Graduations, job promotions, running a marathon—milestones provide us with points of pride, achievements that reveal our intellect, grit and work ethic. Reflecting upon a span of time usually rouses these milestones, these ‘big moments’. Goals we reach and associated celebratory emotions rise above other memories, stealing our attention like highlighted passages in a book. We fail to discern the small, quiet hours resting between these milestones. In reality, those mundane sticking points and times of friction hold a much larger stake in our lives than times of achievement.
While tempting, to use milestones as our barometer for success reflects a suspect truth. Bending reality around our proudest moments creates a skewed narrative. No matter how much they stand out amidst our reveries, it isn’t what we do every ‘sometimes’ that defines us. But every day? A far more honest depiction.
The routines and habits constituting our days form the bedrock upon which we stand. Creating a durable foundation is the springboard for our proudest moments to soar.
Waking Up for a Better Life
Everyone and his uncle has read articles about morning routines. But morning routines aren’t just reserved for health enthusiasts that swear by veganism, or those hyper-productive-types who listen to podcasts while reading while shaving while driving to work (we’ve all seen them). Some of the world’s highest achievers wake up before dawn. (Both Apple CEO Tim Cook and Disney CEO Bob Iger reportedly rise before 4:30 am to exercise.)
A morning routine doesn’t necessitate setting an alarm at some ungodly hour—that’s exactly how to not start a morning routine. A morning routine you dread will not last. Rather, habits you are proud to complete should constitute each day, things such as exercise or reading or meditation.
A balanced morning routine sets the tone, but so does getting to sleep. Too often, students roll out of their dorm at the eleventh hour, drag their lethargy with them to class and proceed to struggle against the increased gravity on their eyelids—not exactly optimal for learning. How would students feel—and perform—if they woke up earlier to exercise at the recreation centre on campus? Or if they read in the library rather than staying in bed scrolling through social media?
Each day, I wake up early to exercise and read before going to work. I’ve continued this for many years and it’s helped provide stability and fitness in my life. By accomplishing something for my body and mind first thing in the morning, I can better focus on the awaiting tasks in my day. I have no decisions to make each morning; my routine automates everything. I’ve minimized uncertainty; autopilot guides my decisions. This affords me a greater capacity for reflection and mental clarity.
These first tasks are the first victories of the day. Implement positive habits that can snowball beyond the morning to precipitate a healthier, more productive day.
Me, Me, Me
Morning routines are highly individualized. The goal shouldn’t be to emulate someone else, but instead to find what works and what doesn’t. For someone who spends a significant time reading each day, she shouldn’t add in an hour of reading to her morning routine. Or, someone who works a late-night shift would be ill-advised to try and wake up at 4:30 am. The objective is simple: find what works best for you.
Recently, I’ve been experimenting with the ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature on iPhone, leaving it on until 9:00 am to minimize morning distractions. By no means have I perfected this habit, though it provides another opportunity for improvement—an added victory for the morning. I’m still testing whether to keep my phone on silent until after exercising or until I arrive to work. I’m seeking what works best for me.
A morning routine creates space and time for you to focus on yourself before the day commences. Work, school, relationships—our schedules are rarely empty, making it easy for poor habits to derail our health. By starting each day with designated ‘me-time’, you are reminding yourself you are a priority in your own life. A morning routine allows you to frame each morning as a victory. That sense of accomplishment imbues you with confidence to catalyze the rest of the day.
‘Big moments’ don’t define you. Achievements stem from what transpires on a daily basis. Measure yourself with the disciplines of your daily, quiet hours. Not the stage-ready moments that define your ‘sometimes’. Consider the habits that would make you proud to accomplish each morning; then, seize them.
This article was originally published in No. 544, Newsletter in Oct 2019.