Somewhere between wrangling Congressional delegates to sign the Declaration of Independence and preparing to serve in France as one of America's earliest ambassadors, Benjamin Franklin conjured up a morning routine. It was, some argue, the first of its kind and the spark that set off our 200-year-old obsession with sacred morning rituals.
While we might expect a litany of exercises and activities, starting with an "up with the sun" start, Franklin instead gives us little more than an airy glee. In his diary, he writes that he would "rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness." From there, he moved on to urgent business, scoping out the day and, eventually, breakfast.
A good starting point perhaps (with echoes in today's routines), but not really a lot to go on.
The golden nugget in all of this is clearly not an 18th-century yoga routine or revolutionary goal journaling. It's an intentional mindset: start the day with commitment to optimism and self-improvement.
This is grounded in what I like to call a conscious self-contract that defines our most important values and priorities. Franklin gave us his own terms in a diary, but we could just as well frame this contract in our own minds.
When you start the day, ask yourself: What values will you uphold and what goals will you prioritize? Whatever these are, commit to them with optimism and a drive for self-improvement. Progress does not happen if these are absent.
Contract formulated, the actual activities that frame your morning routine will likely fall into place rather quickly. Even better, as author Mason Currey writes in Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, it will frame lifelong achievements: "What you do first in the day [becomes] your priority for the day and for your life, your career."
There are, certainly, tidbits from Franklin and his contemporaries we might lean on in our own morning routine activities: long walks, Bible study, dedicated family time. And you can dive in to specific routines from modern bigwigs like Sundar Pichai if they are helpful starting points. These specifics, however, are far less important than the mindset we cultivate before any activity is begun.
As you lie in bed, before ever rolling back the sheets, revisit your contract: values and priorities, fired by optimism and self-improvement.
After all, our A.M. activities, however well-intentioned, will not create our values and priorities for us, nor will they force us to be optimistic or committed to self-improvement.
Mindset must come first, our morning rituals second.