I was recently listening to a podcast by the author Tim Ferriss (The Four Hour Work Week) and was reminded of just how important it can be to establish a morning routine. With regular practice, it can help you get each day off to a fresh, clear-minded start, better prepared for the challenges and opportunities that may come your way.
On his podcast, Ferriss regularly talks about “life hacks,” ways to better manage time and squeeze more joy and value out of life. The morning routine is one of them. Ferriss has found that if he can do five specific activities each morning, he can practically guarantee he’ll have a great day. Here’s his list, with my notes in italics:
- Make your bed. It may sound silly, but it sets the tone for the day. This small accomplishment can lead to bigger ones.
- Meditate. For 20 minutes each morning. He recommends the Headspace app. I’ve tried it and it can be a big help if you’re having trouble focusing.
- Hang upside down using an inversion table. Not for me, but there is lots of evidence that it cures back pain and helps fight stress.
- Enjoy a cup of good, brewed tea. Ferriss prefers exotic blends.
- Write in a journal, including making a “to do” list. On his list, Tim includes all the people he needs to give thanks to that day.
One important note here is that like many of us, Tim’s busy schedule often means he can’t do all five activities. But he has found that if he can check off at least 3 of the 5 items from his list, his whole day seems to go better.
The Ferriss podcast got me thinking about my own “list” and made me realize there were five things I tried to do each day as part of my regular routine. In fact, I’ve turned them into a morning ritual. When I take the time to engage in this practice instead of rushing into the day, I find I’m more relaxed and better able, both mentally and physically, to handle anything that comes my way. My list:
- Stretch. I’ve found that as I get older, my body is stiffer in the morning. That’s why the first thing I do upon awakening is hit the floor and stretch my back, arms and legs.
- Exercise. If you want to stay healthy, you’ve got to move! I run at sunrise four times a week and walk at various points throughout the day.
- Meditation/Prayer. The benefits of meditation are well-known, but I also make sure that, at minimum, I say a prayer of gratitude each day.
- Spiritual Reading. I find this just puts my head in a good place. I read new texts but also frequently go back to what for me are classics.
- Coffee. This well could have been #1 on my list, drinking coffee is a ritual in our house. I grind the beans and prep the night before. There’s nothing like sitting in a comfortable chair, when the house is still dark and quiet, and enjoying that first sip.
In his new classic book A Religion of One’s Own, Thomas Moore recommends that we take the idea of ritual a step further and schedule our days like those of a monk. This means setting specific, simple tasks to accomplish not just in the morning, but throughout the day. This both grounds us and reminds us that there is more to life than our daily chores or work. Moore advises:
Instead of just letting your days unfold spontaneously or being at the mercy of an inflexible busy schedule with family and work, you might set up a few regular activities, like meditation before breakfast, listening to music before lunch, being quiet after 10 p.m., eating simply in the morning and taking a quiet walk afterward.
But the place to start is with a morning ritual. It’s easy to develop your own list of 5 activities, based on your intuition and comfort level. If you consider yourself a spiritual person, be sure to include meditation and/or prayer, plus some spiritual reading (or listening via a podcast). It’s an easy practice to start and follow, and by devoting 30-45 minutes to your ritual each morning, it pays big dividends all day.
This post originally appeared on my Patheos Wake Up Call column, October 17, 2015.