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