Personal-development experts say that one reason many of us miss out on the life we want is because we wake up at the last possible minute rather than jumping out of bed early to relax and work on self-development activities. They advise us to get up earlier to make time for a purposeful morning ritual, which might include journaling, exercising, or meditating.
“Creating a morning practice or ritual is really about filling your own cup,” says Tiffany Lanier, a personal-growth coach in West Palm Beach, Florida. “People often go into their days already depleted. They wake up kind of frantic and rush around, maybe getting kids ready or jumping on social media first thing. By the time they get to their workday, they’re already exhausted. It’s hard to pour yourself into anything or anyone if you start with an empty cup. By reclaiming the morning hours, you’ll be better able to do what’s necessary for yourself and others.”
When you wake up early, you can get ahead of those things that tend to creep in and derail your “me time.” “My alarm goes off at 5:30 every single morning, Saturday and Sunday included, because I know that will give me uninterrupted time before I have other requests and demands,” says April Seifert, a social psychologist in Minneapolis. “When no one has yet had a chance to compete for your time, it helps minimize feelings of guilt or the ‘shoulds’ of taking care of someone else. It’s a time when you can truly focus.”
Becoming a Morning Person
Although there are plenty of reasons to wake up earlier, follow-through often lags. A few proactive steps can help. It probably goes without saying that getting up early starts with going to bed at a reasonable hour and sleeping well. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults sleep 7 to 9 hours each night, and offers many tips for catching your z’s at www.SleepFoundation.org.
If your biggest challenge in getting up earlier is resisting the snooze button, move your alarm clock to a location that forces you to get out of bed to turn it off. Because of the way we cycle through different stages of sleep, additional shut-eye gained from hitting the snooze button generally isn’t quality sleep anyway. It may even make you feel groggier.
To nudge yourself into getting up earlier, you might enlist the help of someone to keep you accountable, especially at first, suggests Jane Scudder, a certified personal-development and leadership coach in Chicago. This can be as simple as emailing a personal coach or friend within five minutes of waking up while you’re solidifying your new habit.
Prepping before bed can also help your morning go smoothly and give you more time for self-development. For example, pack lunches, pick out your work attire, and plan breakfast before you go to sleep. If you plan to exercise in the morning, make sure your workout garb is ready to go (or even sleep in it, if you wish). If you plan to journal or read a book as part of your ritual, make sure the items you need are in your favorite early-morning spot.
Boosting Morning Motivation
“If you’re trying to become more of a morning person, make the first thing you do when you get up something you absolutely love,” Seifert says. “In other words, be a little self-indulgent. That’s especially important as you’re carving a new habit — not just the behavioral habit of getting up early, but also the mental habit of not recoiling when your alarm goes off. After you have that built, it will be a lot easier to get out of bed, and you can start playing with what you do with that time.”
For one person, that super-enjoyable morning activity might be meditation. Another person might want to journal or work on a hobby. Someone else may prefer to go for a run or practice yoga. Others may simply start with reading their favorite novel.
To help form a positive association with getting up earlier, Seifert recommends “priming” your brain by putting an object on your nightstand that reminds you of the fun morning activity you’ve planned — that object can be your journal, a novel, or your yoga socks. “You should be able to see the object right away when you go for your alarm, so it primes or reminds you of the positive emotions linked with the upcoming activity,” Seifert explains. She also suggests scheduling your favorite indulgent activity on your morning calendar and looking at it often, especially right before bedtime. That will give you a chance to grow excited about what you get to do first thing in the morning.
The goal is to get you waking up early and performing your morning ritual every day. “It’s similar to a basketball player practicing free throws, doing the same thing over and over again, which triggers muscle memory,” Seifert says. “But here, it’s mental repetition.”
Fitting In a Morning Ritual
How much time people spend on their morning rituals varies, but 30 to 60 minutes is a good start. After adjusting to getting up earlier, some people increase that to two hours. Lanier encourages people to create different variations of their rituals depending on how much time they have that particular morning. On days when you only have 5 or 10 minutes, she suggests focusing on just one activity, perhaps reading or meditating. Other experts suggest including just a minute or two of each part of your usual morning routine when time is short.
Don’t think you have even five minutes? “I encourage people to use time in the shower to set their intentions for the day,” Scudder says. She explains that intention might be about how you’d like to tackle a challenging conversation later that day, or simply to be less stressed or less snippy with someone.
Parents especially may view a morning routine as difficult to fit into their schedules, but such routines really can help set them up for the rest of the day. “I think having a morning ritual might be one of the most important things a parent can do,” says Lisa Druxman, author of The Empowered Mama. “Moms tend to find that they’re very reactive to everything during the day as they’re continually serving the needs of others. A morning ritual is a great way for them to set the tone for the day and have a few moments to do something for themselves.”
Not sure whether getting up earlier for a dedicated morning ritual is right for you? “Try it for 30 days, then make a decision,” Druxman suggests. You might wonder how you ever survived without it.
Although many personal-development experts suggest including certain activities in a morning routine, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. “A morning ritual will only have meaning if it supports your needs and goals,” Jane Scudder says. “Take some time to think about what you want.” Here are some ideas to get you started.
• Practice affirmations. Feed yourself positive messages to help shape your mindset every morning. David Bennett, a certified counselor and author of Say It Like You Mean It!, calls these affirmations “the morning blitz.” He shares his personal blitz below. He recorded it in an excited and emotionally happy tone on his smartphone, and he uses that recording as his alarm. Alternatively, you could simply read your affirmations out loud each day.
“Great morning, David!
You are awake, energetic, happy, and full of vitality.
You are excited, confident, and going to have a great day.
You are free, focused, and flexible.
You are organized, motivated, and successful.
The only reality is the present, so embrace the moment.
Today is full of possibilities, so you are ready to go!”
• Visualize. Picture yourself living in sync with your affirmations. To facilitate visualization, spend a few minutes each day looking at a vision board you’ve created. This is a collage of words, images, and other inspirational items that reflect what you want to become or what you want to do in your life.
• Meditate or pray. If meditating conjures up images of sitting cross-legged and chanting “ohm,” realize that there are many ways to meditate. Tiffany Lanier says that meditating can mean simply taking time to sit in silence and be. Learn other thoughtful ways to make a morning practice personal with Lanier’s course The Morning Shift.
• Journal. People tend to gain new clarity when they think through something and write it down. You can get a blank journal, or one that includes writing prompts. “I usually write about what’s on my mind, what I’m feeling grateful for, what I learned yesterday, and what my intention is for the day,” Lisa Druxman says.
• Read. If you tackle just five pages of a book every morning, that will add up to 150 pages per month and over 1,800 pages per year. This could include books that help you learn new skills, develop healthy habits, gain new insights, grow in spirituality, or simply increase your enjoyment of life.
• Move your body. This can be a formal exercise program, such as running or yoga, but it doesn’t have to be. For a fun twist, Lanier suggests dancing or hula-hooping. Increase your enjoyment of a tough exercise session by listening to your favorite music or podcast.
• Master something new. Lanier encourages clients to think about areas of their lives they want to master (whether professionally or personally) and then to spend time each morning on that. For example, if you want to learn to manage your money better, you might spend time each morning listening to podcasts about that topic or practicing financial planning.
A Wellness Expert and Busy Mother Shares Her ‘Morning Minute’
If you’re like me, with a young child or another circumstance that leaves you rolling your eyes at any type of morning routine, I’m not going to ask you to spend hours journaling or chanting on your yoga mat to reap the benefits of a little morning time. Even a smidge counts.
Here’s what I do most days: When I wake up, I place one hand on my heart and one hand on my belly and take a few deep breaths. I say some version of the following to myself (think Goodnight Moon, but the morning self-care edition):
“Hi, I’m awake.
How lovely is that?
Good morning body, good morning heart. I’ve got you. I’m here, this is me.
These are my arms, this is my skin, this is my chest, this is my face, I’ve got you.”
When I take that moment to check in with myself, to start the day with ease and calm, not only am I more likely to feel grounded and happy, I’m also much more likely to make positive choices throughout my day.
This minute of calm is what I call my “morning minute.” It’s a moment for me to connect with my mind and my body, to get my feet under me before the day gets ahead of me.
This “morning minute” comes from Robyn Youkilis and her book Thin from Within: The Go with Your Gut Way to Lose Weight.
Marsha McCulloch, MS, RD, is a freelance writer with a special interest in integrative and functional medicine. Follow her on Twitter @MarshaMcCulloch.