“Demir, I feel like I would really benefit from having a morning routine. I’ve read so many articles about them online, but I don’t know how or where to start! Are they all they’re cracked up to be? And how do I create one for myself?” – Tana M.

Thanks for the question Tana. And yes, ABSOLUTELY, morning routines are all they’re cracked up to be. But there’s a catch:  They can seem insanely hard to start!

People assume that what’s special about morning routines is routine itself:  Meditation, exercise, writing, reading, etc. Makes sense, right?  But I’m here to tell you something surprising:  WHAT you do in your morning routine doesn’t really matter that too much.

I know that’s shocking, but it’s sort of common sense!  Someone who is just making her bed and taking 5 deep breaths each morning is probably doing better than you are right now.  So instead of telling you what my minute-by-minute morning routine is, I’ve come up with a set of principles to keep in mind when creating your own morning routine.

1. YOUR MORNING ROUTINE HAS TO START THE NIGHT BEFORE!

The #1 way I break people through who are unable to start a morning routine is simple:  I have them concentrate on their morning routine as they go to bed the night before. We’ve got to stop thinking about our morning routine as an isolated event during our day. Instead, we should think about it as one of many dominoes that are falling. In that case, your morning routine becomes a natural continuation of what state your mind and body were in the night before. You’ve got to start by dialing in your sleeping space. That might sound like a no-brainer but think about this; how many of us have been guilty of sleeping with our phones? How many of us have sat in bed working on our laptops until 3 AM? It’s surprising how we often just take our sleeping space for granted. We spend so many hours sleeping, yet many of us give very little thought to optimizing this very important aspect of our lives.

A couple simple ways to implement this hack:
  • Invest in an awesome pillow – it’s amazing how this small change can make such a huge impact on the quality of sleep you’re getting
  • Don’t bring screens into the bedroom! I know you’re hearing this hack all over the place now, but it’s popular for a reason. Remove the temptation to stay up an extra hour scrolling mindlessly through Facebook, and thank yourself later!
Falling asleep with a clear mind is an easy way to leverage your brain. It kick-starts your next day with minimal effort! Whether that be guided-meditation, deep breathing practices, or a body scan relaxation practice, doing “mindfulness exercises” before bed is imperative to waking up on the right side of the bed. Tip:  I bought 99 cent “Wake Up Refreshed” guided meditation track from iTunes.  I listen to it almost every night.  It makes a remarkable difference for me.

2. START IMPOSSIBLY SMALL

I’ll be perfectly honest with you here: The “8pm Demir” is WAY more ambitious than “8am Demir”. I expect that 8am Demir will be this super-human version of myself who will want to run a marathon before breakfast, and that just isn’t the case. Ever.  And I know a lot of people out there have this same problem. The size of our ambition is what is sabotaging our execution! But simplicity is chaos-proof. Start small with your routine — impossibly small.  For beginners, I recommend making your bed, then sitting on the end of the bed and taking 5 deep breaths.  That’s it!  If you’re still doing that 2 weeks later, expand it to a longer meditation.  Or add on some push ups, or yoga.

There are a million articles out there that give a magic number for how many days it takes to form a new habit. But in reality, the time it takes to form a habit is directly proportional to the difficulty of the action being implemented. Adding 1 minute of purposeful breathing, or a glass of water in the morning, isn’t going to take very long to become habitual. The easiest way to start incorporating a morning routine into your day is to start impossibly small.

3. YOUR MORNING ROUTINE CAN LAND ANYWHERE ON THE MAP, AS LONG AS IT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD

A morning routine is like ordering at Starbuck’s: it comes in all sizes and flavors. But I’ve found that there are a few consistent elements to successful routines:
  • Starting off with a Keystone Habit (a energizing/confidence boosting habit) has been proven to act as a catalyst for leading a more successful day. One very simple Keystone Habit that I recommend for the start of any morning routine is making your bed. Studies show that this simple act can boost your mental state for the entire day AND make your more productive!
  • Similar to the mindfulness practices I suggest you end your night with, including meditation in your morning practice has a bunch of physical and emotional benefits. It activates your parasympathetic nervous system–slowing your heart rate, regulating breathing, decreasing blood pressure, and improving circulation. Further, it’s been proven that mindfulness practices rewire your brain to process things more analytically. This helps to clear your mind and create phenomenal focus and logical reasoning throughout the rest of your day!
  • Expressing gratitudes–whether written or verbally–is such a simple way to improve your mood and mindset for the rest of your day. Taking the time to express gratitudes (“I’m grateful for…”) to your partner, family member, or in a journal has been scientifically proven to be as effective as antidepressants in rewiring your brain away from anxiety/stress.
  • Physical routines are as effective for some people as mental routines are for others. The most obvious physical routine being exercise–whether it be a quick jog, a yoga routine, or doing 50 push-ups! Personally, I opt for a cold shower. I know that sounds jarring–but it only takes a minute or two for your body to completely adjust to the cold! And this physical invigoration truly wakes me up in the morning–clears my mind and helps get me focused for the rest of the day.
  • When you wake up in the morning, your tanks are all on empty. A critical part of getting your body and mind ready for the rest of the day is what you consume! I recommend a high protein, low carb breakfast–it gives my brain awesome nutrients to munch on throughout the morning. I pair that with a glass of lemon water–proven to be more effective at waking you up and keeping you alert than coffee. Don’t get me wrong, I love my coffee, but I have to have my glass of lemon water in the morning to get me going.
  • To get the wheels turning, try supplementing breakfast with stimulating entertainment. If you’re someone who enjoys reading the news in the morning, try using a news aggregate (like Flipboard or Feedly) so you only read/watch stuff that adds something positive to your morning. If you’re someone that’s sitting down to have breakfast with your kids – try turning on some music and letting loose with breakfast karaoke!

4. STREAMLINE, STREAMLINE, STREAMLINE

Once you’ve actually started a simple, personalized, consistent morning routine, you’re bound to want to add more. Maybe instead of a breathing exercise, you want a full-fledged yoga routine. Maybe you want to add a cup of tea and journaling. All of these things begin to turn those 25 minutes from leisurely to timed. You’re rushing to get 10 things done that on their own would be relaxing, but mixed with everything else, becomes a bit stressful. If this is the case, it’s time to take a step back and reassess your routine. The key is to keep it simple. Think of it in terms of going on vacation: if you only have time to do 1 or 2 of the things in your current morning routine, what are the most leveraged things on the list? Find those, and stick to them!

Tip:  If you can’t do it in a hotel room, your morning routine is too complicated.

5. ACCEPT THE INEVITABLE:  FALLING OFF THE WAGON

It’s important to accept that there will come a time when your morning routine breaks down. You might get a new job that starts earlier, your kids might start at a new school further away from home, or a million other things. Change is an inevitable part of the morning routine game. It doesn’t have to break, it can bend to fit your life. The essential skill to learn here is building and rebuilding the routine whenever necessary, and having the humility to step back and assess it when it falls apart. So many people procrastinate on starting a morning routine because they are waiting for the perfect circumstances to roll around. But much more important than having a perfect routine is simply HAVING a routine–doing what you can is the perfect place to start.   Comment below with what your morning routine is, and why it works for you!

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Demir & Carey Bentley

Demir and Carey Bentley are the founders of Lifehack Method, WSJ & USA Today bestselling authors, and executive productivity coaches. They've helped thousands of people avoid burnout and soar to their highest level of productivity. Read more about them here.