this breath, right now, can be a source of infinite gratitude. Of hearing the sounds around you, as the world slowly wakes up to a new dawn. Or of having eyes to see the beauty of this world.
The list is endless!
3. Rushing to Meet Other People’s Expectations
With many expectations placed on you, for each of the roles you play in life — parent, worker, colleague, friend, etc. — it may be tempting to give in to others’ demands and forgetting about your own.
In today’s society, where we are all connected to each other and to our work 24/7, many fall into the trap of making themselves available around the clock.
But this is no sustainable way to live your life.
Don’t always try to please others, at the expense of your own well-being!
As Sinem Günel put it:
“Living your life according to the expectations of others is the safest way to be unhappy.”
And I’m guessing that is not something you want…
How you can avoid this:
One simple way would be to not touch your smartphone or any device for the first hour or two of your day.
Social media is enough of a drug as it is, no need to get your brain wired up with Tweets, likes and shares first thing in the morning.
The dopamine hit it can lead to is highly addictive to the brain, leaving you seeking for more.
Which is a dangerous cycle, and has had disastrous effects on people’s mental health.
Equally, don’t give in to the temptation of checking your work emails first thing. Whatever your boss or colleagues expect of you, it can wait until a reasonable time.
Remember, you are in control — you decide. Be the master of your own fate, by making intentional choices about how and where you spend your time and energy.
Jumping in on emails and requests immediately will also set the expectation that you are OK working in this way. And that’s not an expectation you want to set long term.
Don’t burn yourself out before you’ve had a chance to grab breakfast!
Which nicely leads onto…
4. Not Hydrating and Nourishing Yourself Properly
When you first wake up, your body is completely dehydrated after a night’s sleep.
It needs to be rehydrated, and fed nutrients, to get ready for the day ahead. Water is the number one fuel to ramp up your energy levels, and keep your cognitive functions intact.
Which makes sense, given your body is made of 60% water!
Like any machine, your body needs maintenance — and one way to keep it healthy, is to feed it the right things.
How you can avoid this:
Have a full glass or bottle of water by your bedside, so you can hydrate immediately upon waking up.
Or, walk down to the kitchen and put the kettle on for a lukewarm drink, which can help with gut health and clearing out toxins, too.
Whatever the case may be, do not skip breakfast (unless you are on some kind of a diet).
If you are too busy with getting kids ready for school, or squeezing in a bit of exercise, then prepare it the night before.
A bowl of seeds and almonds topped with Greek yoghurt and a banana takes 2 minutes to prepare. So, there’s no excuse not to get some good nutrients in your body early in the day.
5. Not Activating Your Body
Last, but not least: a healthy mind in a healthy body, as Roman poet Juvenal would have it.
You cannot neglect either of the two. If you do, the equation will be out of balance.
I like to start the day off with a form of physical exercise.
My favorite is yoga. The thing I like about it is that when done properly, it can serve not only as physical exercise but also as some sort of moving meditation.
By breathing consciously, you are calming your mind and regaining some form of control over your thoughts.
Yet at the same time, you are “flowing”, stretching and balancing. And even getting a good sweat on. All in one go!
How you can avoid this:
Build exercise as one of your daily morning habits. Pick the type of workout that works best for you, based on your fitness levels and preferences.
This could be:
- A brisk (or gentle) walk around the block, or a park nearby
- A 20mn jog
- A yoga session — my favorite sources for this here and here (try the “30-day challenge” to ease yoga into your daily routine!)
- A full-on workout — try this if you want to challenge yourself a little!
How you start your day, is also how you end your day.
Making a conscious effort to build better habits in the morning is key to getting the most out of your day. And, by extension, out of your life.
So, don’t leave it to chance and start to:
- Carve out more time for yourself
- Express your gratitude towards life
- Say “no” to distractions and external demands
- Rehydrate and nourish your body
If this sounds like a lot, pick one of these, to begin with — and go from there. Building habits and making them stick is not always easy.
But if you want to increase your odds of becoming the best version of yourself, getting the right habits in place of the ones that don’t serve you is the way to go!
Remember: your time on Earth is limited.
Starting your days the best way and in the right state of mind is absolutely your right. Claim it today.