Every day, each and every one of us is given a gift.
That gift is the ability to wake up each morning with a clean slate–a blank sheet of paper onto which we have the power and ability to write the fate of our day, before it even begins.
The actions that we take immediately after waking up are the foundation (or lack thereof) from which we form the quality of our actions for the remainder of the day.
Set your day in motion by creating an everyday morning ritual that leaves you feeling grounded, focused, and ready to tackle the day with all of the energy and spirit that your body can muster.
1) Wake up early
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work–as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for–the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?
“But it’s nicer here…”
So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
-Marcus Aurelius: Meditations
Throughout history, many great men, including Benjamin Franklin, Charles Darwin, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Donald Trump, knew the immense power that waking up early had on setting the day off right.
When you overcome the temptation to hit the snooze button, you solidify your day with the precedent of discipline.
Jocko Willink, author of Extreme Ownership said it best–
The moment the alarm goes off is the first test; it sets the tone for the rest of the day. The test is not a complex one: when the alarm goes off, do you get up out of bed, or do you lie there in comfort and fall back to sleep? If you have the discipline to get out of bed, you win — you pass the test. If you are mentally weak for that moment and you let that weakness keep you in bed, you fail. Though it seems small, that weakness translates to more significant decisions. But if you exercise discipline, that too translates to more substantial elements of your life …
Willpower levels are highest in the morning.
Studies have shown that willpower acts like a muscle, and that repeated acts of self-control cause short term impairments in subsequent self-control.1 This means that the more willpower you expend making choices throughout the day, the less likely you will be willing and able to complete difficult tasks as the day goes on.
It is prudent to take advantage of this time frame to complete your most demanding tasks–those tasks that you constantly talk yourself out of completion.
You are more likely to be productive in the morning.
The most powerful advantage of early rising is that it shifts your window of free time from late at night to early in the morning.
Generally speaking, we are much more likely to waste our time lounging about, watching Netflix, playing video games, or surfing the web in the hours after work leading up to sleep. We use our free time in the evenings and nights recreationally to relax and “unwind” rather than investing it into more beneficial endeavors. Shifting this time frame to take place in the early morning is a surefire way to mitigate the likelihood of us squandering it on cheap pleasures. Have you ever heard of anybody who wakes up at 5AM to binge watch Netflix for three hours before work? Neither have I.
How to wake up early:
Go to bed early – The most important thing to consider when shifting your wake-time back is that you still manage to get a solid 7-9 hours of sleep. If you don’t, you’ll feel groggy, your cortisol will increase while your testosterone levels drop, your workouts will suffer, and you’ll feel awful until you finally give up. It is extremely important that you remain well rested by shifting your bedtime back to accommodate your new sleep schedule.
Work up slowly – Abruptly altering your sleep schedule is ineffective and unnecessary. Instead, work your way up to an earlier bedtime by going to bed 30 minutes earlier than the previous day.
Supplement – To help aid the process of resetting your circadian rhythm, I highly recommend dosing with 0.5mg to 3mg of melatonin an hour before going to bed. For sleep quality and feeling well rested and energized when you wake up, supplement with magnesium glycinate–I can’t recommend this stuff enough; the effects have been profound for me in terms of sleep quality. I also recommend taking a good vitamin D3 supplement , as vitamin D deficiency has been linked to the recent increase in global sleep disorders.2 Make sure you don’t take vitamin D3 before bed, as it temporarily inhibits the body’s production of melatonin.
2) Make your bed
I know what you’re thinking. “How could making my bed possibly help me?”
The truth is that by making your bed every single morning, you chalk up your first task of the day as a success. This leaves you with a feeling of accomplishment, making you more willing and prepared to face the rest of the day.
Leaving your room every morning, cleaner and neater than it was when you came in the night before, does wonders for your psyche by improving your mood, keeping your mind clear, reducing stress, and giving you a feeling of control that will permeate through the actions that you take for the rest of the day.
3) Keep away from your phone
The worst thing you could possibly do first thing in the morning is to immediately start checking texts and e-mails, or mindlessly browsing through social media.
Seeking novelty and instant gratification immediately upon waking is a surefire way of starting your day off on the wrong foot. It will only waste valuable time and kill your motivation to get out of bed and attack the day.
Over 90% of adults aged 18-30 wake up to their smartphones.3 Don’t be part of the 90%.
Intermittent fasting has an astonishing number of health benefits, including:
Autophagy (cellular cleaning).
Reduced oxidative stress.
Increased growth hormone.
But the main reason myself and many others incorporate fasting into our morning rituals is due to its profound effect on mental clarity.
This is likely due to the spike in catecholamine levels (epinephrine, nor-epinephrine) that occurs deep into a fast.
When I skip breakfast first thing in the morning, my mind is clear and runs like a well oiled locomotive. Fasting in synergy with caffeine is the combination when faced with a task that requires my full focus and mental capacity.
5) Set your philosophical foundation
Pick a book/text that you find inspiring that explores questions such as:
How to live.
How to deal with external/internal struggles.
How the self relates to the whole.
Dealing with loss.
What it means to be human.
What is the ultimate good.
It can be any material that you find intriguing and relatable: Buddhism, Taoism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Kantianism, Nihilism…
Take about 10-15 minutes to read a few passages, really focusing on internalizing the content and relating it to the events and circumstances in your life.
This arms you with an instruction manual on how to live out your days and how to deal with the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
Personally I read and internalize about 5-10 maxims from Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations or Epictetus’s Enchiridion every morning before I meditate.
The mind needs to be regularly exercised just like our muscles. Meditating is like lifting weights for the mind. The well documented psychological and health benefits of meditation include:
Decreases feelings of depression.
Increases gray matter in the left hippocampus (information retention), the posterior cingulate cortex (willpower and meta-cognition), and the temporo-parietal junction (empathy and compassion).
Decreases cell volume in amygdala, which is responsible for stress, anxiety, fear, and anger.
Improves information processing and decision making.
Reduces risk of having a heart attack or stroke by 48%.
Reduces blood pressure.
Despite all these benefits, most people don’t incorporate meditation into their everyday lives.
I’d venture to say that having a consistent meditation habit is equally important to having a solid workout regimen.
Meditation is really quite simple, all you need is a quiet place and a timer.
Here is a short guide to meditation that I have successfully been using for years:
Sit in a comfortable position.
Observe the breath. Is it cold as you inhale? Warm as you exhale?
Observe the uncontrollable act that breathing is. Observe the unconscious force which compels you to breath.
Thoughts will arise, simply realize that you are thinking and return to observing the breath.
Do not feel anger or frustration if thoughts continue to arise incessantly. Each time you recognize that you are thinking, the frequency of thoughts decreases.
Start with 10 minutes daily, progressively adding 30 seconds to each session each day until you reach 20 minutes.
7) Take a cold shower
If you’ve never taken an ice cold shower first thing in the morning, you don’t know what you’re missing.
If there is one litmus test to predict how well you will perform for the rest of any given day, it’s this: Do you have the discipline, and quite frankly the balls, to jump into a freezing shower for 5 minutes first thing in the morning?
Cold showers have a number of health benefits such as:
But that’s not why I like them.
Nothing quite energizes you like being hit with the feeling of cold water running down your back.
Cold showers are a true test of discipline as they train you to continuously plunge into the deep end of your comfort zone.
Cold showers are a simple (but not easy) way of training yourself to embrace bold action and to act in spite of hesitations you may have in other areas of your life.
Having a solid morning ritual is an invaluable tool that will instantly set you up for success once you start implementing some of the powerful habits listed above.
Don’t be somebody who passively goes with the flow of the day. You must take the proactive measure to take control of the outcome of the rest of your day.
Arm yourself with simple habits to be performed every morning that will drastically improve the quality of the actions that you take for the rest of the day.
If you have suggestions of any other powerful habits that you incorporate in your everyday morning ritual, post a comment; I’d love to hear about it.