When you think about your typical morning routine, how do you feel?
If it gives you a feeling of calm and deep pleasure, then you’re way ahead of the pack. Most women I know have great aspirations for making their mornings more supportive and nurturing but the reality is usually anything but. Despite the best of intentions, a typical weekday morning can go something like this:
- be startled awake by a screeching alarm clock
- grab phone from nightstand and check for fire bombs in your work email (Gah! The boss just scheduled an emergency meeting for 8:00 a.m. and it’s already 7:00!)
- stumble to the kitchen and get the magic coffee going (ohmygodinheaven, why is there no turbo-speed setting on the coffee maker???)
- stumble back to bathroom, brush teeth, shower, fluff hair, throw on some makeup to cover the dark circles and then go find the least wrinkled thing in the closet to wear
- anxiously check work email again and find two new “urgent” requests from a client (stifle urge to sob)
- skid back into kitchen and snag a huge go-mug of coffee and a muffin
- fling yourself out the door with the sickening realization that you’re absolutely going to be late
Sound familiar? How does it feel to simply read that description? Even though it’s no longer my reality, just thinking about those mornings still leaves me breathless and sets my heart pounding like I’m being stalked by a lion on the Serengeti. Yikes.
And if there are little ones in the house mornings can be even crunchier.
A rushed and adrenaline-fueled morning sets a stressed tone for the rest of the day. The results too frequently are scattered energy, zero focus and an underlying tension that just won’t let up. With that start to the day it’s no wonder that we feel so drained and exhausted by the time we get home. I played this race-for-the-gate game in my mornings for far too many years. That is, until I simply couldn’t take it anymore.
I was sick of being rundown and having no energy for what was most important to me. So I intentionally changed my morning routine into something that made me want to get up each day. Then something magical happened… my mornings started changing me and pretty soon the rest of my life changed too.
It didn’t happen overnight and it took some effort and planning. But I can attest first hand that if you want to transform your days, a great place to begin is by changing how you start them.
Below you’ll find an easy and painless method for shifting your morning routine into something you actually look forward to each day. Let’s dive in.
Start from Where You Are Right Now
First, know that however messy and stressful it may feel, where you are right now is perfect. Having guilt or frustration because of how things are (or aren’t) makes it even harder to make the changes you want. So let it go and start softly from where you honestly are right now.
The first step is to get your bearings by taking stock of how your days play out now. Grab your journal or a piece of blank paper and jot down a quick schedule of how your mornings typically go during the weekdays and on weekends. Include the time you get up and how long you spend doing your basic morning routine before you start work for the day (whatever your work may be).
Then track the rest of your day: time commuting, how many hours you’re at work, lunch, errands, appointments, preparing meals, doing dishes, cleaning and all the other bits that fill your days. Include any “you” time you’re able to fit in and what you do with it, as well as when you go to bed each night. Do this for a week. You don’t have to get super detailed here but getting a solid overview of your real schedule is golden. Here’s a handy (and free) time tracker you can download and print that will make this a whole lot easier.
Understanding where you are now is the first step in crafting a life that supports you (and your dreams) instead of the other way around.
Count Your Spoons
Now imagine that you have a pile of spoons. Each one of those spoons represents a unit of your energy. If you’re healthy you get 100 of them to spend a day. If you have a chronic illness you get far fewer (say 50 as an average, but adjust that based on your condition). When you’re stressed or anxious they get used up faster. When they’re gone your energy is spent. You’re done for the day.
How are you going to spend yours?
Think about how many spoons you usually have left by the time you get home from work. How about after you deal with dinner and any evening chores? How many are left for you then? How would it feel to gift yourself a few of the shiniest spoons in the morning for self care and feeding your passions before they’re spent on anything else? Sounds good, right? Let’s get those spoons for you.
(Hat tip to the brilliant Spoon Theory post that inspired how I have come to think about energy, chronic illness and prioritizing time commitments).
Make a Joy List
Before bed tonight grab your journal or a piece of blank paper and draw a line down the middle from the top to the bottom of the page. On the left side jot down a list of what lights you up with joy: little things, big things and aspirations; whatever makes you smile when you think about it. Write them all down and add to your list whenever something else occurs to you. This is your running list of inspiration for intentionally weaving a bit more joy into your day. On the right side of the page copy over any items that are ideas for things you could do in the morning. Go ahead and include every one of them that appeals to you and brainstorm a few more. This becomes your options list for your mornings.
Kaizen Your Morning Routine
Kaizen is the Japanese art of small, incremental actions or changes that build up over time to help us move toward our goals and dreams. They are tiny, easily do-able steps we can take each day. When our lives are heavily scheduled and packed with responsibilities the thought of forcing another thing into our days tends to fling us into fight-or-flight angst. “Argh! I’m too busy! That’s not possible until ______ (fill in the never-occurring blank).”
Kaizen is the perfect approach for gently making the changes we want. Tiny steps lead to easy success.
To get started set your alarm 15 minutes earlier for tomorrow morning. Just 15 minutes. It’s a tiny shift. Then look at your joy list and pick one thing that you can do for 15 minutes that will light you up with joy. If it just feels “meh,” then skip it. Choose joy instead. Commit to it and take that tiny kaizen step each morning for a week.
Here’s are a few 15-minute possibilities to consider:
- savor a cup of coffee or tea and write in your journal
- sketch something that makes you smile
- craft a paragraph for an essay or blog post
- read something inspiring that sets a positive tone for the day
- enjoy stillness by meditating or taking a quiet walk by yourself
Whatever you choose – be sure it’s something that sounds absolutely delicious to you.
Refine and Repeat
After a week give yourself a few minutes to consider how that one addition to your morning has felt. Did it help to soften your entry into your day? Did it change how you felt for the rest of the day? If yes, then commit to keep doing it every morning. If it wasn’t quite the right thing to make a noticeable difference, then choose something else from your list that delights you. This is about intentionally experimenting with possibilities to feed your soul what it needs and wants.
Add Another Kaizen
Once you’ve found one thing that really makes a positive difference in your morning routine, keep doing it and add another kaizen. Set your alarm for another 15 minutes earlier in the morning, pick another delicious practice to add to the first one, commit to it and then do them both starting the very next morning. Experiment till you get the new addition just right too.
And So on
You get to decide how far to take this. Depending on what your normal wake up time is now, decide how much time you’d ideally like to have for yourself before you need to get ready for work and move into the rest of your day. Some people find half an hour is all they need, others need an hour or so of soft time before getting the day moving.
Each week keep adding another 15 minutes and another kaizen to your morning routine until it feels just right (yep, think Goldilocks). You may find that you’d like more time for one thing and just a few minutes for a few others. Tailor your morning until it fits you perfectly.
As you fine-tune your softer morning routine keep an eye toward bigger life changes you’d like to make and your dreams. Is there a small step you can take each morning that will start moving you in that direction? That’s a lovely kaizen to add to the mix.
Finally, Keep it Fresh
You may want to freshen your morning routine occasionally so it doesn’t begin feeling stale. If it’s not absolutely delighting you and something you look forward to getting out of bed and doing each day, it could use a tune-up. What I’ve found works great is to change it up a bit every time the season changes. In the warmer weather, I want longer morning walks. In the long rainy winters here in Oregon, I want a bit more time for journaling and creative work. Aligning my morning routine with the changing flow of the different seasons’ energies has made my morning practices even richer. Give seasonal shifts a try and see how that feels for you.
Don’t let your morning practices become rote or feel like an obligation. Keep them fresh by following the energy of your joy. Pretty soon you’ll find your whole life starts taking on the shape of your soul. And that’s when the real magic begins.