Updated: Mar 26
The morning routine is a concept and practice I adopted from Tim Ferriss (@timferriss). Tim is a ‘New York Times Best-Selling’ author and has gained a lot of notoriety from his progressive blog and podcast. In his podcast, Tim interviews numerous household names and titans of various industries. Tim noted a commonality amongst many of these individuals... the morning routine. The details varied from person to person, but they ultimately had a series of healthy habits performed every morning to prime their mind and body for the day ahead.
In delving into Tim’s findings, and through some ongoing self-experimentation, I've devised a respectable routine that works wonders for me. My intent is to walk you through a typical morning and hopefully inspire you to experiment on your own, personalizing a routine to help you conquer the day.
I'm very much a night owl by nature. Late nights come naturally... early mornings take some work. I used to be a snooze button addict, but I came to terms with the fact that it’s restless sleep and wasted effort. My approach shifted to setting my alarm as late as possible, having no choice but to roll out of bed and move, but I’d inevitably show up to work groggy and take hours to perk up (I’ve never been a coffee user… an argument I’ll save for another day). The change came in calculating an ideal wakeup time, based on time needed for my routine, and sticking to it daily.
The key is a consistently early start... meaning you're getting up early each and every day at the same hour, and complimenting this with a set bedtime. Any variance from this consistency comprises the whole procedure and may wreak havoc on your sleep cycle, stressing your mind and body while they yearn for order.
Work, for me, is at 6:00 AM and a 5:00 AM start is plenty. I’m low maintenance, have an easy commute, but more importantly: I now make very efficient use of my time. I picked the wake-up call that worked best and had a conversation with myself regarding discipline. When the alarm goes off at the time that I’ve predetermined, I get up and go on full-autopilot. No snooze, no staring at the ceiling, no wallowing around wondering how I’m going to survive the day, no chance for unproductive thoughts given. I get up and go.
MAKE YOUR BED
After the alarm, the first thing I do is make my bed. This is a speedy operation… just a simple tug on all four corners and a quick rearranging of pillows. Nothing surgical.
Admiral William McRaven, a Navy SEAL and commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, gave a fantastic commencement speech at the University of Texas, which I highly recommend (link included below).
In this speech, Admiral McRaven gives ten priceless pieces of advice, one of which being the importance of making your bed. I laughed when I heard this super macho and respectable guy giving that specific piece, but his logic was very sound. McRaven said that with this act, you're starting your day with a task accomplished… a very small task, but something you set out to do and completed, start to finish. You do this task while you still have total control of your day, so in the off chance that everything goes to hell, you at least started with something done right.
I believe this initiates momentum in your day by starting with something manageable, and then progressing to the next larger task at hand, building a forward-moving force like a snowball rolling downhill.
It’s also worth noting that this simple act brings me some peace when returning home in the evening. I’ve never been a neat freak, but having some small measure of order after a hectic day at work is something I readily appreciate.
After the bed is made and my teeth are brushed, I'll knock out a set of a bodyweight exercises and one set of stretching. My philosophy is generally a focus on the elements I need the most improvement on. This is a great mindset to apply within the gym, and life in general. Constantly targeting the weakest link in the chain will always yield the greatest results.
I have a pull-up bar (a cheap investment) and pull-ups are my most likely bodyweight target, but you have plenty of options: push-ups, sit-ups, air squats, jumping jacks, burpees, etc. Reps or time are generally a product of the day. It could be a max effort set on pull-ups and a long yoga flow, or just a few reps and a quick toe touch. The point being, I’m doing something to get my blood flowing, my nervous system activated, and my body loosened up.
After the mini-workout, I hit a cold shower. Research suggests plenty of great benefits from this old-school practice. First, you can't deny that a cold shower is going to wake you up, quickly and effectively. Beyond that, they seem to be good for your skin, good for your hair, and there evidence that they raise testosterone levels in men. Some start with a warm shower and do a cold blast finish, others slowly work the temperature down, and the hardcore hop in cold as she goes.
Post shower, I'm out and toweling off, then getting dressed for the day. Next, I close myself in my bedroom and sink into a comfortable space for some crucial mediation. If you take one piece of advice away from this article, I hope it’s the importance of meditation. As health conscious individuals, we do so much for our body, but so little for our minds. We spend so much time beautifying the external, but often neglect the internal. Tim Ferriss aptly dubs this practice a “force multiplier” for life, and I completely agree. Mediation assists and amplifies all of life's pursuits. I recommend practice first thing in the morning, before your day and your mind get busy, but you can do it anytime that fits.
My current approach is through Headspace, a fantastic guided meditation app, payed for with a small monthly fee. They hold your hand and walk you through the process, giving you a choice to focus on specific issues in your life, such as stress, creativity, relationships, or even athletic focus. Other options include Transcendental Meditation (popular on the west coast with celebs), a variety of free apps, or even YouTube guided meditations and calming music. Experiment and find what clicks with you... there isn't one set path.
Concluding meditation, I’m left with a full body buzz… a natural high. This effect eventually subsides, but the mental clarity and focus gained becomes more profound as the day progresses. It feels like a conscious power nap to ease the transition from the sleep state to the wake state.
(On a side note, start small. If it feels tedious and cumbersome, you're probably doing too much. Start with a couple minutes, maybe 5 or 10, and progress to 20 with time. 20 minutes seems to be the most recommended goal, but it takes practice to get there. Meditation should feel relatively effortless and you should enjoy the process.)
QUICK & HEALTHY BREAKFAST
Post meditation, it’s breakfast time. I try to streamline the meal (and most other elements of my morning) so it's one less decision I have to make everyday. Traditionally it's been eggs, oatmeal, turkey sausage, etc. More recently, it's moved in favor of the blender… just throw a bunch of good decisions in and hit the button.
Almond milk, whey protein and mixed berries are my go-to's when keeping it lean... whole milk, weight gainer, bananas, peanut butter and honey make for a tasty option when putting on some pounds.
Veggies, superfood powders, spices, flavored proteins, juices, coffee, tea, ice... You can take it a lot of different directions, just drop in, blend, pour in cup, and you're good to go.
From there, I'm out the door... and this is really where I start to feel the most profound effects of the meditation.
THE LITTLE THINGS
It’s all about the little things. When I step outside, it's uncanny... whatever the weather is, I seem to appreciate it more. If it’s a beautiful day, I'm ecstatic about it. If it's a rainy day, it feels refreshing and I enjoy it from a new found perspective. I hop in my car and crank the music because a proper soundtrack always seems to enrich things for me. A killer playlist or some fresh music can go a long way.
The weather, the music, the sun coming up... I feel so in tune with my environment and really appreciate every nuance. Even though my morning isn’t lengthy or labor intensive, I never feel rushed. I feel like I have all the time in the world and everything is moving at a very slow, comfortable pace. When I’m hitting snooze and delaying the inevitable, everything’s rushed, messy, and off to a tragic start. Meditation and morning routine have very much enabled me to become a morning person, and that's still an amazing feat for me to admit.
That’s the extent of my current morning routine. This is absolutely subject to change, as I like to keep things fluid. It’s what currently works for me, but know that you have a lot of options. Some go for a run, read, journal, review the day’s calendar, or focus on a major task to be accomplished.
Find what works for you.
It’s very customizable but highly recommended. Give it a shot for a few days and observe the positive change. I’m confident you’ll be well on your way to a happier, healthier, more focused version of yourself.
Admiral McRaven's Commencement Speech: