Simplifying the Morning Routine
A years-long search for the perfect morning has meant pieces of paper with different iterations of “boot-up sequences” on the kitchen counter or in the bathroom exhorting me to comply with a sequence of “optimizing” tasks. Call me lazy, undisciplined or otherwise a slacker because these lists honestly never stuck.
For those who believe in continuous improvement, the quandary is real.
- Fuel the brain for maximum productivity with high octane, high fat, buttery coffee?
- Prime the cardiovascular system by executing kettlebell swings?
- Cold plunge à-la Tony Robbins and Wim Hof?
- Swill down a smoothie laced with the latest nutritional tech?
As a tinkerer myself, I’ve tried all of the above and more. Turns out caffeine is a drug (which I still use from time to time, but I’ve dialed down my uppers to practically zero).
Kettlebell swings aren’t a very gentle movement to perform on a just-awoken body.
Regarding cold thermogenesis, I prefer it for athletic recovery or aiding physical therapy.
And… Ok you caught me. I do have a pricey smoothie in my breakfast rotation.
Yet requiring physical tools or nutritional inputs feels overcomplicated and tenuous. What if I’m traveling without my immersion blender and a foam roller? What if the store doesn’t have grass-fed organic butter? How can I stay sharp?
Over time and experimentation, I’ve found the fundamental benefit of any morning routine is defining my perspective. Simplifying my routine to mostly mental makes it completely portable and accessible anywhere.
Instead of what I eat, or what do I do, the question becomes: What thoughts tune my mindset so I can behave in accordance with my values and principles? — A preparatory step that may be just the precursor needed for an early morning workout or sitting down to meditate.
You’ll need to define what’s most important for you, but here’s what works for me.
As soon as I can after waking I think, in no particular order:
1. Do your dharma, make no karma
In his introduction to the Bhagavad Gita, Eknath Easwaran writes:
“It has been said if you understand just two words, dharma and karma, you will have grasped the essence of Hinduism.”
These are big topics indeed. In my pithy morning mantra version, I’m simply reminding myself to do the work for my path (dharma) and not feed negative habits or do harmful deeds (karma).
2. Remind myself I might die today
Extremely improbable… But I never have a 100% guarantee of surviving the day.
The memento mori has ballooned in popularity paralleling a surge of interest in stoic philosophy thanks to folks like Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferriss. Although seemingly paradoxical, by becoming comfortable with the truth of death, we are more free to live. There’s even an app that reminds you of death 5x per day. Your milage may vary, but I’m definitively on the bandwagon of becoming friends with death.
3. Think of something I’m grateful for
Gratitude practice entered my awareness a few years ago with the 5 Minute Journal (another project I abandoned after filling one journal — yes, I’m a proud quitter).
I’ve found tremendous benefit weaving gratitude throughout my day, and for those scientifically minded amongst you, the science agrees.
4. Smile (admittedly it’s almost always forced and fake)
“I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be and I finally became that person. Or he became me. Or we met at some point.” — Cary Grant
Truth be told, my default mode in the morning is not grinning, or even excited. Smiling to start the day leans on the classic concept of “fake it till you make it.”
On a purely physiological level, integrative medicine pioneer Dr. Andrew Weil’s Spontaneous Happiness suggests benefits from smiling: “physically expressing an emotion sends a biochemical signal from the facial muscles that ‘loops’ back to the brain.”
Creating a simple, powerful morning of your own begins with a simple question:
What thoughts keep you aligned with your principles? Your values? The person you want to become?
This approach to the morning routine is free and available anywhere you are.
Go forth, experiment and have a good morning. ☀️
Originally published at https://themiddlewei.com on September 30, 2020.