The morning is a beautiful thing. The sun is rising — rays of light peek through the blinds and gently wake us. It’s quiet and peaceful.
These first few hours are packed with potential. Business partners haven’t inundated our inbox yet, and each decision we make is totally up to us. This is the one time of the day where we can do the things we truly want to do. Once 8:30AM or 9:00AM hits, that’s in all jeopardy.
Yet, many of us spend our mornings running 10 minutes behind, in a frantic craze of tongue burning on coffee, over-packing our work bag and scanning our email inbox via iPhone, preparing to put out the pending fire at work. I did, at least, for many years.
Contrast that with a relaxed, well-paced morning in which you enjoy every moment, even up to the second that first sip of coffee hits your palette. Which one do you think is going to produce a “good day” at work?
Even if you’re running on 6 hours of sleep every night for months, like myself, there’s a way to feel empowered, energized and productive every day. I run two companies — a fitness apps platform, Vea Fitness that provides monetary incentives for working out, and a creative agency, K&J Growth Hackers. I know the temptation to hurry, trust me. I’ve also learned the value of balance: sleep, diet, exercise, fun and mental health.
Crawl, Walk, Run
As with most things, you don’t just decide to have a great morning routine and execute it every day, starting tomorrow. Unless you’re a truly-brilliant nerd. If yes, I commend you. For the rest of us normals though, it all starts with one small tweak. We need manageable changes, and measurable progress to quickly validate our efforts. Then, simplicity to help make behaviors into habits.
So, this article is less prescriptive in that sense, and is more a buffet. A buffet of habits I’ve tested myself that had high ROI for me. And ones I feel are easy for you to try out.
I’ve tested each of these concepts in month-long experiments (as well as many others that didn’t make the list, like the no complaints challenge).
These are the ones that stuck.
Get Scientifically-Validated Rest
Most “fall” into their sleeping habit. They go to bed once activity slows down around the house, and fall asleep when their eyes can’t stay open. The problem is — we often stay up way beyond when we wanted to. And then wake up tired. Often remorseful. The answer is to this dilemma is to proactively decide on your sleep schedule.
How to shake this habit?
Set a definitive “bedtime” and “waking time” and stick to it. There’s an app called Sleepyti.me that times your sleep cycles. Enter your bedtime, and it shows the best time to wake up feeling great, instead of groggy. It goes by human’s natural sleep patterns, and recommends a waking time when you’re in a “light sleep” state, versus a “deep sleep” state. This makes it easy to wake right up when your alarm buzzes, because your body is anticipating it.
Sleep cycles are 4.5hr, 6hr, 7.5hr and so on. So, if you fall asleep at 11PM, waking at 5:00AM or 6:30AM will be easiest on your body and mind.
This is an easy way to gain another 1 to 2 hours in the morning.
You’re waking only 30 or so minutes earlier, but now it’s easier than before, physically. Say you usually go to sleep at 12 and wake at 7 — you’re waking right in the middle of a deep sleep cycle, and therefore it’s going to be challenging to actually get up.
The reason this occurs is because our body shuts down various systems during deep sleep. Many organs go into a dormant state, and our heart rate slows dramatically. As we move back toward light sleep, our body gently turns them back on and prepares our body to wake up.
If you find yourself laying down at 11:30PM, but going to sleep at 1:00AM, let’s start by eliminating that.
You really don’t miss out on much by going to sleep at 12:00AM versus 1:00AM. Conversely, that lost sleep is dearly valuable.
You won’t know until you try it though — so try starting with this one tactic. Tonight, go to bed at 11:00 and try to be asleep by 11:30. That means your alarm should be set for 5:30AM or 7:00AM. I’ve been running on 6 hours of sleep per weeknight for 6 months and I feel great. Some days I need more, but generally I feel better with 6 than 7 hours.
Setting a definitive time adds structure and confidence to your day — you can depend on yourself for adequate sleep.
Wake Up Peacefully
Whoever invented the honking horn and crazy bell alarms should be detained. How could it possibly make sense to wake up to a frantic honking sound and start your day pissed off [at an inanimate alarm clock]?
It’s no wonder that people hate their alarms. And wake up “on the wrong side of the bed” so often.
Instead, try these simple steps to make your wake up natural and uplifting.
- Set your alarm to a peaceful tone, like “Slow Rise”, “Silk” or “Uplift” on iPhone. This wakes you gently instead of in a mini freak-out
- Plug your phone in near your bathroom. This prevents late night Instagram scrolling and other useless habits. It also requires we wake up when our alarm is set for, because we need to walk over to turn it off
- Set a full glass of water by the bathroom door, and drink the whole thing when you walk over
- After you’ve drank the whole glass, you’ll be nearby the bathroom enough to walk right in and go pee. Brush your teeth and get started.
This intuitive pattern helps keep a commitment to yourself, by making you wake up when your alarm is set for. No more fooling ourselves — if it’s set for 6:30, you’ve got to get up at 6:30 and turn it off. It’s a great lesson in self-awareness and discipline. With these comes confidence. So, your day is already off to a strong start. And remember, from now on, you’re waking up to pleasant tones instead of a horn honking.
Free Your Mind, Empower Your Day
The term enlightened is often confused with the concept of divine light that priests might have. The actual meaning of enlightenment actually implies that someone carries a lighter load. Lugging around deviant thoughts, grudges, the perception of tiredness and other negative emotions can really weigh us down. So, a quick mindfulness routine goes a long way in lightening our disposition.
Meditation is an easy way to lighten your mental load.
It helps to reduce stress from responsibilities and mitigate anxieties. You can easily gain some degree of enlightenment through meditation.
I used Headspace for iOS for over a year ($99), and then switched to Insight Timer (free). Both have improved my life dramatically. I start my day with confidence and a smile, no matter what is going on with my two companies.
I meditate 10–15 minutes every morning. It also recently dawned on me that meditation is now my favorite part of the day. It’s incredibly imaginative, happy and peaceful. With the city life I live, these are tough to achieve in any other part of the day.
Don’t Be Overbearing [on Yourself]
If you don’t have a definitive morning routine, there’s no reason to be hard on yourself. However, once you begin a few healthy morning habits, you’ll find they really do impact your everyday enjoyment, productivity and fulfillment.
So, it’s best to start with just one change, like setting your sleep and waking times. Then as you find it rewarding, you can add others in like meditation.
The biggest impact I experience is having more time to do the things I love. By setting my alarm earlier, I have about 1.5hr more than I used to every day. I take that time to read, journal, and work on high priority projects or creative writing. It’s actually 7:30AM right now. I also write my daily to do list on my white board before beginning “work”.
That block of time is almost fully-undisturbed, because it’s before 9AM.
Beyond having more time, my anxiety dropped to almost nothing. My mood is lighthearted nearly every day. And, the fulfillment I get from my life and work is measurably better.
A Funny Sidebar
One of the most fascinating occurrences is when someone consciously says or does something they think will offend or upset you (that may have upset you in the past). It might be hounding you for a report or being demanding with their asks.
I notice their facial expression kind of “braces for impact”, but as someone who’s well-rested and positively-disposed, your reaction is often calm, “OK, got it”. The person’s face becomes puzzled, and then it’s pretty much over. We both go about our day.
I hope these habits can help you find more time, more happiness and more fulfillment in your life. If you have more questions, feel free to tweet me @tcgstyle.
Originally published at medium.com