We are all going to die!
No, not from COVID-19, AKA the coronavirus, I’ll leave that hype up to the media that at times seems to be cheering for our demise.
No, what I’m talking about is our individual expiration date. The end dates that are presently left open at the end of our dash. (e.g.: Born 1985— )
As they say, the only certainties are death and taxes. (And might we also add change?)
So why does it seem that in times of crisis we panic instead of living in the present?
One would think that if we are facing the fears of our fate, we would change our daily habits to maximize our time here on earth. Instead, it is often during these uncertain times that we lose focus on our own wellbeing.
A New Day is Dawning
For a couple of years now I’ve been on a search to hack life in such a way that I get more juice for the squeeze.
It all started with my “miracle morning routine” and then was accelerated last May when we lost my dad at the young age of 60.
After reading Hal Elrod’s famous book, The Miracle Morning, I committed myself to try to quit the snooze button for good. As a father of three, I saw it as a way to selfishly indulge in any and all of my favorite pastimes without hurting anyone. I also had planned to use my morning as a way to get healthy and start each day optimally.
As it turns out, this simple habit did everything I had hoped for, and more.
My morning routine has changed my life in such a way that I feel obligated to divulge the learnings and failures of this journey.
I’ll share that with you now by laying out the why, how, and what behind the years of research and trial I’ve done with this.
The Why – 5 Reasons Why it’s Worth Quitting the Snooze
Reason #1 for an early rise: It’s all about you
It’s never ok to be entirely selfish, unless of course it’s good for you and doesn’t disrupt the lives of those you love.
Imagine having 2 or 3 hours every single day entirely to yourself without the disruption of work, the kids, or life in general. What have you always wanted to do but haven’t had the time for? What skills, hobbies, or self-indulgences can you not justify during “normal” hours of operation? What if you could squeeze 14-21 more hours out of the week all for your own enjoyment?
It can be done if you learn good sleep habits and wake up quietly without disrupting your live-in companions.
Reason #2 for an early rise: You require time solely for your own benefit
“Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.” – Katie Reed
The better you feel, the more you can give back to those around you. We live in a culture that seemingly juxtaposes this reality by asking more from us while independently shaming those that benefit for self-purpose.
But why must everything be so narrowly-sighted? Can’t we at times balance a self-benefit while giving to others?
The answer is yes, we can and, we need a balance of both. Unfortunately, as our families and careers grow, we lose some of the independence that once shaped us. The morning hours allow you to take this independence back and get what’s rightfully yours: a happy, healthy you.
Reason #3 for an early rise: early risers achieve more success
We hear stories all the time of successful people waking up early and sticking to a strict morning routine. Michelle Obama, Oprah, Tim Cook, the list goes on and on. The late Kobe Bryant was famous for 4:30 AM wake-ups. Every now and then we will see publications touting the contrary, but the lion share of publicity remains in favor of the early risers.
But, is there any truth to all this?
Research would suggest a resounding “yes”.
A recent publication on Inc.com looked at two studies based on the scientific community. According to Harvard Biologist Christoph Randler, “there is a strong correlation between morning people and proactivity.” His research showed markedly more proactivity amongst the early rising crew in comparison to those that slept in later, longer, or used weekends to “catch up”.
Reason #4 for an early rise: early risers are happier
Another study by the University of Toronto reported that morning people were happier. Researchers Renee Bliss and Lynn Hasher studied sleep patterns and conducted surveys of 700 adults of various ages. Participants that got up early and had morning routines reported being happier than those that didn’t. The thought is that those with strict morning routines tend to feel more prepared for the day, thus setting themselves up for better outcomes.
Reason #5 for an early rise: early risers stay out of trouble
Are you prone to making bad decisions?
Your sleep may have something to do with that.
Studies show that poor sleep dramatically reduces cognitive ability. In addition, those of you that have ever indulged in the late-night bar scene can attest, to some degree, that the adage “nothing good happens after midnight” is in part true. While most don’t fall victim to staying out at all hours of the night, some of us, myself included, seem more prone to its allure. With repetition, this so-called routine wreaks havoc on your productivity.
However, once you fall in love with a morning routine this becomes almost a non-issue. What I have found is that over time your mornings become so special that you don’t want to risk messing with your routine.
I went from never wanting to miss a party to never wanting to miss my 5 AM alarm. Talk about a 180-degree shift!
The How – Breaking Down the Habit
Start with the H – Health – The Anchor that Holds Us Back or Sets us Free
Our health is the most important thing to get right in our life. Sure, we need many other things like family, love, purpose, and shelter, but we are nothing without our health.
Don’t believe me?
Then why has the world come to a complete halt to keep us all healthy? Or why do our elders tell us to “value our health while we have it”?
While I’ve come to believe it’s our purpose that drives us, it’s not until our health is in order that the clarity of this purpose comes into view.
Over a period of several years, I lost sight of my health through overindulgence of alcohol, poor eating, and a lack of exercise.
Once I quit the booze, started eating right, and exercised regularly, everything seemed to become clearer.
If you aim to get nothing else from a morning routine, start by waking up just a few minutes earlier to do some physical exercise.
A BIT of Planning – Plan a List
The best place to start is Hal Elrod’s SAVERS when researching what might make for a truly miraculous morning experience. Hal is the Steve Jobs of the morning routine and has sold over a million copies of his book The Miracle Morning. He lays out a systematic and practical approach to starting the day through an acronym and system he calls the SAVERS.
“We can learn more from an hour of silence than we can in a year from books.” – Matthew Kelly
· Meditation – Try apps like Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer
· Wim Hof Breathing – Check out the free app and his YouTube videos
· Mindfulness – Check out Aura and Breethe apps
“An affirmation opens the door. It’s a beginning point on the path to change.” – Louise L. Hay
· YouTube has lots of videos with guided affirmations. Pick one that speaks to you.
· Write out a list of 5 or so affirmations each morning.
· Incorporate your list in your meditation. Say the affirmations over and over and block out the rest.
“Visualization is daydreaming with a purpose.” – Bo Bennett
· Imagine yourself completing each task you have on your to-do list.
· Imagine yourself succeeding with the ONE thing that is most important that day.
· Imagine yourself being exactly where you want to be a year from now.
E – Exercise
“Exercise is the key, not only to physical health, but to peace of mind.” – Nelson Mandela
· 20 minutes of strength and weight training
· 20 minutes of cardio or functional fitness
· 20 minutes of yoga or stretching. YouTube has great free yoga lessons!
R – Reading
“Reading is a way for me to expand my mind, open my eyes, and fill up my heart” – Oprah Winfrey
· Something for spiritual growth. One of my favorites is The Gifts of Imperfection by Rene Brown
· Something for personal growth. One of my favorites is 12 Rules for Life – Jordon Peterson
· Something mindless that spurs creativity. One of my favorites – Unlimited Memory - Kevin Horsley
“The written word is the strongest source of power in the entire universe.” – Gary Halbert
· Journaling- Write out your thoughts, fears, and ideas. (Tons of secure apps for this as well)
· Drawing or Sketching – Don’t worry if you aren’t any good. No matter your skill level, this simple practice will spur creativity and ideas through the activation of left and right brain neurons.
· Articles, blog, or a book- Just as is the case with sketching, it's the practice not the purpose.
BIT of Practice – STARTING
Once you have your plan, it’s time to start. As with most things, you don’t want to set yourself up for failure, so ease into your new morning routine.
Here are three tips that helped me get started:
1. Set your alarm out of arm’s reach so you physically have to get up to turn it off. Then immediately go and wash your face with ice-cold water. Not only will the cold water wake you up, but it helps reduce the puffiness around your eyes and has been shown to have great health benefits for your skin.
2. Get rehydrated. Our bodies are comprised of 50-70% water and we lose a good deal of hydration while we sleep. Water is the fuel of our existence, so replenishment is essential upon waking. Studies show that adding some sea salt with lemon to a large cup of water will actually help kick start the rehydration of your cells.
3. Do 30 jumping jacks followed by 10 minutes of stretching while focusing on your breath. The jumping jacks will break you out of your circadian rhythm and the breathwork will aid in reoxygenation, stimulate your lymphatic system, and increase endorphins. Simply put, if you take deep focused breaths from your diaphragm and extend your exhale you will improve health, immunity, and stress.
Getting IT- Tweaking
After a few weeks of waking up early, your internal clock will start to align with the alarm. You’ll start to find that you wake up with more ease and often without needing the alarm at all.
This is also the time to start evaluating what is working and what isn’t. As a general rule of thumb, we don’t see the immediate benefits of most things right away. Avoid writing off something as a failure until you’ve given it some time to evolve.
After 30 days you can start tweaking your morning routine based on results and interest. The whole point of this exercise was to find enjoyment and growth. Make a list of your current morning habits and a second list of new things you’d like to try. Remove the ones that aren’t working for you and replace them with something else from each of the SAVER buckets.
Whatever you do, just make sure you keep it fun and interesting.
Keeping IT – Purpose
After you’ve settled in on a morning routine that satisfies your needs and wants, you may find over time you start losing motivation. One of two things happens that causes people to lose the motivations they had at the start. Let’s touch on both here and learn how to avoid their pitfalls.
The #1 reason people lose motivation is when experiencing unplanned change.
Take the recent coronavirus as an example. All of the sudden, nearly everything in our lives changed. What was a routine before, no longer seemed necessary or even applicable.
In the beginning, I found myself missing my alarm and sleeping in later and later. Was this a sign that my morning routine was over? Would my lapse be temporary or permanent?
In most instances, the answer is temporary, but change requires some flexibility on your part. Instead of fighting it, allow yourself a free pass and set a new goal so as to avoid new bad habits from forming. In general, bad habits take time to form just as the good habits did, so don’t panic if you do something on occasion that is out of character.
The #2 reason people lose their morning motivation is seasonal depression.
This happens to me every fall heading in to winter. At first, I feel sluggish and sometimes even mistake it as a slight cold or illness. My alarm will go off and I mistakenly tell myself, “stay in bed, with a cold in your head stay in bed.” (These were words from my childhood favorite book.)
Here is the problem with this one. Seasonal depression I’ve come to learn is sneaky. While some believe the shorter bouts of depression are our bodies need to reboot, it leads most of us down a wretched path of losing motivation. If you need a reboot, then, by all means, allow for it. However, make sure to set an end date and force yourself back into your routine. If it’s seasonal depression that is messing with your ability to get moving, then force yourself to get back into after a few days or else you will sink further.
I’ve found that if I can force myself to do my affirmations, stretching, breathing, and journaling that I exit my state of seasonal depression much more quickly. What used to last weeks, and even months, now seems to fade away in a few days or short weeks. It’s worth it to fight through these periods with your mornings intact.
The main thing is to stick with and keep what makes you a better, happier, healthier you. Just as your kids or your job aren’t always perfect, neither are your mornings. Remember the good times and aim to get back to them.
The What – Considerations for Your Miracle Morning Routine
Now that we have discussed why a morning routine is good, and how to build to one, I figured some may be interested in what mine looks like. If not, feel free to skip to the end, but I will outline my morning routine for those looking for a roadmap at the start.
My Miracle Morning Routine: 5 AM – 7:30 AM
5:00: Wakeup and wash face with cold water
5:05: Drink a 12 oz cup of water with lemon and 3 grams (ten twists) of sea salt
5:10: 30 jumping jacks
5:15: 15 minutes of yoga
5:30: 20 minutes of weights and strength training
6:00: 10 minutes of reading
6:10: 15 minutes of mediation
6:25: 3 rounds of Wim Hof breathing – How-to Video Here
6:35: 25 minutes of journaling or drawing
7:00 – Prep my day's to-do list
7:15: Cold shower
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.” -Semisonic
Whether we believe it or not, what we are experiencing right now with the coronavirus is likely to change our world forever. This is a new beginning and one that will bring with it new opportunities and new ways of life.
Now might be the best time ever to start a new habit while we are trapped in our homes.
What better place to start than the beginning of a new day!
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