Often times, our ambition is too high, and we can’t reach our lofty ideals. I used to struggle with this a lot, because I overestimated my capacity take on new commitments and tasks. I soon realized that setting attainable goals was the best way to improve myself. And that’s where microsteps comes in.
In this article, what I’ve outlined below may come across as hackneyed life hacks that everyone knows and has heard in various places, but in reality, they’re not hacks at all.
They are small elements of a campaign — a campaign of getting better. Jocko Willink, a former US Navy Seal and the author of #1 New York Times best seller, Extreme Ownership, is someone I deeply respect and look up to, and he says that getting better is not a hack, or a crash diet into self-improvement. It is a sustainable model for personal growth because it requires you to change your life in more ways than one over the course of time and stay committed through discipline.
It is a weekly, daily, and hourly fight against weakness.
We all have things that make us weak and identifying areas that you are weak in is the first step of getting started on this campaign. A broad area of my weakness used to be that I lacked structure in my life. I had good ideas, did productive things, but in an aimless manner. As a result, I was not performing at my peak levels, often felt groggy and drained, and had poor sleeping habits.
Once I began to experiment with different ways I could improve myself, I learned a great deal through trial and error. I won’t spend time on elaborating on what did not work, but instead share a big part of what really works for me, which is getting a strong start to my morning through forming micro steps.
The morning is the small frame of time in your day that you get to dedicate yourself, because as the clock begins to tick, the rest of the world seeps in, and when that happens, the allocation of time towards yourself decreases by the hour.
Thus, I realized that If I want more time in the day to cater to my body and soul, I just have to wake up earlier. I have found that implementing discipline in the morning helps build my morale, a tool I use to get tasks done the rest of the day.
Here are five ways that I personally believe can help you create a productive and calming morning, and in turn, boost your morale for the rest of the day:
- Hydrate — Waking up is hard, whoever says it’s not is lying. When I wake up, my instinct is to go back and nestle into my warm covers, and on some days I do. But on most days, I count to five and get up anyway, and drink water immediately. It’s quite difficult to gulp a lot of water down when you wake up, but doing so jumpstarts your body from sleepy mode to wake up mode. Some days, I drink a glass of hot water mixed with honey and lemon, and other days I drink cold water. I also splash ice cold water on my face afterwards, which is a one-way ticket to being wide awake.
- Make your bed — Let’s face it, life is all about dealing with situations that are not in your control, but what is in your control is committing to achieve small tasks, such as making your bed. It helps you feel organized, calm, and gives you a sense of control in your life. A messy room can often make you feel messier with your tasks and emotions — breeding overwhelming and scattered thoughts. Turns out what our parents were on to something when they told us about cleaning our room and making our beds when we were little.
- A healthy breakfast — I can’t stress the importance of this. I view breakfast as the first stop of the day, a chance for my first win of the day. Mayo Clinic suggests that a healthy breakfast should consist of “complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein and a small amount of fat — a combination that packs health benefits and helps you feel full for hours.” Skipping breakfast, which a lot of people do, actually isn’t very healthy at all. Breakfast skippers often want to cut calories from their diet, but that’s not a constructive plan because your body goes into starvation mode, and whatever you eat next, is more likely to get stored as fat. Our bodies are our strongest allies — it is constantly going into survival mode to protect us, and if it thinks starvation is a real threat, it will try to combat that by storing food as fat. In addition, chances are you’ll overeat the next meal if you skip breakfast, adding in extra calories.
Call me silly, but I genuinely look forward to my breakfast the night before. But here’s the trick — the healthy breakfast must also taste good to you. People will generally not successfully form a habit if what they are doing feels forceful, so work out a breakfast that doesn’t make you gag after (sorry, oatmeal). Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I don’t enjoy oatmeal as much as I enjoy other things. My two favorites are:
- Scrambled eggs/omelette, guacamole, toast, and a cup of fruit
- Cup of 12-ounce dark roast coffee, mixed with Oat milk (I highly recommend the brand Oatly), with a bowl of assorted nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds — all sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon. It helps me feel full, energized, and satiated — and it tastes fantastic.
But I know many others enjoy a smoothie, protein shake, oatmeal, etc. Figure out a breakfast that is a medium between healthy and tasty and I promise you that you’ll look forward to breakfast every day.
I often pair my breakfast with an engaging podcast, and I have found that listening is much more constructive than reading and eating at the same time. The podcast adds new knowledge, perspective, and energy to my day — and it gives me something to share with others. Podcasts about politics, health, personal development, relationships are my go-tos. Candace Owens, Rhonda Patrick, Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, Jocko WIllink, Tim Ferris, Esther Perel are some of the people I deeply admire and look up to — and they each focus on a different interest area of mine.
When I’m not devouring over my breakfast, a couple of days in the week, I also engage in intermittent fasting for 14 to 16 hours, depending on how brave I’m feeling that day. My energy levels are directly impacted by fasting and it was amazing to notice how much more energized, and less groggy I felt the whole day. I know this negates what I mentioned above about not skipping breakfast but fasting a few times a week has been scientifically proven to help your metabolism and energy levels, so when done right and in a healthy way, it can be great.
- Replying to Emails — After my breakfast, I use the time to respond to emails in my inbox, and craft new ones. As the day gets busier, emails become more taxing to send, so I have found that it really helps using the extra time in the morning to write to people I need to. I also take the time to scout LinkedIn and connect with my network, as well as respond to text messages from friends and family. Lastly, I try to aim and read at least one engaging article about a topic of interest, and one news article.
I strongly attest that we need to carve out time for our own intellectual and spiritual growth. The more we put it off, the less time we have for it, and the higher the chances are that we feel overwhelmed by our own thoughts that are subconsciously telling us to make time for ourselves. It becomes a negative feedback loop, so carving out even 20-30 minutes to engage in something that feeds some part of your interest can be powerful.
- Workout — Yes, nobody wants to get up. Yes, it’s hard. But you know what, it’s rewarding. The endorphins that kick in after a workout are worth it. Find out what regiment works for you — I personally enjoy weight training more than anything, combined with a short burst of cardio. It also becomes increasingly hard to find time to workout in the midst of a busy day. If you’re coming back from school in the evening, it’s hard to stay energized to work out, and the same goes for people who come home after a long day. It’s draining. I admit that it is unrealistic to be able to work out every morning but try to aim for 3 times a week, and assess if it Improves your productivity or not.
Only when I started implementing small doses of discipline in my life through microsteps — with better sleep, food, fitness, intellectual growth, and human connection — is when I realized the significance of a campaign. I changed in more ways than one, and I’m continuously evolving.
If you lead a busy life with various commitments, you already know the value of time. And what’s a simple way to add more time to the day? Wake up earlier than you want to — it’s that simple.
When you understand the scarcity of time, you automatically adapt to respect it. One way I respect it is by controlling my morning, a few hours of the day where I can solely focus on myself without the demands of the world seeping in.
I must also say that It is crucial to negotiate with yourself throughout the process of improvement, because you are not going to win every day, and that’s okay. Some days the weather, sleep, your health, or any other circumstance will take priority. In those days, being compassionate with myself, along with claiming super small victories through the day has helped me out massively.
In other words, don’t create a prison with rules and guidelines because that will strangulate the whole purpose and leave you feeling demoralized. Instead, recognizing that every day is not going to go your way is encouraged, because that allows you to welcome a sense of normalcy in life. That you don’t have to succeed all the time, that it’s okay to lose some days.
In a campaign, there are days when the polls don’t look good, and the public doesn’t seem to be receptive. Does that mean the campaign is over? No, it just means it was a rough day — that is all. Similarly, your campaign of self-improvement is not over by one, or even two, or even a couple of rough days. In campaigns, the focus is on overall trends, and it’s the same in life.
If you are have read this far, it is likely you are into personal development, and very likely that you already have great habits you take part in — and if so, keep at it, I am sure it is and will continue to pay off. And if you’re looking for ways to improve, try incorporating small microsteps of discipline in your life. The morning is the optimal time for me, but find out what works best for you and see how it changes your life. I have a feeling it will be positive.