Episode #43: Morning Routines – How to Get Into the Optimal Morning Mindset
One of the most important skills of a conscious leader is asking yourself, “Not only am I above or below the line, where am I? But also, “How did I create this current situation that is in front of me?” As you know, I talk here largely about mindset. Mindset is really about how am I being. I emphasize being, because we live in a very doing oriented culture. We are, do, do, do focused. We’re very focused on activity and what can we get done? And “productivity” and “efficiency.”
And yet, if we are approaching our doing from a mindset that is based in scarcity or self-criticism or judgment, then whatever it is that we’re doing is going to create dynamics that may not be aligned with our highest values or self. So the morning is an opportunity to get intentional about who do I want to be by the end of the day? Who do I want to be in 10 years? Who do I want to be tomorrow?
And probably the most important way of being is being present. We are not present when we’re focused on what am I going to do later. We’re often very much focused on the future and making up a whole bunch of stories about how our activity is going to create results, and it may or may not. So if I have one recommendation it’s to focus your morning on cultivating a way of being that is present, and what does it mean to be present?
It means to be in ease and in flow, aware and grounded in current reality. By which I mean, that which you can readily observe, which you can readily observe, not a bunch of interpretations and stories and kind of future thinking and past thinking. And for you it could be that the way of being you want is present and creative, present and loving, present and focused.
Whatever it is, there are so many different ways that you can support yourself, and it can actually be really, really fun. The key thing here is mindset, mindset, mindset. It’s not about getting done a bunch of habits that some other guru online tells you are good to do. I’m going to share with you some of my favorite tools and tricks and just the stuff I’m into now, because I think it’s very useful to have variety and inspiration. And also to give you permission to continue to play and experiment and make this morning mindset time a time of self-discovery and expansion.
But it’s not because any of these tools is in and of itself important. So set yourself free from the idea that the morning routine is about completing a to-do list, and focus instead on, have I cultivated a mindset? Have I cultivated my own presence? And that is how to make the morning routine something that supports you as a conscious leader, and one who feels guilty, ashamed, or behind for not doing it the same as some book tells you to do it.
I can say for myself that one of the biggest benefits of just being intentional about what my morning includes is that I find myself more above the line throughout the day, because I have claimed my role as the creator of my day. And I’ve established that with making choices in the morning that I then executed on. So I’m connecting my intention with my action. And my mindset tends to be more proactive, more creative. My presence is higher. My energy is higher and I’m more calm and I’m more inspired.
These are the biggest benefits I’m personally looking for, energy, clarity, inspiration. The only person who can create you as a conscious leader is you. And it does start first thing.
Thank you for showing up here today to improve yourself and better serve those who rely on you to lead them, whether they know it or not. Today I’m talking about one of my favorite topics and kind of a nerdy obsession, which is the morning routine. Now, maybe we’ve heard a lot about this in the past, and I want to talk about specifically why it’s important to you as one who is fearlessly attempting to lead consciously. So sometimes it seems like bad stuff happen, right? It seems like we get results we don’t want, or none of this is my responsibility. I didn’t have any part in creating this situation. This truly happened to me, and it’s somebody else’s fault, basically.
However, that is a completely disempowering stance as you know, and it’s not at all helpful in resolving whatever created that issue permanently. And that’s our goal. So, where do morning routines fit into this? I want you to think about the last crummy day you had. Maybe you got into a fight with somebody at work or a spouse. Maybe you just felt really sorry for yourself all day. You felt entitled and grumpy and you weren’t getting what you wanted, or perhaps you just find yourself in reactive mode all day. And reactivity is kind of the enemy if there is one.
So when you think about this last day, see if you can rewind a little bit further to your morning, what happened that morning? You know, in my own experience, chances are, if a day really seems crummy a lot of the day, probably it started that morning. And it would be easy for me to say, “Oh, it’s because this bad thing happened in the morning and somebody woke me up or I had a bad night of sleep, or I had really early morning flight.”
Now all of those things have happened to me, right? But I had a part in creating them. Did you start your morning on your phone? Did you start your morning by reading the news? Did you decide to press snooze a whole bunch of times, or let things that were not really joyful or pleasurable to you be the thing that you had to jump right into? Did you go to bed way too late to kind of start your day off on the right foot? I know from my own work experience that if I begin my workday, I’m working and getting straight into email, oh boy, I am not at my best at all. I’m just not as creative or present.
So that’s why I care about morning routines. I found it to be personally for myself the number one most important practice of leading consciously, of leading as my best self in my zone of genius in full presence and flow from above the line in a way where I am of service. Of service to those who care about me, of service to those who need my leadership. So I have been experimenting a lot with my morning routine lately. This is something I tend to revise, honestly a couple times a year, because it’s fun, I like variety.
For me I’ve noticed I’m much more likely to do a morning routine of some kind if I, A, give myself permission to change it and then B, continue to inspire myself about what new thing can I bring and how could I make it more fun and more meaningful to me, and more in line with my own system, my own body’s needs? I’m not a jump out of bed kind of person. I am a total night owl. I have young children, that’s not really a viable option for me. So I have been working on becoming an early riser. And I was telling this to my husband Roy last night. And he said, “I love that you said that.” He said, “You didn’t say you’re working on waking up early.” You said, “You’re working on becoming an early morning riser.” It’s the being, not just the doing.
I wanted to share with you some of the little tools in my toolkit. I’m going to provide links to everything at allowedpodcast.com. This is just a fun grab bag which I’m hoping can inspire you. And I also just really want you to give yourself permission to be inspired by the routine that is best for you. And if that is a five minute thing, fine. If it’s you okay in a bubble bath, fine. Or just sitting and putting your feet on the ground, fine. But really just pay attention to how are you creating the results you get through the day by your morning?
Okay, so a couple of things that I’ve got going. My number one favorite is the Morning Pages exercise from Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way. It is so simple. It simply is writing in a journal. You don’t even have to have a journal. You can write on a page or a napkin, and you can literally throw it in the fire. If you have not yet read or done The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, I highly, highly recommend it. And I would say, if you don’t want to take it all on, because it is quite a lot, the most important piece of it is the Morning Page exercise.
And so here’s how it works. You grab some paper, I’ve tried this on screens. I’ve tried it in Evernote and nothing, it’s nowhere near close to as effective. So here’s what you do. You get some paper and you’re going to write three pages, longhand with a pen. And I emphasize pen because I want to encourage you to not be precious at all. You’re not editing this. You’re not going to erase anything. You are going to make your pen keep moving. And all you do is, first thing in the morning when you wake up ideally, and you’re kind of in that half dream state, the very first thing you do is you write three pages. You keep your pen moving the whole entire time, and it’s complete stream of consciousness.
You can expect the first page or two, especially as you’re just getting started with this routine might just be nothing but kind of negative, like ranting, venting, listing a bunch of problems or saying, “I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write. I still don’t know what to write. I don’t like this Morning Pages exercise.” It’s okay. Keep writing, keep going, keep going. Usually by page three, you’re going to hit some breakthroughs. And I have found that whatever tricky problem I’m working on in the back of my mind, or that is consuming my whole life, if I sit down and I write my morning pages, sometimes the answer magically arrives.
You can feel free to draw on here if drawing is how you express kind of just your spur of the moment thoughts, or you can mind map, but the point is to fill up those pages. So that’s number one. And that’s the cheapest simplest thing. And Julia says you can toss them in the fire. This is not about writing a book. It’s not about being a good writer. It is about getting stuff out of your head and getting clarity. It’s transformative. Just try it, it’s magic.
Okay. Second, most longstanding tool in my toolkit. I’ve mentioned this one before several times. So I’m holding up right here a Five-Minute Journal. And this journal is a beautiful, beautifully designed, very simple practice. My brother-in-law, Devin Keltz. He gave me one for Christmas several years ago and I actually let it sit around for a while before I opened it up. And when I started doing it, I just was totally hooked.
And super exciting. We are actually going to be having the founders of Intelligent Change who created this journal. They may be coming on this podcast soon. And I’m very excited about that. So there are two parts to each page. You answer three questions in the morning. What are you grateful for? What would make today great? And a daily affirmation, you make one up. And then in the evening you list three amazing things that happened that day. And you note how you could have made that day even better.
There’s always a nice little inspiring quote at the top. And then once a week you get a challenge. You don’t need to do this every day. The pages are not dated, you date them yourself. So I sometimes skip days or I choose to do something else with my morning routine. I’ll get into that in a second. I personally, if I needed to fill this out morning and evening, I think what would happen is I would keep forgetting where my journal was or I would realize it was upstairs by my bed. And if I go back upstairs, my children might wake up and then I would lose that chance to have alone time in the morning, which is really critical for me and my own peace.
So I do it all at one time. I do it all in the morning. I just complete last night’s questions first thing, I reflect on the day before, and then I complete the morning questions. Totally, amazingly transformative. Sounds so simple, really works. I’ve also found there’s a magic in this. So here’s my pro-tip. When you’re answering the question of what would make today great, reach so much higher then you think is even realistic at all.
Like say something ridiculous, like that would fall out of the air. Like, “Someone will call me and invite me to be on Oprah.” Okay, I’ve just said that. I just wonder if it’s going to happen, that happens sometimes with Oprah. But when I put big things, I found that that’s when they really start coming true. And very, very often when I reflect on what great thing happened, I’m drawing an arrow directly to the thing that I asked for in the morning. It’s bananas you guys. It really works. So I love this tool.
Okay, here’s a new one I’m trying out and it’s called The Morning Sidekick Journal. I’m really into this one, I’m like three days in a row. But The Morning Side Journal is created by Habit Nest. I will link to it again in the show notes. It’s really nice because it explains to you a lot of the benefits of having a morning routine. And what it really focuses on is helping you develop the habit of waking up earlier.
And for me, that’s been very, very supportive. For instance this morning, I knew I’d only gotten about five hours of sleep. And I remember the little sketch in yesterday’s encouragement section telling me that for the first week it’s going to be hell and it’s going to be hard and I’m not going to want to wake up early. But I have to just commit to pushing through and consider it a one or a zero, either. I did the routine and I got up when I intended to, and I set that intention the day before, or I didn’t. One or zero, binary, very simple. So I just got out and I said, “It doesn’t matter how good I feel while I do this. It doesn’t matter how well I do it. Doesn’t matter how long I do any of the things I planned on doing, what matters is that I do it.”
And so yesterday I had planned on doing a lot of different things. I wanted to walk, I wanted to meditate. I wanted to journal. I wanted to drink coffee and read something inspiring. And I did all of those things, but my walk was only 10 minutes long. It wasn’t the half hour I planned. It wasn’t the 15 minute meditation I planned. It didn’t matter. I still got a gold star that day, and that was great for me. So I really, really love this tool. Every single day you get new questions to answer. So you can really track your progress here, but at the same time it doesn’t feel monotonous like so many habit trackers that I’ve tried to use before.
I’m just, I need variety. That’s kind of how I’m wired. So for me I’m always excited to see what’s the next thing I’m going to get to read tomorrow. And so I don’t need it to be monotonous for me to have consistency in developing this routine over the course of 66 days, which is the length of this journal. They also happen to have Habit Nest offers, a lot of other interesting journals. So there’s ones around bodybuilding I’ve seen and a few other topics. So I’ll link to all of them in the show notes and you can just check out and see what the options are. Really love this one.
As you can tell, I’m a morning nerd, I like to wake up and write. I need my coffee. I want to sit there and gradually wake up and watch the sun either come up or be there, depending on when I wake up. And then I’ll head out and I’ll get some exercise, if I do it all, maybe I’ll get my exercise later. It doesn’t matter to me. Most important thing is I want that time to kind of get my head on straight.
Okay, this one is more of a creative option and it’s having a great coloring book. Now you can find prompts to do a sketch a day or a fiction story a day. You can find those and then you can just do them anywhere. I also love the simplicity of having a beautiful coloring book and there’s so many great coloring books. My favorite source for these is a website called jetpens.com, I will link to it. And this one my mom just gave me, so I wanted to share it. Because Cinthia Joyce is one of your favorite people, I know. She’s an artist. Okay, so this is called the Golden Ratio Coloring Book. It is so beautiful. The Golden Ratio is a magical number that shows up through art and science and nature, and so it has a mystical quality to it.
This one happens to be just a bunch of different images, all of which are based on and derivatives of the golden circle. So a lot of look like mandalas or patterns, or some of them are Craftsman in style or M.C. Escher in style as well. Lots of variety. That one’s really fun. I have some watercolor markers I love using with it. And my daughter likes to sit and do it with me too. So if she wakes up, this is a good parenting tip for morning routines. If you know that your kids are unpredictable in their wake up time, and it’s very hard to beat them to the punch. Having a coloring book next to you when you’re doing yours, especially if you’re willing to do it with them is a great way to get them involved. And to see that there is such a thing as a morning that’s not strictly a series of rush demands where you’re constantly just needing to provide for them.
And I think that’s really, really healthy for them to see that, “Hey you know, mom, dad, they take care of themselves in the morning and it’s okay for them to have their time and their space.” And it’s a practice and it pays off.
Last journaling thing I’ll mention, and then I’ll talk briefly about other options. All right. So this one, I just picked up, it’s from Brendon Burchard. He’s what he calls himself a high performance coach, and he’s kind of a YouTube star and mega millionaire and has a book that he actually gives out for free. It’s called High Performance Habits. There’s an audio version of this as well. It’s based on a lot of research that he’s done, where he talks about the habits of people who are consistently high performers, including that they’re also vibrant and well and happy. And he breaks it down for you into, what are those key habits? He’s actually got a journal and that’s how I got into it because I was just researching a whole bunch of different journals. I’m working on creating my own for you guys.
And wow, this one is really detailed and it’s also humongous. I think this is A4 size, it’s bigger than regular letter sized paper, and it’s leather-bound and big. And it’s not realistic for me to use this as a throw in my bag kind of a planner, but I think there’s a lot of good stuff in it. He’s got daily, weekly and monthly pages. And he also has you take an assessment of yourself, so I did that. You can get a score online, you can get on his website. I will link to that for you. And then from there you know kind of where you want to focus in developing the key six habits that he has. The six habits are clarity, productivity, generating energy, influence, courage, and necessity.
I think if you were to sit down and fill it out in the morning, which I haven’t started doing yet, it’s going to be my next experiment, I think would really, really transform you. So if you’re say an Enneagram type three, very high achievement oriented person, and you love to just be at your best, and I think many of you are that way. Then you’re going to dig this big time. And if you are more of an artsy type like myself, you might laugh at how much you don’t want to do it, which is kind of in my experience.
I mean like, “Oh my gosh, I just don’t want to do this. This is so detailed, and it seems really hard.” But I’m telling you, I’m going to take this challenge on, because I’ve definitely had some insights about myself and my own habits, including habits of mind and my mindset and that he’s informing a lot. And one thing he’s really big on is high performers achieve not for themselves, but to be of service. I really like that. So this is the High Performance Habits planner from Brendon Burchard. Again, everything will be linked to in the show notes.
Now that’s if you want to sit down with a pen and paper and many people do not. And if you are one of them, I have some other options for you that might be a little more unusual. So we all know about exercise and how important that is. If you are trying to become an early morning riser and you’re not one, one of the most important things to do is to see the sun first thing in the morning. So even if you don’t want to exercise going outside and literally looking straight at the sun with your sunglasses off, can help reset your body clock as will eating.
Another thing people don’t really know about is the importance of what I call state shifting. So if you can go from hot to cold or cold to hot. So taking a cold shower, or hopping in a hot tub. That can help reset your body clock and it signals to your body, we’re doing something different then what we were doing before. We’re not sleeping now, we’re awake. It also will help you go to sleep at night if you state shift. Another option here is just water. Getting into water, getting in a bath. We all know a shower wakes you up, hopping in the ocean or a pool if you have one. Even just going and standing on the wet ground with your bare feet is a really lovely morning routine, and that was mine for a very long time.
All right, now let’s talk about meditation. I’m not going to guide you through one. Instead, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite things, which is wearables and metrics. I love quantified self-stuff. It really appeals to my geeky little post academic heart. So I want to share with you two wearables that are really interesting for meditation. So apps are fantastic. I love Headspace. I love Insight Timer, Waking Up, Elevate, YogaGlo, two clients of mine, really the list is endless.
And what I love is being able to track my progress. When I fell off the wagon, I’m very motivated by seeing my results and having a sense that I am moving the needle in terms of my capacity for mindfulness and meditation. So this here is called the Muse headset. The Muse headset, it’s more like a headband. These are not headphones. It wraps around your forehead. It has sensors inside that actually measure your brainwaves. It hooks over your ears. You listen to meditations on the app or you can just have it be no sound or a rainforest sound, ocean sound. And it gives you feedback on your current state of mind. So basically it’s your calmness. I’m not sure exactly how it calculates your calmness, but it will let you listen to little tweets of birds the calmer and calmer you get.
So you’re getting that immediate feedback like, “Okay, now this is a calm state.” You also will hear when some stormy weather come in when your mind is really busy and active, and then you get scores. So I know this is sort of counter to the idea of meditation in many ways, which is not about competition. But I do think that there’s something about personal mastery and just knowing kind of once you can match the feeling of calm, you can better know how to get there quickly. So every few times a year, I’ll pull it back out and I’ll do a few weeks of Muse meditations, just to check and see how I’m doing and refresh my memory.
The second meditation wearable I want to talk to you about is more measuring the connection between your breath and your heart rate. It’s actually measuring something called your HRV, heart rate variability, which is a key metric that reflects general wellness overall. And what it’s looking for is, can you get into coherence between your heartbeat and your breathing? So it clips onto your, it’s a little teeny tiny clip, it’s very gentle. It clips into your ear lobe. And with Bluetooth it speaks to your phone. The instructions are to breathe with your heart and to really tap into a positive, regenerative, feeling such as compassion, peace, love, and to beam it back out.
And I found this to be immediately effective. You don’t even need the wearable to do this. It’s just a fun, extra tool if you’re interested in metrics and tracking your progress. All right, one thing I will mention is tapping. Now, I used to think tapping was a totally kind of witchcraft guru, not sure if it’s really a real thing. But I was encouraged by a therapist to give it a try. There is a great tapping app, I think it’s called The Tapping Solution, I will link to it in the show notes, where you’re actually tapping on various parts of your face and your neck in a certain order while you say certain words, depending on what the issue is that you’re tapping about. And it does provide a physiological shift and somehow it helps your brain to work through issues. So you can feel an immediate difference from that as well, and it’s also very fast.
Ooh, lots of interesting weird things there. So I hope that you can give some new stuff a try whenever you want to inject some new inspiration and you can plug in any one of these tools. I can say for myself that one of the biggest benefits of just being intentional about what my morning includes is that I find myself more above the line throughout the day, because I have claimed my role as the creator of my day. And I’ve established that with making choices in the morning that I then execute it on. So I’m connecting my intention with my action. And my mindset tends to be more proactive, more creative. My presence is higher, my energy is higher and I’m more calm and I’m more inspired.
These were the biggest benefits I’m personally looking for, energy, clarity, inspiration. And there’s so many ways to find it. I’d love to hear what works for you. I hope this was a fun episode for you. Please share your morning routines with me. And remember that the only person who can create you as a conscious leader is you, and it does start first thing.