I have never liked mornings.
I’ve tried many times to become an early riser – but I inevitably fall off the wagon after a few days of feeling grumpy and lethargic. I’ve attempted all those quick fix strategies (Turn off your cellphone an hour before bed, count sheep, whatever) – but it just seemed like lasting change was impossible. I resigned myself to my night owl status and stopped trying.
“Morning is wonderful. Its only drawback is that it comes at such an inconvenient time of day.” — Glen Cook. Tweet this.
It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. So this year, I tried one more time… But I tried a little differently.
Instead of trying to form the one big habit of “waking up early,” I decided to begin practicing eleven smaller, easier habits, which help me to wake up earlier and – more importantly – fill my mornings with greater happiness and productivity.
Don’t delay any longer. Start practicing one habit today – and then add another tomorrow! These habits are applicable no matter what time you wake up, and you can easily modify them to fit your unique situation. Each one is short and simple, but will have powerful ripple effects on your mornings.
The night before:
Habit #1. Fill your water bottle. Everyone says that you should drink water immediately upon waking up. But let’s be real: if I have to sleepily drag myself out of my cozy bed and fumble around in the cold, dark kitchen in order to get some water… it’s just not going to happen. So, as you get ready for bed in the evening, take 30 seconds and prep a full water bottle to leave on your nightstand. I use a simple Rubbermaid water bottle I picked up at Fred Meyers, but you get extra points for using something nice like one of these bottles recommended by The Wire Cutter.
Habit #2. Plan your decisions. Do you stare at your fridge each morning, unable to decide on a meal? Do you lie in bed pretending to “pick your outfit,” only to get up and find out that those clothes actually look terrible and you need to wear something else? Make those decisions – whatever they might be – the night before and give your sleepy morning-brain a break. Write a note about your breakfast, outfit, workout plans, and most important tasks for the day, and make it available for easy reference in the morning. The goal of all these habits is to make getting up as straightforward as possible. If we can reduce the number of things we have to think about when we wake up, we will have more willpower and focus available to be productive right away.
Habit #3. Set ONE alarm. Setting multiple alarms is probably the worst idea.
Reason #1: If you set your alarms at ten minute intervals from 6am to 7am, you will be awake (or at best, sleeping lightly) from 6am to 7am. You might as well just set one alarm at 7am and get the extra hour of sleep.
Reason #2: At some point, you will inevitably hit snooze on one too many alarms. Don’t be that person that ignored their last alarm and was late for something important.
Break your snooze habit. Set one alarm, enjoy the extra rest and commit to getting up when it goes off.
I use Sleep Cycle alarm clock on my phone (available for iOS and Android for $0.99) to wake up at the lightest point in my sleep cycle. I swear this thing works – but if you are looking for something more intense, you should check out BetterMe (free, iOS and Android) for a dose of public humiliation if you hit snooze, via Facebook integration. If even that won’t do it for you, check out Thomas Frank’s set up over at College Info Geek, and learn how to pledge money if you sleep in — desperate times call for desperate measures!
In the morning:
Habit #4. Get active. After your one alarm goes off, get up. Get up immediately. And get active. Do something – anything – to keep yourself from crawling back into bed for “just one more minute.” I literally roll out of bed and immediately do some quick exercises (5-20 minutes) through Skimble’s Workout Trainer (I use the free version, available on iOS and Android.)
Bonus tip: Just like you leave your water bottle next to your bed for easy access in the morning, set your sneakers and workout clothes out too.
Habit #5. Wash your face. Not only is this habit great for your skin, it’s also really refreshing. Lukewarm to cool water is best. Extra points for brushing your teeth first.
Habit #6. Eat good food. Productivity requires fuel, so treat your body right and eat a nourishing, healthy meal. Especially if your metabolism isn’t used to waking up early, definitely make sure to get some calories in right away. If you don’t like to eat much in the morning, that’s fine, but make sure you at least have a cup of yogurt or some fruit and a handful of nuts. I try to keep it simple and predictable during the week, only experimenting with new meals on the weekend, when I have enough time to derp around. I’m a huge fan of quick breakfasts which use eggs, bacon, avocados, and nut butter (but not all together). You can check out some of my staples, as well as dishes I’d like to try, on my Pinterest.
Habit #7. Do something peaceful. Take a few minutes to just enjoy being alive, even (especially) if you have a stressful, busy day ahead. Pray, meditate, write in a journal, or go for a walk outside. Visit the local cafe and get a cup of coffee. Do whatever is most relaxing and uplifting for you.
Habit #8. Do something intelligent. Okay, all shameless puns aside… I have far too many days when the most urgent tasks crowd out the most important tasks — and that’s why this habit is so valuable for me. Set a timer for 15-30 minutes and do something enriching, something thoughtful, something that makes you a smarter, better person.
Non-exhaustive list of ideas:
– Read a book (See the titles I’m currently reading on Goodreads.)
– Read the news
– Write a letter
– Listen to a TED Talk (Check out this playlist of 3-4 minute presentations.)
– Listen to a podcast
– Listen to an audiobook (Try Audible and get two free audiobooks! And once you download your free audiobooks, they’re yours forever – even if you then immediately cancel your subscription.)
– Memorize some foreign language vocabulary on DuoLingo
Habit #9. Connect with humans.
I love connecting with my friends as part of how I check off my other habits. Once or twice a week, I meet friends in the morning to exercise and/or get breakfast together. On other days, we’ll make an arrangement to call each other at a certain time to ensure we wake up early. If you’re feeling too introverted for that, you could write someone a letter or just text them an encouraging message. People make the world go ‘round: Don’t neglect your friends.
Habit #10. Empower yourself.
Each morning, you must make the decision to live the life you want. Take a few moments to remind yourself of the big picture. How do your plans for today help you achieve your long-term dreams? Why are you excited about the future? Can you do something to brighten someone else’s day? What do you have to be grateful for? Be confident and be kind.
How do you empower yourself? Tweet your tips to @ajicooper
Habit #11. Get things done.
Start with success. Choose a short, clearly-defined, easily accomplishable task — and immediately get it done. It will establish a pattern of positivity and productivity for the rest of your day. I especially like doing the dishes, reading a chapter of my textbook, or proofreading a bit of writing.
That’s it! Simple, right?
These habits deliver a real return-on-investment – for a little effort, you can create happy, productive mornings and start your day off on the right track. This strategy has been hugely impactful for me, and I hope it helps you too.
But remember: Morning habits WILL require effort.
So here’s my final tip: Give yourself some grace. Reconcile yourself to the fact that you won’t wake up perfect tomorrow morning. However, if you commit yourself to adding just one or two of these habits to your routine each day, it will make a difference. You can change, and so can your mornings. If you accidentally stay up late one night, let yourself sleep in the next morning. It’s okay to make mistakes – as long as you commit to improving the next time.
If you’re interested in exploring routines more: The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg was one of the best books I read in 2014, and I can’t recommend it strongly enough. Everyone should read it – it’s practical, enjoyable, and very empowering.
If you subscribe to my weekly newsletter, I’ll send you a habit-tracking worksheet which I designed specifically for this guide. Remember, psychologists say it takes approximately 21 days to form a new habit… In other words, you should get started creating your amazing morning routine right now!
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