Doing something occasionally makes it an activity. Doing something regularly makes it a hobby. Doing something every day makes it a routine.
During my first backpacking trip, I avoided schedules and routine as much as I could (aside from bus and flight schedules). I sought the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted and didn’t want to stick to a schedule.
I hopped from country to country, exploring new faces, places, cultures, and activities. In the fast-paced thrill of it all, I focused so much on where I was that I began to lose touch of who I was.
After a few weeks of soaking in countless new experiences, I found myself yearning for structure. I needed a routine to rely on in order to stay healthy and grounded.
I started with a few activities in the morning: five deep breaths, gentle stretches, and setting a goal or intention for the day.
It was challenging at first – especially when there was a world of excitement around me. But this self-centered (in a positive way) routine brought me peace throughout the day.
My morning routine while traveling:
Take five deep breaths.
Slowly stretch different muscles. Finish with a full-body stretch.
Sit up and drink a glass of water.
Set a goal or intention for the day.
Acknowledge one specific way I can move toward my goal or intention today.
That’s it! It took me five minutes and could all be done from the comfort of my bed (or wherever I woke up). Then I would get up and get ready for the day.
How do you develop a routine that sticks?
Keep your physical space clean and de-cluttered so it doesn’t stress you out as soon as you open your eyes. Increase mental space by eliminating distractions and distancing yourself from obligations (i.e. don’t put your computer, a to-do list, or anything work-related by your bed). If you use your cellphone as your alarm, put it on “Do Not Disturb” while you practice your routine.
We constantly tell ourselves we “don’t have time.” The truth is we can find or make time for the things that are important to us – especially when they take less than 10 minutes.
Design your morning routine to be simple and flexible enough to work in short timeframes and various places. It’s true that most people don’t have the time or mental space to meditate for an hour in the morning. We wake up and want to start gearing up for the day. We can usually handle a few minutes of stretching, deep breathing, and thinking about the day ahead. These are things you can do literally anywhere and allow you to start your day with a few minutes wholly for yourself.
Doing something every day makes it a routine. All you have to do is do it. Every day. It’s that simple (and sometimes it’s that hard).
Practicing your morning routine consistently will eventually make it feel like second-nature for you. At that point, when you rush through or skip your routine, you’re going to feel strange – like something’s missing. This is your body saying, “I think we forgot something!” and is a telltale sign that you’ve created a routine that sticks.
What are the benefits of a morning routine?
You deepen your connection to yourself.
In this fast-paced world, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything going on around us. Directing your attention back to yourself – especially first thing in the morning – means stepping back to reconnect with who you are, what you want, and how to move in that direction.
You connect better with other people.
Having a healthy morning routine means practicing self-awareness and connection as soon as the day begins. That plugs “connection” into your brain for the rest of the day.
Think of your morning routine as a way to fuel yourself. In doing this, you not only go farther; you also help drive others forward. On the other hand, if you’re running on empty, you’re more likely become frustrated or shut down all together.
You adapt to change more easily.
As I learned while traveling, having a stable morning routine keeps you grounded and centered through mindfulness. You stay connected to yourself, which is important when your surroundings are constantly changing.
We tune into ourselves most often when we’re faced with change. We question what we want and how to move forward. But imagine how much better you would cope with change (maybe even thrive off of it) if you paid attention to your wants and needs every single morning.
You practice mindfulness regularly.
Being “mindful” or “present” can often feel like empty buzzwords. These concepts are constantly tossed around, but what do they really look like?
To be “mindful” means to be aware. Have a morning routine that’s clear of distractions (specifically technology and to do lists) and spend at least a few minutes with yourself. Focus on something you might not normally notice: your breathing, how your body feels, or the way your coffee or breakfast tastes without a computer screen in front of you.
You change your approach to decision-making.
As you practice your morning routine, you deepen your mindfulness, improve your connections, and better adapt to change. And with time, you’ll see all of these self-changes seep into other aspects of your life.
Your work will be of a higher quality. You will pursue opportunities that resonate with you. You’ll set boundaries and say “no” to things you don’t want.
Who knows, you might even become a morning person!
My morning routine now:
The good news is that there’s no “right” way to create a routine. It’s about what will work for you. My routine has shifted only slightly since returning from my travels. Here’s what mornings look like for me now.
I start by placing my hands on my stomach (this encourages deep breathing from the diaphragm rather than shallow chest breathing). Then I take five deep breaths. I inhale for four counts (belly expands), hold for two, and exhale for four counts (belly retracts).
Starting at my feet and moving up, I gently move different parts of my body. I’ll wiggle my toes or stretch my fingers or tense, hold, and release small muscle groups. I always finish with a full-body stretch.
I slowly sit up, take another breath, and drink at least 250ml of water. This helps my body metabolize and helps me become more alert.
I ask myself, “What is my goal or intention for the day?” This could be: writing, mindfulness, connection, creativity, or any number of things. It’s not the only thing I’m doing today, but I’m making it my overarching focus.
Building on the previous step, I ask myself, “What is one way I can move toward my goal or intention today?” This gives me something practical to act on.
If my goal is writing, I commit to writing 500 words after breakfast. For mindfulness, I might walk outside at lunch. For connection, I could devote my evening to cooking and eating dinner with my partner. For creativity, I might sketch a picture while I eat breakfast. Keep things simple and specific.
Once I get out of bed and splash water on my face, I roll out my yoga mat. In the past, I explored silent meditation at this time, but I soon realized I needed more movement in the mornings (or would get too antsy to start the day). Now I do 10 slow-moving minutes of yoga before brewing coffee and cooking breakfast.
I love to cook with music and eat in silence. I cook up a healthy breakfast (this goes back to the “fueling yourself” analogy) with mellow music in the background. When I sit down to eat, I turn off the music and focus on the sounds around me. The quiet allows me to hear birds chirping outside and encourages me to start the day by being attentive to my thoughts.
Gear up for work
Once I’ve done the dishes, I’ll finally turn on my computer (I work from home most days). I’ll check in with projects I’m working on to see if there’s anything that needs my attention. I feel fueled – in body and mind (and belly!) – and ready for the day ahead.
Try not to check email or social media first thing in the morning. Savor this time with (and for) yourself, and use it to check in with how you’re feeling and what you have on your plate.
Keep a journal as you create and practice your routine. Exploring what works and what doesn’t is crucial, and journaling is a great way to keep tracking of how you feel through the process.
The most important thing is to take small steps to find what works for you. Get started today and start your day off right!
Do you have a morning routine that makes you feel healthier and more effective throughout the day? Share in the comments below!