When I first learned how many “successful” people cite a regimented morning routine as an essential component of their high performance, I immediately sat down to map out my own based on examples that were shared.
It went something like this:
- Set my alarm for at least 30 minutes earlier than usual.
- Drink a full liter of water upon waking.
- Complete an invigorating workout.
- Blend up a protein shake, making sure to add organic blueberries and ground flax seeds. Consume promptly.
- Shower and get dressed for the day.
- Determine my most important tasks and events for the day and set my day’s schedule around them.
- Power through as much as I can of a high-priority project in 30 to 50 minutes.
- Rest for 10 minutes to avoid burnout.
When I could not maintain this for more than a few days, I felt like an even bigger failure than I did for not knowing how important it was to be following such an ambitious routine in the first place. I was never going to be successful. I was never going to transform my life.
But that turned out to not be true.
This impressively disciplined structure is one way to kickstart the day to advance one’s goals, but it’s not the only way. You don’t have to revolve your life around getting more done, and for those of you, like me, who tend toward perfectionism and workaholism as it is, it may not even be advisable to try.
Enter instead a morning ritual. The concept is similar, but the energy you bring to it is much different.
Rather than focusing on tasks, a morning ritual allows for a more ceremonial transition into your day. It’s about being present with yourself and setting a precedent for how you want to feel instead of how much you want to check off.
What’s especially nice about a morning ritual is, because it’s not focused on productivity, you can make it as simple or elaborate as you’d like.
Most days, my morning ritual is as follows:
- Drink at least 8 ounces of water, sometimes warm and with fresh-squeezed lemon juice. The productivity gurus are right that good hydration is critical.
- Light a candle and spend a few minutes meditating and praying. If weather permits, I may opt to sit outside with a cup of tea and just breathe and touch my feet to the earth.
- Identify 3 to 5 things I need and/or want to do — and believe to be reasonable expectations in light of what’s on my calendar that particular day — and then I rank them in order of priority to my life goals. I can’t always dive into my #1 item first, but I pay attention to how often I’m tempted to do projects for other people first. You know the expression, “you can’t pour from an empty cup?” It’s tough to deliver when your passion well has run dry, too.
- Set an intention for how I aspire for the rest of my day to proceed.
When I honor myself by actually doing this, I feel grounded and centered throughout the entire day. I may not be achieving super-human outputs, but I am always satisfied with what I’m able to accomplish before bed time — without ever feeling hurried or pressured. When I skip it, I fall right back into my pattern of work, work, work, and I somehow still don’t get through half of what I’d planned to do. (But again, getting work done isn’t the point of this. It’s just a happy side effect.)
Because rituals are deeply personal by nature, you really have to make this your own before it will work for you. And you’re only going to figure out how to make it your own by diving into the experiment.
Instead of following my morning ritual, I recommend shifting one aspect of your typical morning (to align with one specific intention) at a time. For example, if you wish to feel more clarity, you might give yourself some time to wake up and ease in to your day before you reach for your cell phone or check your e-mail. If you’d like to feel lighter and more fluid, you might start out with a few minutes of gentle moving or stretching. If you’re desiring more energy, try reaching for a glass of water before your first cup of coffee. As you begin to form new habits and try out different pieces, you’ll find a way to integrate more of them.
But whatever you do, don’t forget that self-judgment is the enemy of empowerment and transformation. If you’re holding yourself to standards you’re not able to meet, even if you feel like you should, you’re liable to only want to hide under the covers.
How do you like (or think you might like) to start off your mornings? Tell me in the comments below!
Jill Ennis, M.S., is a teacher and transformational coach on a mission to support smart, talented women who are tired of feeling blasé about their lives to harness their inner brilliance and move joyfully toward their goals.
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