Demystifying the morning routine

Whether it’s a lap around the park, meditation, watching the news with a hot coffee, a set breakfast time for the family, or writing out your daily tasks – morning routines are ubiquitous. A quick Google search of “morning routine” returns article after article like The Morning Routines Of The Most Successful People, The Ultimate Morning Routine to Make You Happy And Productive All Day, 50 Ideas to Help You Design Your Perfect Morning Routine. But are morning routines actually that effective? Is a morning routine really going to give me the success I want? What does it need to look like to relieve my anxiety? Help me #SmashMyGoals?

When I started therapy roughly three years ago, one of the first pieces of ‘homework’ I had from my therapist was: create a morning routine. I’d read about it in books, heard it in podcasts, read many articles like the ones above, but I didn’t believe a routine would work. However, three years later (as I said in my post on wellbeing when working from home) it’s now “the most boring wellbeing tip I’ve been given, but the one I give the most”.

Setting a routine doesn’t mean planning every detail of your morning, or the day that follows. It’s about giving yourself time to take a pause, reflect, whilst gaining the stability and comfort we all (secretly) crave before the day kicks off. Emotionally, it helps us find balance and give us confidence that you will be OK no matter what the day throws at you.

“Creating a morning routine is not focused on who can accomplish the most or check off more boxes than everyone else. Instead, it is about allowing yourself to begin your day with confidence, peace, and a positive attitude.”

Clarke & Goldman, Very Well Mind

My morning routine has helped me gain resilience, a sense of calm before my day begins and time to build up the confidence and willingness I need to tackle today’s challenges.

Built on my experience of working with a morning routine to tackle my anxiety over the last few years and some of the research I’ve read over that time, I’ve put together some suggestions can help you set up an effective morning routine – that works for you.

Give yourself plenty of time

It may be tempting to hit that snooze button – I’m guilty of it – sometimes snoozing for 30 minutes every 5 minutes. But the key to a great morning routine is giving yourself enough time to wake up, settle and get focussed for the day ahead. For you – this could be anywhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours – for me, I need at least an hour before I switch on my laptop and get to work. Ignore the posts about waking up at 5am or catching the sunrise to feel fulfilled. But, find a time slot every morning that works for you that avoids the rushed, anxious, sense of dread when you’ve left 10 minutes between waking up and heading out (or walking, rather, stumbling to your home-desk set up…).

Wake up at the same hour

This one I found difficult, but there’s so much research out there on the “body clock” and its benefits for our overall wellbeing. I wake up between 6.30am and 8am everyday. I set an alarm for 8am on weekdays so I don’t sleep past that (and can get my hour of chill before work), but my body naturally, usually, wakes up around 7am. This took time, I’d say roughly a month of practice, but I sleep much better for it. At the weekends I still occasionally sleep in, but as I’ve practiced getting up at the same time each day for years, I rarely sleep in past 9am.

Take a moment for yourself

Every morning I allow 20 minutes to drink my coffee and nothing else. I’ve talked about this before and have been returned with faces that range from bewilderment to envy. But, it’s easy and it’s essential. I use this 20 minutes to be still. Sometimes, I meditate beforehand too, other-times I don’t. But, I practice mindfulness in an otherwise overlooked (or even mundane) action. Brewing the perfect cup and taking a sip. A saying from my Yugoslavian dad I live by is “there’s always time for coffee” – as this Holiday Bosnia website puts it “coffee is more than a drink, real kafa is a ritual”. And this is my morning ritual. A moment of solitude and silence. Just me and my cup.

Move your body

Some mornings I jump into my running clothes with enthusiasm and am out the door ready to go. Other days (most days) I feel less ready to grab the day by the horns and take a little longer to get moving. However, I always make sure to do some stretches, walk around the house or outside if I can, and make sure to get my circulation going before I sit at my desk all day. It’s key to productivity to step away from screens, have a stretch and wake up all our muscles – so I try to practice this every hour or so during work too – but starting your day with a little movement (and no screens!) is a great way to help set the mood of the day.

Link up with the night before

While we talk a lot about a morning routine and its benefits for the day, we often forget its benefits for the night. Since using a morning routine I have started sleeping easier as my body moves into a rhythm, but I also use the night to help prep for the day ahead. If I’m feeling anxious I write down my worries so I don’t go to bed with them (and often don’t wake up with them), I tend to think about my outfit for the next day and prep running clothes if I want to exercise. And I make sure I have all the ingredients (coffee) I need to have a calm and fulfilling moment of solitude – without distraction. And, I make sure to put my phone out of reach so I’m not tempted to pick it up immediately when my eyes open.

These are just a few ideas that have worked for me, there are many more articles out there with a wealth of tips and advice – but the key is to make it flexible and the right fit for you. I’ve been doing this for three years and have started to find my rhythm – some things will work for you and your family unit and some won’t. But give it a go. This trend’s not a fad.

Matt Haig

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