My Morning Power Routine (Version 2.1)

Summertime. At first it was nice doing whatever, whenever, in the morning. Staying in bed until the kids came in to get me. Not having to worry about getting anyone ready for school. Having no schedule at all, really. Well, it got old fast, say, less than two weeks. I began to realize that without structure at the beginning of the day, the rest of the day fell into disorder. I got some things done, but never near as much as I would have liked. What’s worse, I had been increasingly irritated and impatient with my kids and generally more negative. I wasn’t very fun to be around.

Could this just be a summer-break symptom? I know that a lot of moms struggle with this time of year, since they’re not used to having the kids around all day long, but I don’t think this is the reason in my case. Only the oldest of my three was in school last year, and having her home now actually makes it easier, as she entertains her little brothers most of the time.

Or, could it stem from the lack of structure in the morning? I really feel this is the case. From January through mid-May, I had had a great routine of waking up early and meditating and reading inspiring literature. During those months, I felt I experienced better clarity of mind and was more positive, relaxed, and happy.

So, for the last several days, I’ve returned to that routine. (Well, except for Sunday morning when I slept in!) I’ve started keeping a log about what exactly I do each morning, for how long, and rate myself on how productive, patient, and positive I had been that day. Log-keeping is an excellent way to learn about yourself and see the bigger picture of what’s really going on. It provides proof to your brain of the bad habits and unhelpful beliefs you’d like to can, and proof of what tools really increase your personal effectiveness, giving you motivation to stick with it.

Here is what my routine currently looks like:

  1. Wake up at or near 6:30 and pray.
  2. Brisk walk or jog outside for 15-30 mins. (Or yoga inside)
  3. Drink a glass of water mixed with the juice of 1/2 a lime or lemon.
  4. Meditation: 20 breaths minimum, or taking up to 20 mins. if time allows and it’s quiet in the house.
  5. Read & study inspirational literature, beginning with scripture.
  6. Write in journal and log.

Why do these things in the morning? I have significant reasons for each.

1. I wake up at 6:30 because I want to be up 30 to 60 minutes before my children. That way I can have time to empower myself, thus equipping me to be more fully present for them during the rest of the day. It wouldn’t make sense to wake up this early if I went to bed at midnight like I used to do. Humans need 7-9 hours of sleep or else they suffer from memory problems, immune system failure, low energy, and a host of other deficiencies. So I try to go to bed around 10:30 or 11 pm, which isn’t totally natural for me–yet.

2. Light exercise first thing after waking up is something I just added to my routine a few days ago. First of all, practically, it’s more comfortable in the summer to be outside as early as possible, and convenient to be able to leave the kids asleep before my husband leaves for work. Second, getting sunlight on my face provides an awesome boost of energy and mood. (Early exposure to sunlight also helps regulate circadian rhythms and produces vitamin D). Third, although I often have high hopes to exercise more vigorously later in the day, this tends to not actually end up happening most of the time, so I figure at least I’m sure to get some exercise in rather than none at all.

3. Lemon water is great for your health, especially when taken in the morning 30-60 minutes before eating anything. It cleanses your kidneys and other organs and raises the alkalinity in your body (paradoxically enough), which cancels out some of the damage caused by the highly acidic diets that most Americans consume. This keeps you from getting sick as often and can even help prevent cancer. Plus, it’s very refreshing and yummy. (In winter I change it up by drinking peppermint tea with lime and honey.) Even if you don’t add citrus, just drink a large glass of plain water first thing in the morning. It’s a great aid to your metabolism and hydrates your body.

4. Meditation may sound new-agey to some people, but it’s been practiced for thousands of years, so there’s nothing new about it. It’s simple to do and has tons of benefits, (which I’ll go into more on a future post,) including stress-reduction and clarity of mind. Basically, it is detaching yourself from the stream-of-consciousness state of your mind (which is dominated by the past and future) by focusing only on the present moment or state of being. This is most easily achieved by concentrating on nothing but your breath going in and out. Relax in an upright sitting position and just take 20 breaths with intention. If pesky thoughts intrude, and they will, just release them with your next exhale and return your focus to the breath. Just try it. Add music if that helps.

5. Reading inspirational literature in the morning really orients my mind to the positive. I love the mental rush I get from learning and making new connections, and my spirit loves the light that comes in and uplifts me. Because reading the news, my Facebook feed, deal blogs or email can leave me feeling scattered or even depressed, I always wait to attend to those things until I’ve put in some prime time with the most important and uplifting words and information. It gives me a more positive perspective on everything else I read or watch the rest of the day. Find something that lifts and feeds you, something that goes beyond mere entertainment. Also, it need not be limited to “spiritual”  or religious material. Some examples are inspiring biographies, self-improvement books, poetry, historical accounts, or uplifting short stories. Feed your mind and spirit daily.

6. I’ve been trying to write in my digital journal each day, whether it be one sentence or a longer entry. I used to only journal when I felt like I had something “significant” to write about, but that didn’t capture my everyday experiences, which more accurately represent my real life. Other times I would write for what I thought were therapeutic reasons, to deal with problems I was ruminating about, but writing about it always magnified the problems and was the opposite of helpful. That’s because what you focus on expands. Now I’m choosing to focus primarily on gratitude by writing about wonderful things that happen in my life or things I notice around me, no matter how small, whether it’s the joy of watching my children splash in puddles or being awe-struck by an elaborate spider web (without getting any of it on me, of course!). It pre-programs my mind to notice future lovely and joyful things, and writing about them allows me to re-experience those good feelings a second time. I also love writing more extensive entries sometimes, which allows my mind to make further connections and discovering insights I never would have had if I hadn’t begun to write.

And that’s what I’m striving for each morning, even though I hardly ever do each and every one of these things as perfectly or consistently as I’d like to. I would love to add a couple more items to my a.m. routine, as well as design an evening routine, so I’m going to experiment with some different things and figure out which investments of my time create the largest payoff in my personal effectiveness and joy.

I hope that you will put some thought into your own morning routine. It’s so important. Don’t just take my word for it. I plan to write a post in the near future listing the things highly-successful people do to start out their days, which you can then pick and choose from to design the routine that’s best for you. I’d love some feedback, though, before I write that post. Those of you who already use a routine, even if it’s just one thing you do consistently each morning, what habits do you recommend? Have you found success with any of the six I mentioned, or something completely different? And for what reasons has this been meaningful or helpful in your day-to-day life?

Could you leave it all behind?

It has been an exhausting month, as you can probably tell by the dearth of blog posts lately. We recently bought a home and moved. We also drove halfway across the country for vacation, from Utah to Illinois, which is not an easy task with three young children. Our destination was the historical city of Nauvoo, where my parents are currently volunteering as missionaries for a year. This place was an important part of my childhood, and I was even married there over ten years ago. It was wonderful to finally go back.

During the moving process, I’ve thought a lot about material possessions. It took several weeks to pack everything and separate our stuff from my parents’s, whose house we had been living in temporarily. And of course we realized we had forgotten a bunch of stuff after we had taken back the moving truck! I’m sure all you readers know what a pain it is to also unpack and find new homes for each of those things in a completely new space. It was kind of surprising how much other stuff we had in storage that we hadn’t used in years. Stuff, stuff, stuff! It has felt like such a burden this past month.

And amidst all this, we took our trip to Nauvoo. This experience complicated my perspective on material possessions. Back in the 1840s, this city was populated very rapidly by large influxes of Mormon refugees who had been driven from their homes in Missouri, some of them in winter without even shoes on their feet. There were also many immigrants from Europe, recent converts to the LDS church who had spent all they had on the Atlantic passage. Needless to say, these people were very poor. But they worked hard and built a beautiful city. Every single thing they had, down to each and every article of clothing, was important. They even shopped using half-pennies!

Since they didn’t have much, they became brilliantly inventive in the things they made and did. It was fascinating to see and learn about some of the contraptions, such as this bee box,

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used to catch bees and coat them with flour so they could follow it and locate the hive. The process to get a simple thing like honey back then was quite extensive. Me, I just go grab a jar at the store, or order some online and then retrieve it from my front porch! I’m often tempted to label the nineteenth century as a “simple” time, but it’s really our times that are simple, as far as being able to complete the tasks necessary for survival.

As a mother myself, I thought a lot about the 1840s children while we were in Nauvoo. A child with a room like this,

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with three or four different toys, would have been a very rich child among his or her peers. My daughter loved this room and these toys, saying she wished they were hers, but I’m sure, were that even possible, she would have gotten bored with them in half an hour. While unpacking, I couldn’t believe how many toys our children have, and how little use a lot of them have gotten.

And just one more example: water. Oh, how I love modern plumbing! We have all the water we need–hot water even!–available at the turn of a knob or flip of a lever. We don’t live in fear of contamination. My children and I do not have to haul water from the spring in a contraption like this:

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Tragically, due to continued religious intolerance, the Mormons in Nauvoo had to leave their beautiful city to find a place where they would be free to practice their religion in peace, and that place was Utah. It was emotional to see what they left behind. I mean, just look at this cute brick home:

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The family who built it was only able to live there 4 1/2 months before they had to close the door and walk away! Breaks my heart. And when they left, they could barely take anything with them, since ox-drawn wagons like this

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only had the capacity for food and clothing for the journey and the tools they needed to start over in a new wilderness. But those who were able to afford a wagon and a team were lucky indeed. Most of the poor immigrants were forced to push a handcart, like the one my dad and I are pushing in the top photo. Even very small pioneer children had to walk every step of the way, which was around 1,500 miles. The handcart we pushed for our little trek was loaded with 50 lbs. and we only went a mile or so on an established trail. They had to haul 500 lbs. through mud, rivers, uncleared land and finally, the steep rocky mountains, underfed as they were. Very little more than food would have fit on these handcarts. All other treasures had to be abandoned, some of it which they tried to take but didn’t have the strength or space for it, and these cherished objects littered the trail through Iowa.

This really gave me pause to think about all the things and stuff I’ve acquired. Would I be able to shut the door on my home and just walk away from all of it? I can barely even throw out an old pair of socks, or things I haven’t used in years, just because I *might* need them someday. How much of my energy is wasted in finding, cleaning, storing, maintaining, organizing, and trying to use all the stuff in my life? Is this stuff really serving me, tools to make my life better? Or am I merely a slave to it? These questions are not easy, but I would encourage you to ask them of yourself. Really examine the time and energy that you devote to your stuff, and decide if it really is worth it. Try to discover the reasons you have what you have in the first place. Did you acquire it to feel a certain way? Gain status in the eyes of others? Or does it serve to free you to be able pursue what matters most?

The challenge for these people of 150 years ago was to acquire and hold on to the things they needed to survive. Our challenge today is to be able to let go of the things we effortlessly acquire that are not necessary, and which become burdens on our lives. Our challenge is to seek detachment from material things that don’t add any real value to life. It’s okay to have things, and we are blessed by God to enjoy such bounty, but we really must examine our attachment to these things. Could we really give them up, for something more important, such as freedom, family, and God?

I do believe our current season of prosperity is not permanent. A day may come when, like these nineteenth century pioneers, God may ask my family to leave our possessions behind and venture into the unknown. I don’t want that to happen, but if it does, I want to be mentally, physically, emotionally ready for it.

Let’s help each other, readers. What strategies have you used to detach yourself from things and stuff? How do you get rid of things you don’t need, but are inclined to hold on to? What do you do to keep yourself from over-acquiring in the first place? And how do you teach children to avoid possessiveness and materialism?