“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” - Marcus Aurelius
Over the past few years I’ve been tinkering with optimizing my morning routine. I’ve come to notice that when I control the first hour or so of my day, the rest tends to fall in line. Conversely, when I don’t control my morning routine my day is much more likely to get away from me.
Firstly, let me note that Crystal and I get up early, either 4:30 or 5am, depending on the day. We probably don’t have to get up that early but we both really value a strong start to the day so we get up extra early to fit it all in before we have to leave to get to the gym.
The ideas below are things that I’ve found make the biggest impact to my morning. Please note this is just what I have found to work well for me. As the old Bruce Lee quote goes “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own”.
This is the big one. If I don’t sleep well or enough I’m much quicker to distraction. For me, if I have less than 8 hours a night for a few nights in a row I notice it. My brain gets foggy, my mood tends to drop and I’m much more likely to make poor food choices (read:sugar!). So I do my best to get 8 hours per night. And yes, that means being asleep by 8:30pm before the the 4:30am wake up! Crystal wrote a great article on sleep and how to do it better recently. You can read it here.
The first thing I do once I’m out of bed is neck a couple of glasses of [quality - not tap] water. If you slept well it’s been at least 8 hours since you last drank any water and your body has been detoxing all night and uses a lot of fluids to do so. When you wake up in the morning your body is at it’s most dehydrated so it’s really important to get some fluids on board. Another tip is to squeeze half of a fresh lemons juice into your glass of water, this also helps with clearing out those toxins that built up overnight.
When you sleep your body recovers and repairs. If you train your body will repair damaged muscle tissues overnight and will lay down ‘fuzz’ between the sliding surfaces of your muscles. If this ‘fuzz’ is not cleared out through movement and stretching it will tend to stiffen up and solidify, which makes you feel stiff, reduces functional range of motion and prevents optimal performance in training sessions. This is why the cartoon depiction of somebody waking up always shows them yawning and stretching their arms overhead - they’re clearing out the ‘fuzz’! You can observe your pet dog or cat do this exact same thing when they wake up, the first thing they do is downward dog then upward dog. Or in other words, ‘fuzz’ clearing!
Morning movement doesn’t have to be complex or even take that long, but it’s super important to do even a little bit for optimal health. In the video below Max Shank discusses a framework for a quick 5 minute morning routine that can do wonders for how your body feels.
This one is relatively new for me. I’ve dabbled with cold showers before but haven’t made it stick until recently. In fact I’ve been doing cold showers now since I listened to this podcast in October of 2015, so about 4 and a half months consistently. When I first started I dreaded it, I would have to psych myself up to embrace the cold - my nervous system was weak and my mind followed suit. It took me about 2 weeks to get used to the cold water and probably another 2 weeks to start enjoying it. Now it’s something I look forward to. It’s more effective than caffeine at waking me up in the morning. It also immediately snaps my attention away from my mind/thoughts and into my body and to that end I think it’s a powerful asset for anybody who is trying to improve their physical health.
I’ll do a more in depth post about cold therapy soon looking at the positive biological and psychological effects it has on the human body. But for now, if you just want to try it, I would start by simply taking your normal shower then right before you get out, crank the temperature down to cold and try to stay in for at least 60 seconds. When I first started I would howl, hyperventilate and try to avoid the cold water, so you can probably expect the same. Your mind will tell you all sorts of reasons why it’s stupid and ridiculous etc. Do it anyway. Embrace the cold, the reward is worth the struggle.
The video below is of Wim Hof, the guy who inspired me to try cold therapy. He’s a fascinating character, is literally causing scientists to rewrite human biology textbooks and his personal story is profound. I would highly recommend the Joe Rogan podcast I linked to above but for a short intro watch the video below.
We live in a world of distraction. Attention has been dubbed the new currency and everybody is vying for yours. Most of us are entrenched in emails, social media, relationships, TV and on and on. If we’re not careful our days and subsequently our lives can be swept away by these distractions without actually experiencing life fully. For me, meditation offers a way out. It offers a designated period of time, even if only 10-20 minutes per day, just to exist. To connect with myself.
As with cold showers, meditation is something I have tried in the past but have struggled to do consistently until the last year or so. My personality is such that I’ll often drift off into thought or distraction but since I’ve been consistent with meditation I’ve been able to catch myself and bring my attention back to the present much more effectively. The sense of calm and control this has given me is immense and I value the practice deeply. Because of our early starts I don’t have time to fit meditation in before I go to work in the morning but my schedule allows me to meditate once I’m back from the gym. If I had a choice I’d do it before work but I’m unwilling to get up any earlier!
A friend of mine recommended an application called Headspace to help with guided meditations. I think this was the primary reason meditation stuck for me this time around. It helps me keep my focus and have a deeper understanding of how the mind works. I really like it. You can do the first 10 sessions on Headspace for free, that are 10 minutes each. Once you’ve completed the 10 sessions, if you like it you can signup and it’s only $7 per month. Worth every penny.
Breath is weird, it’s one of the only functions in the human body that occurs autonomously and subconsciously, but if you choose to focus on it, we can also be control and direct consciously. That isn’t something I’d really thought about until someone recently pointed it out to me. They also added that this is why many meditation techniques involved focusing the attention on the breath, the theory is that the breath can act as a bridge between the subconscious and conscious and thus assist in developing the connection between the two aspects of the mind.
The scientific jury is still out on the latter but deep breathing, from my personal experience, can be an excellent tool to wake up the body and invigorate the senses. One simple technique is to take 30 deep breaths in a row with a fast exhalation. So the pattern goes; deep breath, fast exhale, deep breath, fast exhale etc. for 30 repetitions. When you do this you flood the body and brain with oxygen and may feel a tingling sensation, light headedness or euphoria - this is normal but you may want to try it sitting down to start with!
NUTRIENT DENSE BREAKFAST
Start strong with good food. The quality of your breakfast tends to dictate the quality of food for the remainder of the day. Ideally we eat a breakfast filled with nutrients but unfortunately this hasn’t been the case for a long time. Big Food has sold us on convenience over quality so most modern breakfast tables are filled with cereal, bread and sugar. None of which give us the nutrients our bodies thrive on. To make matters worse, a breakfast high in sugar spikes blood sugar levels and what goes up, must come down. Blood sugar crashes cause hunger and mood swings. Not good. The alternative is to use foods that burn energy slowly and nourish the body. My breakfast typically consists of 2-3 eggs and half an avocado and sometimes I’ll throw some bacon in. Those foods have very little carbohydrate and burn slowly, keeping me full for longer and my body can use the rich nutrients in those foods for my basic bodily processes.
THINGS TO AVOID
There are a couple of things I’ve found that hinder the success of a good morning routine. The number 1 thing, without exception, is getting sucked into my phone. That thing is a time vampire, and considering my time is very limited before I have to go to work I have to be weary not to get seduced by it. I check my phone when I get up to see if I’ve had any client cancellations overnight. Inevitably I’ll see various notifications from social media sites which may pique my interest but I stay strong. I don’t allow myself to get dragged in by it anymore. This wasn’t always the case but I’ve learned that the benefit of a start to the day drastically outweighs the white noise I’d find on the interwebz.
The second thing is not to take on too much at once. Human beings run primarily on habits and it’s hard to create new ones. If you like the list above I’d recommend picking only one or two from the list and starting to add those into your morning routine. Once these become habit, which normally takes about 3 weeks, you can think about adding something else into the routine. And if you slip up and miss, say, your water intake one morning, no biggie just try again tomorrow.
The way you start your day has a huge impact on the quality of the rest of your day and subsequently, your life. It is possible to take control of your mornings, as simple as getting up 10 minutes earlier than you do currently. Many of the ideas listed above are free or at least very low in cost, it simply takes a little bit of effort and discipline to create a better routine.
If you have any questions on morning routines or on health in general please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org