How do you start your day?
Do you leap out of bed, graceful as a ballet dancer, ready for a strong, energetic start to the day?
Or do you roll out of bed, stumble into the bathroom, and rely on touch to get through the first twenty minutes before you’re ready to unglue your eyes?
I am definitely the latter.
I don’t drink much caffeine, but until I have had the first of the two cups I allow myself before noon, I’m definitely not operating ‘in the zone’.
But a few years ago, I stumbled across a secret weapon. Something that made my morning easier, helped me get more done, and ensured I started the day with more energy and alertness. Something that supported my self-care and my productivity.
What was it?
A morning ritual.
An Accidental Morning Ritual
Morning rituals seem to be all the rage these days – it’s not such a secret weapon now! There are endless articles about the perfect morning ritual, as well as books that share those of great achievers so you can model them and maximise your time in the morning to be the best version of yourself.
I evolved into doing a morning ritual, without really realising it was happening. I began doing morning pages (a thousand words of free writing each day, as espoused by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way) about five years ago. That practice – which I continue today – has provided the cornerstone of a morning ritual that supports my self-care as much as my productivity.
What A Morning Ritual Can Look Like
Over time, I’ve added in other things. I’ve used the principles of ‘habit-stacking’ to build more activities into my morning. I usually choose small actions on projects where routine and consistency help, or things that benefit me to do them every day. For example, currently, I fill in Moodscope as a check in of how I’m feeling (takes about 1-2 minute). I update my health spreadsheet on what I ate the day before, what medication I took, and anything unusual that happened (another 5 minutes). I do a couple of French lessons on Duolingo (10 minutes). I check my emails and review social media to see if there is anything urgent that needs doing (however, I don’t turn my wifi or phone on until the first few things are complete). I calibrate my plan for the day (which I’ve usually outlined the night before) to make sure it still works.
Sometimes I bring things in or out of the routine. When I am in writing mode for my fiction (right now I am in editing mode) I sometimes chain 1000 words of that to my morning ritual. I think it’s important that the morning ritual is something living and active, and you only keep in there things that are useful to you, and don’t do things for the sake of it.
Obstacles to a Morning Ritual
I’ve read about people’s morning rituals that last for several hours. The Miracle Morning (which is a useful book on the topic) can take 6 minutes, but when I tried it, it was more like a couple of hours. It’s scalable.
For most of us, there are at least some constraints on how we start our day. We have a partner, or children. We have to be at work at a certain time. We need to be rested enough for what the day brings.
I don’t think a morning ritual has to take a long time for it to be helpful – simply approaching our day with some intentionality can make a big difference.
Don’t let time be an obstacle to trying something, even if it’s a few minutes.
Why Have a Morning Ritual Anyway?
For me, ‘just because everyone else is talking about them’, isn’t a good enough answer :)
There are several benefits I can see to a morning ritual.
1. It doesn’t just make the morning better. If you’re someone who finds the morning a struggle, like me, then a morning ritual can take a lot of the stress, and the decision making, out of that first challenging period of the day. I usually get my clothes out the night before, and I know the order that I do things – bathroom, shower, morning ritual, breakfast – and this also helps make the time smoother and easier. I don’t have to ‘use up glucose’ on making decisions at a time when I am still easing into the day.
2. It sets your pattern for the day. How you start the day sets your subconscious up for the rest of the day. If it’s chaotic and unplanned, you can feel stressed before you even set foot out of the house. If it’s deliberate and conscious, it’s a very different feeling.
3. It helps with overwhelm. It can help you ‘eat the frog’ and tackle the hardest tasks first. It can knock out of the way some of the ‘must dos’ and mean you start the day with a feeling of achievement. Momentum can build right from the moment you open your eyes after sleep.
4. It grounds you in your values. If you’ve included the things that are important to you in your morning ritual – for example, mine includes self-care in terms of an emotional, mental and physical health check in (moodscope, morning pages and my health spreadsheet), as well as writing (my morning pages), connecting with others (email and social media), and planning (setting up my day), then you’re reinforcing the importance of those every time you do it.
Creating Your Morning Ritual to Build Self-Care
So how might you go about creating your own morning ritual?
First, think about practicalities. Are you just responsible for yourself? Are there others who are part of your morning? You could include them in the planning process, and see if they also want their own morning ritual, and how you might support each other. Or, work out how much time you might have, and what the needs of others are you have to navigate.
Second, think about what is important to you. The morning ritual can set your pattern for the day, so make sure you have made active decisions about it, rather than just groggily checking your phone and letting the priorities of others’ rule your time. If writing is important to you, include it somehow, by journalling or free writing. If faith or spirituality is important to you, include it somehow in a prayer, or meditation. If family is important to you, include them somehow, by sending a mail to someone you love, or writing a gratitude note.
Third, think about what your morning looks like now and work from there. Some people work best with a fresh page, and change everything at once with a completely new morning ritual, others do better building one habit at a time. Consider what has worked best for you in the past and take that approach. (For more on habit change, read Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before)
Fourth, allow for imperfections. Some days, you have to get up at 4am to catch a flight. Don’t kill yourself by trying to complete every moment of your morning ritual on those days. I have some ‘allowances’ that I have set up in advance to help – I don’t do morning pages when I do a night flight, for example. It might help you to have a ‘mini’ version of your ritual, but also, allow for the times when things don’t go to plan. The world won’t fall apart if you skip some or even all of it.
I do think it can be helpful to have one, single anchor habit as part of the ritual which still gives your day that intentionality and focus. It might be the way you brush your teeth, a single phrase which grounds you (I like “All is well, and all will be well” when I am especially stressed, along with a few deep breaths), or the mindfulness you bring to drinking your coffee, but it’s enough.
How Does a Morning Ritual Help Self-Care?
When we have a morning ritual, we take a proactive, rather than a reactive approach to the day. We tell ourselves that we are worth investing a little time in. We get more of the things done that are important to us, early in the day. We build positive and heathy habits that support our values.
And on top of that, we can include some self-care in the routine itself, whether it is exercise or journalling, or in the way we approach our actions, such as taking more time in the shower, the way we dress ourselves and take pride in our look, or the deliberate way we greet and hug our significant other.
A conscious morning routine is another building block in the development of healthy self-care.
So what small activity can you include in your morning tomorrow?
My Super Self-Care Course (The Complete Self-Care Toolkit) is available to buy from 1st until 8th September, and includes a lesson on routine and how it can support your self-care, as well as 59 other ideas, strategies and tactics. Join us here!