This article is part of a series entitled: 9 Wise Men Who Taught Me How to Put Life Ahead of My Startup. We've already covered mindset shifts toward financial freedom, Clayton Christensen's questions on How Will You Measure Your Life, and starting businesses for passive income.
To say I was angry in the mornings is like saying Clinton supporters were disappointed. If you'd seen the look of disgust on my face when my alarm exploded each morning, you'd have thought I'd woken up in a former Soviet state rubbish dump after a drinking game bender with a Kardashian ex-boyfriend.
Hating mornings meant I hated the start of my day, which was a terrible, self-defeating way to go through life. So I've spent the past six months reading and experimenting with different techniques, and it's working miraculously.
First, figure out what habits make your mornings suck
This was my bedtime-wakeup routine. Do any of these sound familiar?
- Keeping your phone on the nightstand to use as an alarm, which leads to ...
- Lying in bed before sleep, sending off one more email or watching Netflix. Both the light spectrum from your phone and the interactiveness of pressing buttons keep your brain alert when it needs sleep.
- Once the alarm goes off, telling myself, "Oh, no. I need to get up?" This coached me to believe "your day is going to suck. The sooner you start, the sooner it sucks."
- Hitting the snooze button.
- Hitting the snooze button again.
- And again.
- Spending five minutes in a daze deciding what to put on.
- Putting on one sock.
- Sending an "urgent" text message.
- Putting on the other sock.
The list goes on, and 90 minutes later I'd run out the door with my hair on fire, late to my first meeting, wondering where the hell the time went when I had set my alarm to wake me up early.
I replaced this morning madness with a routine that adds six minutes to my morning, but in reality saves 27 minutes of snooze time plus 10 minutes of slow-moving grogginess.
Great mornings start with smart nights
In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg writes, "You want to fall asleep fast and wake up feeling good? Pay attention to your nighttime patterns and what you automatically do when you get up."
- Check the weather and calendar and lay out tomorrow's clothes. Even if it's a T-shirt and jeans, it's one less groggy morning decision.
- Put a glass of water next to your bed to drink first thing the next morning. You lose one to two pounds of water each night, and morning dehydration makes you groggy.
- Preset your thermostat to heat your room before you rise. In the mornings, a warm bed is hard to break away from, but if the room heats up first you'll find yourself throwing the covers off and jumping out of bed.
- Set your phone far from your bed, either on the path to the shower or to your gym clothes.
- Read a book under a reading lamp with an amber bulb (temperature of 2,500K or lower). The sunset-colored glow signals to your brain that the day is winding down.
Put your mornings on autopilot
- Your alarm goes off far from where you sleep, and you climb out of bed into the warm room and shut it off.
- Chug that glass of water. It's a daily, rehydrating morning cleanse.
- On gym days, just put on the clothes you've set out the night before and get to the gym. We all know the hardest part about going to the gym is going to the gym. As tough as they are, morning workouts start your day with energy. I get so hyped on endorphins that I find myself shadowboxing in the shower.
- On non-gym days you must, must, do something physical to get your blood flowing before you leave home. It doesn't matter what it is: air squats, jumping jacks, etc. I do one set of pushups each day and one more pushup than the previous day. I started at 20 and I'm up to 57! It only takes a minute, but it gets the blood pumping through your body.
- While in the shower, it's time to get a little weird. Tony Robbins uses affirmations to bring energy and confidence each morning.
"All I need is within me now and I have the courage to see it through.
"Every day and in every way, I'm getting better and better;
Every day and in every way, I'm getting stronger and stronger.
"I love my life and I am so blessed."
- Lastly, at the risk of sounding like a San Franciscan yogi-wannabe, I'll admit I spend two minutes in my Evernote journal writing about three new things I'm grateful for. If you do this for 21 days, you'll rewire your brain to "scan the world, not for the negative, but for the positive," according to Shawn Achor. (Check out his 12-minute TED Talk.) If it worked for an angry ex-Soviet like me, it'll work for you.
Morning routines are only hard when they're not routines
I struggled with morning routines for years before I learned from Charles Duhigg, "the real power of habit is the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be." Take five minutes right now to write out a bedtime and morning-time ritual personalized for you. You won't nail it the first time, so iterate until it's easy to follow through. After a few days, it'll become habit and then you're on autopilot: Your mornings, therefore your days, therefore your years will be filled with energy, happiness, and success.