The Morning Struggle
My body thinks it’s a rockstar. All my life it has begged me to live a rockstar lifestyle: stay up all night and sleep in until late afternoon. In a perfect world, this is exactly what I would do. I was made for tour bus life. It’s been the same since I was a kid- at night I struggle to force a shutdown, and every morning rebooting is a mission. The only problem is I am not, in fact, a rockstar. I work regular office hours, which begin at what I used to consider the ungodly hour of 9 am. According to stats, about half of the people reading this will have no idea what the big deal is. These would be the ever-mysterious morning people. Some experts think that personality accounts for most of it. There are some temperaments who simply don’t need as much sleep as the others. “Morning people” tend to be structured, consistent, and intentional. The other half consider themselves night-owls and are usually more creative, abstract, and unconventional. There are also biological and physiological differences between early risers and wannabe rockstars. However, whichever category you fall into here is something to keep in mind: The most productive people in the world, including almost all of the former US presidents, The current president, the founder of craigslist, Steve Jobs, and my personal favorite, the CEO of Starbucks (hey, those Lattes really help the cause) are all early risers. Whether we are morning people or not, as leaders we neither have the luxury of being late to wherever we are going, nor wasting time getting our day started.
When I realized this I gave myself a new goal: I was going to kick my night-owl habits and at least try to become a morning person. I knew I would probably never be able to change my personality, biological makeup and whatever else makes us act the way we do, but I can borrow a bit of the consistency and intentionality that make the most successful people in the world get their days started early. Like any good scientist, I started investigating. I read tons of articles about changing sleep patterns and found a lot of different theories and tips. I learned that for the most part, what allows productive people to face the day no matter the hour, is a killer morning routine. Good habits in the morning, as opposed to snoozing until the last possible moment and rushing out, can help you arrive to work, well, awake. After my research I got to work trying them, and I was pleasantly surprised at how my mornings began to turn around. It’s not that I all of a sudden started jumping for joy at the sound of the alarm clock, but the more I have developed my routine the less I dreaded the mornings, and the better my mornings become, the better I felt throughout the day. I thought I’d share with you guys the morning routine that has worked for me, in case some of it works for you too!
Step 1: Bedtime
I gave myself a bedtime, because if I don’t I will happily stay up until 3 am, and unless you’re sleeping until noon, there is no morning routine that can save you from how you will feel the next day. I turn off my tv, and put my phone on “do not disturb” at least a half hour before bed, and do my best to prepare for the next day. This helps keep my morning relatively free of stress and worry. I try on clothes, lay them out, iron if necessary, tidy up the kitchen to prepare for breakfast, and all the little things I can to make the morning run smoothly.
Step 2: Wake up early!
I’ve learned that only way the morning routine can possibly work is if you give yourself enough time to do it all, calmly and peacefully. If you wake up at the last minute, your body will go into panic mode- producing stress and worry which may be what’s causing us to hate mornings in the first place. Those of us who are not naturally morning people need to make an extra effort to make waking up early something associated with good thoughts and emotions. It’s like positive reinforcement. When I started this, I decided to change my mentality: my me-time didn’t only have to be at 1 am, I could also have some down time in the morning- the day actually goes better that way. So I started giving myself at least an hour and a half head start every morning. And NO SNOOZE BUTTON. When you snooze, your sleep cycle starts again and you will wake up drowsy and probably angry. I try to force myself to stay up as soon as I get up to use the restroom or naturally open my eyes if it’s not to far from when my alarm will sound. After a short time, I actually stopped needing the alarm (even though I keep it on just in case).
Step 3: Start your mind first
I don’t jump out of bed right away. Like I said, no stress. I give myself a good 5 minutes to wake up a bit, and center my mind. Studies show that the most productive people meditate and listen to something soothing or beautiful to get their day started. I sit up in bed and give thanks to God for a few minutes before anything else. I get in the right mind-frame for the day, play worship music and kind of force myself to be happy regardless of the tiredness. If you try this, don’t stop after 30 seconds. Whether you chose to pray or meditate do it for a long enough time that you feel your attitude change. It works!I keep the music on as I prepare breakfast, take a shower, and put on my makeup. Because I'm still not my best in the morning, that’s not my only time to pray or meditate in the day, it’s just a start, but it really helps to change my attitude and lift my crankiness.
Step 4: Start your body
There are a few tips I’ve learned for starting my body up too. First, when I finish meditating and get out of bed, the first thing I do is stretch my whole body. A few times a week I go for a walk or run, but when I don’t good long stretches still wake up my system and relax me. Then, I drink a warm cup of water with lemon as I make a good breakfast. The water with lemon hydrates me, kick starts my metabolism, and sends messages to my brain that it’s time to wake up. I drink it warm because it’s not such of a shock to your body as it wakes up. The difference a good breakfast makes on your mood, wakefulness, and even weight maintenance is priceless, so wake up early enough that you never need to skip! During breakfast, I take time to go over my big goals for the day. I usually list these out the previous day right before I leave the office, but in the morning I reflect, re-organize, and sometimes brace myself for things I may not necessarily want to do. I also take that time to send texts to anyone I have an appointment with that day to confirm: “GM! are we still on for lunch?”
Step 5: Wake up your confidence
As I know all too well, waking up 15 minutes before you have to leave, throwing on whatever you find, and scrambling out the door does not usually result in you arriving to your destination looking or feeling confident and ready to take on the day. You may not have noticed, but I guarantee your teammates and superiors have. Showing up looking drowsy, cranky, and unkept is both unprofessional and confidence-crushing. So I make looking and feeling good part of my morning (and anytime I leave my house) routine- I take at least 10 minutes to apply some simple make-up and hair prep. I take care of hangnails, eye-boogers, and unwanted brow hair. Because I prepare the night before, I am also better dressed than I used to be when I would throw on what I could and run. I show up to work more confident, so I’m more willing to talk to people from the start of the day, speak up in meetings, and greet everyone with a smile.
Having a good morning routine has helped me consistently arrive to work on time, with a professional attitude and image. If you too have experienced the morning struggle, I encourage you to try a few different things and discover what works for you. Many CEOs and Top Execs use the mornings to work out, or enjoy time with family. It’s as simple as starting to develop good habits that will make your day more productive, and your morning less of a struggle.
Some Famous Morning Routines:
Barack Obama, President
Taking care of physical fitness and family are two important elements of President Obama’s daily ritual. He starts his day with a workout at 6:45 a.m., reads several newspapers, has breakfast with his family, and then starts his work day just before 9:00 a.m.
Steve Reinemund, former Chairman and CEO, Pepsi
According to What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, the now business school dean does a four mile run at 5:00 a.m. every morning, followed by prayer, reading the news and breakfast with his teenage kids.
Michelle Gass, president, Starbucks
For over 15 years, the coffee queen has woken up each morning at 4:30 a.m. to go running. She believes her morning routine has helped boost her happiness and business success.
Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief, Vogue
The infamous fashion editor wakes up every day pre-dawn to get her adrenaline pumping. At 6:45 a.m., she’s already played an hour of tennis, then it’s off to have her hair styled into her signature bob. She’s in the office by 9:00 a.m.
Tony Robbins, self-help writer and motivational speaker
As a self-help guru, Robbins helps motivate people to become better leaders and achieve greater success. He says that the thing that changed his life was when he decided he wasn’t living up to his standard, so he changed his habits and way of thinking. His advice is to do an “Hour of Power” every morning, which includes motivational sayings and visualization.