The Bulletproof Strategy to Develop a Morning Ritual

I’ve never considered myself a “morning person”. I’ll go to sleep after midnight and wake up after snoozing until the last minute. Yet somehow I made the switch to being a morning person – and enjoyed it! Here’s a look at how you can do the same.
Adam

Written by Adam on October 8, 2018. Updated April 24, 2019.
15 min read. Personal, Goals, Mindfulness. 1 comment.

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Are you a morning person? Chances are you’re not. Some reports say roughly 20% of people consider themselves “morning people” or “night people” – with the remaining 80% being somewhere in the middle. Even those that do have a morning ritual don’t typically do it by choice. Most do so for external purposes and only a small few prefer to wake up that early. People that do rise early have been shown to be happier, live longer and accomplish more. This got me (a self-proclaimed night owl) wondering – can I choose to be a morning person?

Sunrise in Utah

Up until a few months ago, I would never have considered wanting to be a morning person. While on our honeymoon to Southeast Asia I decided to read The Miracle Morning. It was recommended too many times for me to ignore. My “normal” bedtime has been after midnight for the last 20 years, so the idea of choosing to wake up early would be a tough sell for me. In an attempt to embrace a bit of growth mindset, I decided to take advantage of the post-trip jetlag to jump in and give this morning thing a shot – could it help me be more productive?

A Summary of The Miracle Morning

The premise of the book is relatively simple:

  • Set a goal to work on in the morning
  • Wake up early
  • Work on it
  • Repeat

Sounds easy right? Well, creating a routine to follow is the easy part. Having the discipline, grit, and motivation to do it is the struggle. Hal Elrod, the author of The Miracle Morning, talks a quite a bit about discipline. The book hits on a few themes that it brings up to help support this framework:

Nothing in Isolation

After having a rough week it’s far more likely that I’ll skip going to the gym. This choice to not follow through may seem like a small thing, but if I told myself I’d go and decided not to then I’m breaking trust with myself. The more times I break trust, the less discipline I’ll have to do anything. This may sound extreme, but the idea is discipline shows in all of the actions you choose to take. One choice to take an easy route leads to other shortcuts.

Bad habits don’t start out as major lifestyle changes. More often than not they start out as a way to unwind, relax or decompress. It’s when they’re leaned on as a supporting part of your life that they become bad habits. Discipline is what helps a “good habit” become a supporting part of your life.

Until we dedicate time each day to developing ourselves into the person we need to be to create the life we want, success is always going to be a struggle to attain.

For me, I know that a few keystone habits can help steer my days in the right direction. At the time of that writing, my keystone habits included working out and setting goals. Now I’ll add one more to the list: waking up early with an idea. If I can stick to these three habits during any given week just about anything else I want to accomplish will fall into place.

It’s easy to fall back into the mindset of “I’ll just skip this once”, or “this is the last time”. Real change comes from adjusting your mindset to one of no excuses. Every decision plays into your definition of self. Choose to accept responsibility for those decisions. I love this quote from The Miracle Morning about responsibility:

Remember, the moment you accept total responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you claim the power to change anything in your life.

This isn’t something someone else is holding you to – it’s what you hold yourself to.

Have a Clear Morning Goal

When you wake up early in the morning, especially when you’re just getting started, it’s extremely important to have a plan for what you’re going to do after you get up. You want to have something that will give you that morning motivation to get out of bed and get you excited to work on it. I start this by planning out what I’ll work on throughout the week.

The importance of this pre-planning cannot be understated. This is essential to the success of becoming a morning ritual master. If you wake up in the morning and spend the first 20 minutes trying to figure out what you’ll do that’s a terrible use of your precious morning time.

The trick is to go to sleep thinking about what you’ll do in the morning. For example, last night I knew I’d wake up and write this post. I was able to think about it as I was going to sleep and be excited to write about it when I woke up.

This strategy has been especially helpful in my career. When approaching a programming issue, I’d start thinking about the problem as early as possible – days, weeks or months before writing a single line of code. This allowed my mind to start brainstorming solutions without needing to get to a complete solution. When I finally sat down to work on it I’d have plenty of work already done in my mind on the problem.

You’ve got to wake up every morning with determination if you’re going to go to bed with satisfaction.

What helps me have a clear morning goal is spending time the night before writing in a journal. This doesn’t need to be fancy, but it does need to be organized and inviting. I use Bear App with an ongoing article that’s my morning journal. I copy a few questions from a template at the top and answer them to recap and review my day. I’m constantly tweaking the exact questions I ask based on what I need. Some of the most reoccurring questions include:

  • What did my day look like?
  • Accomplishments?
  • Setbacks?
  • What am I thankful for?
  • What will I accomplish tomorrow?
  • How will I make this happen?

The goal isn’t to write an essay, but to spend at least a few minutes thinking about what’s most important. I was inspired by a friend and colleague of mine, Tony Winn, who posted his weekly retrospective questions. I love the idea of a weekly retrospective and have been alternating between nightly journals a weekly one to see which works best for me. I’m leaning towards a longer weekly journal with only 1 or two questions in the daily journal.

Even on days when I get absolutely nothing done doing this journaling exercise helps to understand why. Is it something I want to change, or was it just a busy day that I overestimated my ability to get additional things done during? I’m still getting better at this. On nights I have plans or know I’m going to get home late, my daily tasks need to be drastically reduced. Otherwise, I’ll end the night with a bunch of unfinished tasks.

Have Big Dreams

Aside from your daily goal, there is an importance on having a larger, long-term goal to work towards. Having a goal like “write a book” or “create a website” are good and all, but what’s even better is having a personal mission. Why are you writing a book, or creating a website? If it’s just to make money then you probably need to reevaluate things. Neither are considered great ways to make a living. Minafi is actually still losing money each month, but that’s OK – I’m learning, enjoying writing and the topic relates back to my personal mission:

I help empower people to transform their ideas into reality by enlivening education.

I can’t say I hit the enlivening education part out of the park each day, but it’s a great north star that I think about in how I frame all of my writing. “Is there something I can do to help illustrate this topic using interactivity?”. The answer is almost always yes, but often the ideas are bigger than the time available for their usefulness.

What is your north star that you’re working towards?

Create A Morning Ritual

This is the part that I’d always somehow missed before. Many of the best morning rituals don’t start in the morning but include pre-planning and mindset shifts. Having a clear plan on what you’ll do once morning does roll around is key. I’m still developing this myself, but here are the key questions my routine answers:

How will you wake up? I prefer setting a FitBit vibrating alarm. I’ve found it is much more of a smooth wakeup than the jolt of a loud alarm. I set it for 5:55 am every weekday. It’s also nice because it doesn’t wake up Mrs. Minafi the same way a loud alarm would.

What will you do next? This is the key question. The goal is to stack individual actions to create a morning routine. The morning routine isn’t “I write” or “I read”, but a specific set of actions to get there. The best morning routines have many clear next steps.

For me, my morning routine looks something like this:

  • Wake up at 5:55 am when my FitBit goes off.
  • Brush teeth, floss and use the restroom.
  • Put on some comfy lounge-around-the-house clothes.
  • Start boiling water for instant coffee (usually from Trader Joes).
  • Move my laptop to the office (my irresistible staircase for writing).
  • Make coffee and get settled in front of my computer.
  • Open up the Minafi WordPress Admin and my Trello content board.
  • Start writing by 6 am.

Yes, the entire pre-writing routine of this takes only 5 minutes. This has worked for me, but it wasn’t how it started. It’ll continue to change as well. Initially, I was waking up later but have since edged my alarm earlier. I wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of the year I’m waking up at 4:55 am (ok, probably not, but maybe 5:25?).

Why instant coffee? On the weekend we usually grind coffee for our french press, but that just wouldn’t work every day. For one, it’s loud! Mrs. Minafi doesn’t wake up quite so early, and starting the day with a coffee grinder wouldn’t be ideal. Waiting the extra time for coffee to percolate wasn’t fun either. When I tried some instant coffee leftover from a trip I loved how it worked with my morning routine. It was fast, easy and surprisingly tasty. It helps that the Trader Joes version has cream and sugar already added and only costs $0.20 a cup. I usually drink my coffee black, or with a hint of milk, so this sweet start to the morning feels like an utter treat. Being 4,000 ft up here in Utah water also boils incredibly fast. We have a water boiler that makes it super easy too.

Creating an environment that you enjoy is crucial. Even if the rest of your house is a complete mess, create a space that you want to be in. This could be your bed, a desk, a couch, a table – anything. When I started this morning ritual, it was our kitchen island sitting on a stool because I hadn’t yet assembled my desk.

Even after assembling the desk, a part of my morning routine I dreaded was moving the power adapter for my laptop from the living room to the office and threading it behind the desk. Although a small thing that only takes a minute, I hated climbing under the desk and threading it up each day. I ended up buying a 2nd adapter just to use in this room. We live in a relatively small 800 sqft apartment, so this extra power supply is far from essential. This little addition helps reduce time every morning enabling me to start the day happier and get to writing faster all while enjoying the morning more.

Clear next steps are the key to all of this. My miracle morning routine is all about getting me to start writing, but there’s no reason yours needs to be structured in the same way. I’ve thought of a number of adjustments I’m already interested in trying

  • After 90 minutes of writing do a 10-minute body-weight workout.
  • After the 10-minute workout, take our dog for a walk.
  • After the walk, tidy up the house.
  • After tidying up the house, take a shower.
  • After the shower, get dressed & ready for work.
  • After getting ready for work, walk to the bus.
  • After getting to the bus stop, continue using Duolingo to learn Japanese for the rest of the commute.

Using Duolingo on the commute has been a lot of fun actually. In addition to being extremely well structured, it completely takes me out of my normal rhythm. I’m not thinking about what I wrote that morning or what  I need to get done during the day. I’m in that moment trying to match up か with “ka” or 先生 with “teacher”.

There’s a part of me that bucks against routine. It can seem mundane, and unexciting to know what’s going to happen. I’ve found it can also be empowering! The framework to be productive can feel like a superpower. When I travel or have periods of early meetings I miss the routine. It’s easier for me to look forward to parts of a routine than I thought. Developing a routine that lets you feel empowered and achieve what you want is the hope in all of this.

Morning Routines From High Achievers

Before reading The Miracle Morning I read Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Daily Rituals is an interesting read. Rather than trying to form any kind of overarching narrative, each chapter is an day in the life of a specific artist. The artist profiles span time and many different fields, including Darwin, Agatha Christie, Twain, Mozart, Fellini, Voltaire, Freud, Karl Marx, John Adams, Sylvia Plath, David Lynch, Maya Angelou, David Foster Wallace, Isaac Asimov, Stephen King and so many more. In these 161 profiles, what stands out is just how similar their morning routines are. There isn’t a single routine that starts “They slept until noon and started then started working” (except maybe Hemmingway).

Although this book focused on “daily rituals” each starts with a morning routine. Here are a few of the rituals that kept coming up over and over again:

  • Waking up early. Sometimes as early as 4 am.
  • Exercise. Not always as the first thing, but often in the morning.
  • Easy meals. Eating the same thing for breakfast or lunch.
  • Alone time. This could be early in the morning or late at night, but time alone to work on things.
  • Unwinding. A surprising number of people profiled drank alcohol to unwind.
  • Long walks. Often in the afternoon or evening.
  • Simulants and depressants. Coffee, cigarettes, sleep aids and other drugs were far more common than I thought.

I don’t mean to recommend alcohol and drugs, but it’s interesting to see that so many great artists had their own demons they were facing in order to achieve great things.

I love this quote from Haruki Murakami about his daily routine:

I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. – Murakami

That sounds a lot like “flow” to me, but on a daily level – which is an absolutely amazing idea. I strive for that feeling of being a flow state – forgetting about time and being in that moment. For some, it happens when they’re deep at work in a problem, in the middle of a workout or meditating. For me, it usually happens when I’m programming on something fun.

This idea of creating a routine that works for you is a common theme from both The Miracle Morning and Daily Rituals. A routine is like a well-worn groove that helps to focus mental energy into where you want it to go. How you choose to channel that energy is up to you, but both of these books show what can be done.

Do you have a morning routine to accomplish something early? What do you do? What’s worked and what hasn’t?

Adam

About Adam

Hi, I'm Adam! I help millennials invest to reach financial independence sooner than they ever thought possible. Want to see what you could do to reach FI sooner? You're in the right place!

1 Comment

Sometimes it’s a little daunting thinking about the things you need to do the next morning but putting a positive twist on it might make it seem a little more exciting to wake up to

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