Having trouble sticking to your morning routine? Well you’re in luck because today I’m going to share a small hack that will help you nail your routine with flawless consistency.
If you’re reading this post, chances are you’re already awake to the benefits of morning routines. A morning routine builds an incredible amount of momentum throughout the day. It gives you a sense of stability when everything around you is changing.
Ultimately, getting this right isn’t a silver bullet for hacking productivity and achieving all your goals, but all the successful people I know and study (who are many) have strict morning routines that they follow every day. Anecdotally, I know a lot of successful people that don’t have strict morning routines, but who all follow their own unique rituals.
Smart humans throughout history have documented their routines. Benjamin Franklin wrote for 30 minutes every day in the buff. Beethoven cousted his coffee beans (60, everyday). Top performers tend to be creatures of habit.
The problem is, things come up. When life changes, it’s tough to follow through on your habits. This is especially true in the morning, the time when our subconscious, autopilot mode is fully in control.
Here are a few things that really throw off my morning routine:
- Walking up next to someone
- Being hungover
- Feeling stressed and/or underslept
- Not having access to my phone (to use Headspace)
- Not having access to clean water
The list goes on, and will go on as life grows in complexity. The problem isn’t that these things come up, it’s how we react to them that counts.
You see, I was such a creature of habit that I thought “I must follow my routine in order X, Y, Z else my day is shot.” If I didn’t have my phone to launch Headspace, I would start looking for the phone or worrying about it, all the while a sense of anxiety would grow that I’m not on my routine and I’m not doing meditation like I should.
After enough of these “ruined” mornings, I’d had enough. It was time to find a solution that worked.
How to have a morning routine that works every day
Ultimately, I didn’t care if meditation happened in order of drinking water, or stretching, or journal — I just cared that it got done. That’s it.
It didn’t have to involve the Headspace app, or even some guided meditation on YouTube. It didn’t even have to happen in a quiet, dark place. I just needed to sit down and breathe for some time, then get on with my day.
I started applying this to other elements of the routine:
- Drinking water
Together with meditation, those 5 are the key ingredients of my morning routine. On any given morning, I do them in any particular order. It really doesn’t matter.
I few them all as helpful ingredients in the whole recipe of a great morning. After making the change to this flexible schedule, I haven’t missed a morning routine in over a year. I’ve lowered the bar of success so that it makes winning easy, and I carry that feeling of winning throughout the day.
Morning routines, in the afternoon?
It’s tempting to extrapolate this flexibility to the day as a whole. After all, if these are all “ingredients”, can I add them at different times throughout the day?
Or rather, couldn’t I just do this routine at 11am or 12 or 1?
I’ve tried both approaches and had minimal success.
For example, if you wait to to gratitude journaling until lunch or later, you’ll “check that box” but miss out on the benefits: namely, feeling grateful throughout the morning and carrying that feeling with you for the rest of the day.
Likewise, if you wait to do the routine as a whole, but later, it is indeed effective. I haven’t quite yet figured out if there is potentially higher expected value from skipping your routine on occasion. Curiously, Mike Rowe – appearing on the Tim Ferriss show – talked about an instance when he skipped his morning routine, instead checking Facebook and writing a post. The post sparked an incredible and fruitful conversation, which likely wouldn’t have happened had he jumped into his morning routine.
Comparing the effectiveness of each (re: how much momentum it builds) out of 10, I would say:
- Completing all the habits first thing in the morning: 10/10
- Completing all the habits together, around midday: 8/10
- Completing the habits at random times throughout the day: 5/10
- Not completing the habits at all: 2/10
Why does this work?
How is that completing habits in any order works better than completing sequentially? After all, more than a few productivity bloggers have written about the benefits of stacking habits back-to-back, or being adaptible while still maintaining a sequential order.
It may intellectually seem “easier” to complete becasue there’s less structure. While that’s true, it’s not the main reason why this approach works consistently.
This works because each completed habit builds momentum for the others. In a tired, stressed, and generally unconscious state, your brain wants nothing more than to follow the path of least resistance. If you try to “force” any pieces of your morning routine, not only do you burn precious willpower and lower your chances of actually doing it, but more importantly you associate work with the routine, and you’ll always not want to do it.
I used to think that, if I could just power through the routine for a year or so, it would become so ingrained that it didn’t matter if it was work or not. Hardly so… after waking up, we just want the easy route. So make it easy for yourself. By having 5 or so habits that make up your routine, you have plenty of options to just do ONE and get the ball rolling. Whatever looks easiest, do that first. The rest will follow.
By staying committed to my routine, but flexible in my approach, I’m able to consistently start my days with the necessary momentum and energy needed to achieve my goals.