It’s hard to think of a single element of my lifestyle that has been more life-changing than the creation and addition of my morning routine. Of course there is my morning cold plunge, but that practice still falls under the umbrella of “morning routine” as it counts as an activity intentionally done in the morning that reinforces and strengthens discipline and focus.
But regardless of the specific activities you do, formulating a set of practices to carry out every morning is undeniably going to have a truly life-changing effect on your life. It may sound simple or too good to be true, but if you can manage to change the way you spend your morning, you will change not just your day, but your whole life. Below are five, research-backed reasons to start having a morning routine:
- Better Mood and Self-Esteem
Many studies have examined just how much your mood in the morning affects your day. Obviously, emotions are important—and not just because how you feel is important, but also because of how much our emotions affect our entire body, specifically our organs. So setting yourself up to experience better moods in the morning (and therefore throughout the rest of the day) will result in a positive effect that extends from your mind to your body.
If you heard my show with Dr. Josh Axe, you know that our health is deeply dependent on our moods and emotional wellbeing, and that different emotions all have a real impact the body: the upper GI is connected to worry, fear is connected to the adrenals, kidney, and bladder, anxiety affects the heart, and grief and depression affects the immune system (click here to listen to the show and learn more).
Therefore, taking control of how you spend your time in the mornings can truly help you become a happier person. Not only does it put you in the habit of doing things that you know set yourself up for success—habits foster discipline and productivity, increase cognitive function, energy levels and mood, and even help your health, but your continued commitment and follow through with these actions serves as a major self-esteem booster. Doing one thing that you’re supposed to do that day feels nice enough, but can you imagine how much better it feels to do even more, and on a regular basis? To continue to prove to yourself that you can do anything you set your mind to? There have definitely been mornings when I was not feeling too excited about performing my morning routine, but the feeling I experienced every single time after accomplishing it, and continue to experience every morning, is so affirming and motivating. Not only do I feel energized and sharp to take on a new day, but I have this increased sense of confidence too, all because I did this one thing that I didn’t technically have to do, but that I wanted to do, and that I knew was important and beneficial too.
Also, the nice thing about creating a morning routine is that it’s actually really easy, simple, and painless: it can also be anything, from starting the day with meditation or some morning movement for flexibility/mobility to taking a cold shower or even just writing down three things you have gratitude for. It can even be as small as simply making your bed—in fact, a survey that looked at both non-bed makers and those who made their bed every morning found an interesting correlation between mood and this simple task. Out of the 68,000 people who took the survey, 27% were daily bed-makers, while 12% employed someone else to do it for them. Out of all the bed-makers, 71% of them considered themselves happy, while 62% of the non-bed-makers said they felt unhappy. Could their happiness (and unhappiness) be attributed to the power of accomplishing this one simple task? Maybe, or maybe not, but I think the power of this one (seemingly simple) task doesn’t lie in the activity itself, but in the resolve you have in yourself to perform it, no matter what. Of course, it may seem like it would be easier to convince yourself to make your bed and do a ten-minute meditation than it is to talk yourself into taking a freezing cold shower or performing a quick workout—and maybe it is, at least initially. But what I have found since I began my morning routine back in 2017 is that if you practice something long enough, it will eventually start to feel as easy, natural, and habitual as brushing your teeth. The whole point is just to practice a healthy morning activity long enough for it to become habitual, and the added benefit of this is that it strengthens your capacity for self-control.
Additionally, any practice that incorporates gratitude will also have a seriously powerful impact. Studies show that giving thanks can literally make you happier and that gratitude has a hugely positive effect on your well-being—to the point where it could even lower your risk of heart disease. Even if you can at first only think of what seems like small stuff to be grateful for, merely writing down just a few things you appreciate in your life has been proven to have a long-lasting impact on the quality of your life: studies have also examined the connection between gratitude and resilience, and research has linked practicing gratitude with increased self-control.
- Improved Cognitive Function and Productivity
Having a morning routine has been shown to improve our ability to focus and stay productive through the day. In Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, he even makes a correlation between making your bed and productivity, stating that making your bed is a “keystone habit”—one that dissolves into other habits, and helps you get better at simply getting things done. Morning routines are hugely helpful for productivity for this reason, and also because of the fact that it is usually easier to accomplish more in the beginning of the day, for various reasons, but mainly time and our quality of attention. If you neglect to perform anything that is necessary or time-sensitive in the first half of the day, then any additional tasks, stressors, or unexpected requests or situations that come your way are likely to throw you off and affect your ability to focus and do a good job with a clear mind. There’s also the fact that we know that willpower is strongest in the morning, and the times throughout the day that are most optimal for productivity and focus are 8:00am, 10:00am, and 3:00pm. If you can input some structure into your mornings, it will be easier to identify when you personally feel the most energized and focused, which allows you to maximize your efforts during those windows of time.
- The Discipline Factor
Discipline is key because our habits can truly make or break our life. If you have undisciplined habits, that affects all areas of your life. The same rule applies to discipline; the difference is the effect is a positive one. As Eliud Kipchoge says, “Only the disciplined ones in life are free.” Research already shows that being a late riser and even neglecting to make your bed can result in being a less happy person. Clearly, there are consequences to having unhealthy habits, just like there are benefits to having ones that enforce discipline, and that is the key: getting into the habit of being disciplined.
Dr. Marc Bubbs said on B.Rad that, “Willpower is a finite resource. The elite of the elite doesn’t get up at 5:30 in the morning because they’re disciplined. They’ve done it so long that it turns into a habit.” Therefore, it’s extremely helpful to start doing something daily that requires and strengthens self-control, like doing a cold plunge, a yoga sequence, or simply meditating. These are wonderful practices, not just because of the discipline they require, but also because of their inherently meditative nature. Tawnee Prazak said it perfectly when she explained what makes meditation such a powerful practice on B.Rad: “Meditation makes your brain do what you ask it to do.” As I said earlier, of course there have been days since beginning my routine back in 2017 that I was in no way looking forward to doing it, but I did it anyways, and every single time, without fail, those thoughts would slip away within moments of starting my routine.
- The Power of Movement
Movement is what the human body was made for and sitting for prolonged periods just trashes our health. So instead of heading straight to your desk to sit down and go through your email inbox that morning, why not start your day with a little movement? An energizing walk, some yoga, a set of sequences designed for flexibility and mobility (check mine out here)—the choice is yours (and if you can do it outside, that’s even better, but more on that in a bit). Whatever you decide to do though, the decision to incorporate movement into your morning routine makes the same, massive difference for everyone, because exercise promotes the release of a healthy dose of BDNF (brain derived nootropic factor), an essential neurotrophin that increases memory, mood, cognitive function, and other crucial factors related to high performance. Not only that, but studies have shown that those who participate in some form of morning movement actually sleep better at night. Which leads me to…
5. Better Sleep
What is the best way of setting yourself up for success the following day? By getting a solid, restful night of sleep the night before. However, a lot of people find committing to a morning routine already hard enough—can you imagine how much more daunting it seems after a night of little to zero sleep? Since we already know that people who workout in the mornings sleep better at night, why not take this one small step to add a little bit of movement to your morning routine, just so you can ensure that you’ll sleep better that night, and therefore, be better prepared for the next day? I always say that a good night of sleep starts first thing in the morning, so think of it this way: a good morning (and a good day) starts with the night before. This is because the way you sleep will inevitably affect your ability to even carry out your morning routine at a basic level. Incorporating movement into your mornings is not just a way of guaranteeing good sleep every night, but it also causes a positive ripple effect—one that leaves you feeling energized and alert every morning. What could be a better deal than that?
Finally, two more important things to consider before formulating your own routine. One, if you can start your day without glancing at your phone, you’re setting yourself up for success even further. Don’t be one of those 80% of Americans who check their phones upon awakening (according to this 2013 Adweek survey); instead listen to Julia Morgenstern, author of Never Check Email In The Morning and expert on all things organization and time management, who says that if you check your phone first thing in the morning, you will “never recover.” This lies in the fact that checking your email or smartphone upon waking actually sets your brain up to get into reactive mode, rather than the more productive, less stressful proactive mode, where you’re actually in control of your life. The problem specifically with email (which we all use constantly), is that you typically end up bouncing from task to task, going by your email’s agenda—and not your own. Instead, starting your day by accomplishing an important task that requires focus is much better for productivity and concentration, because realistically, it’s just too difficult to switch from the transactional, shallow part of your brain (the frontal cortex) to the other parts of your brain where strategy and relationships happen. As Morgenstern explained to The Huffington Post, “It’s easier to start in the deep recesses of your brain and go to the shallow parts,” and making the commitment to start your day with a project that you know you must complete—one that requires focus—literally guarantees that “you will get significantly more done.”
Two, if you can do any or all of these activities outside (or at least partially outdoors), then you’re adding even more benefits to your routine, and to your life. Studies on morning sun exposure have shown its ability to improve sleep quality, help against depression and boost your mood, improve bone and eye health (more crucial than ever these days), and boost cognitive function.
Stay tuned for some exciting news regarding some upcoming morning routine content—in-depth, educational, and immensely useful—coming soon!