Healthy habits to a curate mindful morning routine

Healthy habits to a curate mindful morning routine

You don’t have to be a morning person to create a mindful morning routine. By working with your body clock and creating rituals that work for you, not against you, even the latest risers can set the right tone for the day.

Ever since Dolly Parton sang about tumbling out of bed and pouring herself a cup of ambition in the cult radio hit 9 to 5 we have been obsessed with optimising our morning routines. A myth has since emerged that dictates only the early risers among us are destined for success, and while we can’t blame Parton’s country anthem, it’s a story that has come to dominate the conversation around our mornings.

The pervasive narrative goes something like this: you must wake unthinkably early, eat a protein-rich breakfast, exercise, meditate, blast your email inbox and complete the day’s “must-dos” all before the sun rises. This, hundreds of CEOs have told us in various “Day in the life of” columns, is the only way to “set yourself up for a productive day”.

… a one-size-fits-all prescription to morning routines is anything but productive.

The problem with that, of course, is we all work differently. Some people are night owls with a disposition for the dark, often found typing emails at the kitchen table come 11pm; others make the most of the morning, and when that 3pm slump hits, it’s all over. Then there are those among us content to run on five hours of kip and the rest of us who need to clock a good eight-hour whack. The point is, a one-size-fits-all prescription to morning routines is anything but productive.

When the pandemic came to shake us from our comfortable (and perhaps dysfunctional) norms as it did, it transformed our morning routines. Daily commutes were cast aside, school runs were no more — our regular schedules were suddenly obsolete. What we were left with was time to fill or otherwise pass away our mornings in a way that felt intuitive.

Still, even without the call of jam-packed buses, kiss-and-go lines and sardine-packed gym classes, the idea that our mornings should start early and burst with productivity remained. There is a sense that to lie in past 7am, to ease into the day slowly, is reserved only for the lazy. As the pursuit of self-improvement and “optimisation” permeates our social media feeds, a slow morning has become a source of shame.

While it’s true our mornings are a sacred time, that they set the tone for the day ahead and, done right, can grant us a day of productivity and peace of mind, they should not become a cause for anxiety. CEO-level success is not contingent on rising before the sun, and multi-step morning routines are not a secret tonic to boost motivation.

The choices we make during the first hour or so of the morning are important, but they should serve you and not the other way around. Taking the first minutes of the day to make yourself feel good, whether that’s a coffee in bed, a morning run or a cuddle with your cat, is much more conducive to gearing up for the day ahead than a list of daunting “shoulds”.

That’s not to say filling your morning with traditionally productive tasks is in any way a bad thing; merely that you should find what works for you. Whatever your pace, setting up regular habits can reduce decision fatigue and bring a sense of comfort and ease to the start of your day.

Work with what you’ve got

The problem with articles detailing how CEOs spend their mornings is that we’re all wired to different internal clocks. If the pursuit of becoming a “morning person” is leaving you more stressed than blessed, chuck it. Carving a routine that embraces your tendencies rather than combats them will go a lot further to setting you on the right track for the day.

Instead of adopting a “should” mindset, think in terms of your natural rhythm. Experiment with your wake-up time to find the sweet spot that works for you. If you usually leave just enough time to get to your workplace (even if that’s now the kitchen table), try rising an hour earlier to give yourself the space you need to enjoy the morning.

[Mornings] set the tone for the day ahead and, done right, can grant us a day of productivity and peace of mind …

We all have a couple of hours in the day where our mental performance peaks. Leadership expert Dr Todd Dewett dubs this your “Einstein Window”. “For most people it is a two- to four-hour window each day where problems feel like fun challenges,” he says. Dewett suggests locating your Einstein Window and using it to work on the most important tasks of the day, protecting those hours from distractions at all costs.

For many, this window falls somewhere in the morning, but the point is to observe your body clock, find your window and spend it wisely. If it’s towards the end of your day, your morning should be free of the day’s “must-dos” and focused instead on the things that bring you joy.

Put simply, create a routine that works for you, not against you, and you will be much better equipped to deal with the day’s peaks and troughs.

Change it up

Your schedule may be different every day. Some days you will be tired and need space for rest, on others you will be raring to go. While consistency is the cornerstone of routine, flexibility allows you to stay true to the “what works for you” mantra. Give yourself permission to listen to your needs and throw the rule book out when it’s required.

Don’t consider a “missed” morning routine a failure; breaks in your routine are inevitable. It’s important to keep in mind that life happens, we are not robots, and sometimes our minds or our circumstances don’t care for schedules. It happens, and that’s fine. Rest is an important component of being productive, so let go of the idea that your days can reach an apotheosis of efficiency and effectiveness. They can’t, and you’re not defined by what you achieve in a morning. If you miss your morning workout, aim for an evening one instead; if you didn’t get a moment to yourself before work, take a few extra minutes before bed to reflect on the day.

Resist technology

Social media algorithms are designed to hijack our minds, ensnaring us into endless, scrolling rabbit holes. If the first thing you do in the morning is open Instagram or Twitter, you’re handing over the day’s most precious moments to AI designed to distract you.

Greeted by a list of notifications each morning, we frame the first moments of our day around “catching up” rather than setting up. In reality, most, if not all, of those notifications can wait until later in the day.

Avoid the temptation of reaching for your phone by turning it on to a “Do Not Disturb” setting until 9am, or whenever you’re ready to start your work day.

Begin with a small pleasure

Taking a few moments in the morning to focus on something that brings you joy sets you up for happiness. It could be a coffee enjoyed in peaceful solitude, or a pair of fluffy slippers left by the side of your bed to slip into each morning. Even a small tweak, such as opening the windows to let in sunshine and fresh air before climbing back into bed, can make those first wakeful moments more enjoyable.

Small actions, performed each day, create habits which communicate to your body that it’s time for a new day. This pleasurable humdrum fosters a sense of ease to begin the day, so it’s well worth making time for even the tiniest pleasure.

Nourish your body and mind

Without resorting to the hackneyed advice of “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”, it really is important to feed and hydrate your body after hours of sleep. Whatever your tastes, eating a wholesome and healthy breakfast not only nourishes your body, but sets you up to make better food choices throughout the day.

… create a routine that works for you, not against you, and you will be much better equipped to deal with the day’s peaks and troughs.

Choose grains, protein or fruit instead of sugar, and whether you’re a tea drinker or coffee addict, begin with a glass of water to rehydrate the body. If you’re short on time, experiment with grab-and-go options you can make the night before, such as overnight oats or a fruit snack box. Alternatively, bask in the ceremony of sitting down at the kitchen table with a bowl of something delicious and enjoying a few moments just for you.

We focus a lot on nourishing our bodies and not so much on what nourishes our minds. Breakfast is the perfect opportunity to exercise and strengthen your mind. If you subscribe to a newspaper or magazine, lay out a feature you’ve been meaning to read while drinking your coffee, or put on a podcast while cooking some oats. You could also take a few moments to meditate or practice yoga breathing while the kettle boils or your bread toasts. Whatever your choice of mindfulness, it need only take a few minutes of each morning to make a huge difference to the day ahead.

Charlie Hale

Charlie Hale

Charlie Hale is the Deputy Editor of WellBeing, EatWell and WILD. ​She writes about a plethora of things women care about — from pasta to politics and everything in between.

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