Creating a Morning Routine

According to Laura Vanderkam, learning to use mornings well is what separates achievement from madness. Before the rest of the world is eating breakfast, the most successful people have already scored daily victories that are advancing them towards the lives they want. Successful people have priorities they want to tackle or things they like to do with their lives and early mornings are the time when they have the most control of their schedules.

Not all hours of the day are created equal

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In her research Laura Vanderkam found that people who were serious about exercise did it in the mornings. At that point emergencies had yet to happen and they would only have to shower once. New research into willpower is apparently showing that tasks that require self-discipline are simply easier to do when the day is young. When you’re on a diet it’s unlikely that you will tuck into that packet of biscuits for breakfast, but come the afternoon your willpower may be waning and you may struggle to resist them. For successful people regular activities develop into habits. Getting things down to routines and habits takes willpower at first, but in the long run conserves willpower.

Five Steps

From studying people’s morning habits, Laura Vanderkam has learnt that getting the most out of this time involves a five-step process:

Track your time

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Part of spending your time better is knowing exactly how you’re spending it now. Write down what you’re doing as often as you can and in as much detail as you think will be helpful. While you may be thinking specifically about your mornings, try tracking a whole week. The reason to do this is that the solution to morning dilemmas often lies at other times of the day. You may be too tired in the mornings because you’re staying up late. But if you look at how you’re spending your nights, you’ll notice that you’re not doing anything urgent or particularly enjoyable. A TV programme can be recorded and watched later – possibly while you’re on the treadmill at 6.30am.

I have worked out how much time each activity takes so that I know what I can fit into my routine. When you can be confident that you have enough time to do what you want to do, you don’t need to rush and can relax and enjoy your morning.

Picture the perfect morning

After you know how you’re spending your time, ask yourself what a great morning would look like for you.

Think through the logistics

Map out a morning schedule. What would have to happen to make this schedule work? What time would you have to get up and what time do you need to go to bed in order to get enough sleep? Can you get to bed by that time?

Build the habit

This is the most important step. Turning a desire into a ritual requires a lot of initial willpower and not just for the first few days. Start slowly. Go to bed fifteen minutes earlier and wake up fifteen minutes earlier for a few days until this new schedule seems doable. Choose one new habit at a time to introduce. Chart your progress. Habits takes several weeks to establish, so keep track of how you’re doing for at least 30 days. Once skipping a day feels like you forgot something you’ll know you’ve got a habit and can take your ritual up a notch.

Tune up as necessary

Life changes and so can your morning routine. Tune it as you need.

Ms Vanderkam’s takeaway message  – the hours before most people eat breakfast are far too precious to be blown on semiconscious activities. Make yours meaningful.

So have you got a morning routine? If not and you try this out, I’d love to know how you get on.

The Longevity Plan Chapter Five – Find Your Rhythm

For me this means having a routine. I am a creature of habit and love routine maybe more than most. I find it comforting. Some people seem to enjoy living chaotically and stumbling through the day from one crisis to the next, but I like to know what to expect. I don’t find it boring; I find it calming. From the moment that I wake up I know what is going to happen, as I have a morning routine and I look forward to each part of it. Every evening I plan the routine for the next day. I can’t do the same each morning as my work pattern varies. Sometimes I leave the house at 8am and other days I can log on to my computer at home at 9.30am.

Waking Up Slowly

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My day starts when my sunrise lamp gradually lightens the room. Sometimes this wakes me up, other days it takes the alarm to do that, which is actually the radio coming on. The dulcet tones of Mr Humphrys arguing with a politician on the Today programme is my choice of listening in the morning.

Every day starts with a cup of tea in bed – you may be able to guess that I don’t have children! This used to be a weekend treat, but now it happens every day. Monday to Friday I make the tea, but on the weekends I get to stay in bed and my other half makes it.

Whilst drinking my tea I read a non-fiction book; at the moment it is A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button, founder of the website, Buy Me Once.

If I have time I exercise. This is usually a short jog on the treadmill. If I don’t have time I just shower. Before I leave the bedroom I turn back the duvet to let the bed air. I don’t agree with the recommendation that you should start your day by making your bed, because my understanding is that you sweat in the night and you need to let the bedding and mattress dry out. I would say that it is actually unhygienic to make your bed straightaway.

Quiet Time

I always have ten minutes sitting in silence. I am not sure whether I would call it meditation, as I don’t think that I have mastered that art. I sit with my eyes closed and try to concentrate on my breathing. Thoughts come and go and sometimes things that I had forgotten come into my head or solutions to problems dawn on me. Other times I can’t focus and I give up before the timer goes off on my phone to say the ten minutes are up. Then it’s breakfast time before I start work for the day. Whilst eating my breakfast I read emails on my phone.

Sunlight

Dr John Day recommends getting outside into natural light, especially in the morning, but at some times of year it isn’t light in the morning! He believes that it is incredibly effective at adjusting our circadian rhythms. Sometimes I think so many of these things would be easier if I lived somewhere warmer and sunnier, rather than in Wales where we’re more likely to have torrential rain or fog than sunshine! Maybe I need to try to incorporate this into my routine once the warmer weather comes or just move to the South of France – one day maybe!

Making the transition from work to home

As you may guess I have an evening routine as well. When I come home I get changed out of my work clothes and straighten the duvet now that the bed has had the day to air. Even if I work at home for the day or am there for the afternoon, I don’t get changed into my evening clothes until after I have logged off for the day. It is a psychological thing. Once I am in my tracksuit bottoms I am off-duty. I cook dinner, listening to iplayer, usually a comedy from Radio 4 Extra; some light-heartened entertainment helps to pass the time.

We are very unsophisticated and dinner is usually taken on our laps watching TV. We rarely have puddings and so we treat ourselves to a square of dark chocolate after dinner. I usually spend time on my computer, reading emails, catching up on social media and working on my blog. I also review the day and plan the next morning.

Bedtime

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Dr Day states that fundamental to establishing a good rhythm is to get plenty of sleep i.e. seven to nine hours. Me, I like to be in bed with my head on the pillow by 10.30pm. After computer time I may watch a little bit more tele if it’s not too late, but about 9.30/9.45pm I’m upstairs, doing my ablutions – as my other half calls them i.e. brushing my teeth, washing my face, etc. Then I spend 30 minutes reading fiction. By this time of day I am too tired to read a non-fiction book and immersing myself in a story about other peoples’ lives helps me to wind down before sleep.

Obviously there are days when this doesn’t all happen. At weekends I don’t always have my quiet time. Breakfast can be a very leisurely affair drinking coffee and doing a crossword. If I am going out for the evening there is no routine, but on the whole this is how life is and l love it.

Your Routine?

So what are your daily routines? Do you even have a routine? If not, have you thought about starting one? What would be your ideal routine? I would love to know.

If you are thinking about starting a morning routine I would suggest checking out the recent post by Radical Fire in which she tells you about ‘The Miracle Morning’ by Hal Elrod and how she has used that to shape her routine. It might give you some ideas.

Be In Motion

In chapter four of ‘The Longevity Plan’ Dr John Day states he believes that a life of constant, but not overly taxing movement, using every muscle group in our bodies, is a model for the very best kind of exercise there is. This should include short bursts of more strenuous activities. He believes that we are designed to be in movement all the time.

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For me the challenge that I face is that, like most of the population, I earn money by sitting in front of a computer for much of my day. Our modern lifestyles meant that we are mainly sedentary creatures. The message from Dr Day is that although doing some strenuous exercise during the week i.e. going to the gym or for a jog, is of benefit, the best thing that we can do for our health is to be on the go most of the time.

My own pattern is that I tend to spend Monday to Friday either sitting in front of a computer, sitting in the car or sitting talking to someone…as you can see there is a theme here! The weekend is fortunately a different matter. As I don’t have a cleaner I can be almost constantly in movement doing all those lovely jobs such as dusting, vacuuming, cleaning the toilet. When the weather is warmer there is also gardening to be done and walking up and down the garden gets in much needed steps.

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I really need to find ways of incorporating more movement into my day, but like everyone I find that going out for a walk is much more attractive when the sun is shining and in this current cold weather I just want to stay in the warm.

Dr Day suggests the following:

  • using part of your lunch break to take a walk or bike ride
  • using the stairs in your office
  • parking far from the office door and walk
  • if you must sit, set an alarm to remind yourself to stand every 30 minutes

In ‘The Four Pillar Plan’ by Dr Rangan Chatterjee he recommends what he calls the ‘five minute kitchen workout’. Basically, whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil or the rice to cook, do a few squats, lunges or calf raises. That seems much more manageable to me.

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He goes on to suggest ‘high intensity interval training’ – two ten minute sessions each week. By ‘high intensity’ he means going all out, sweat running and heart pumping. By the end you should be out of breath and unable to hold a conversation for a good thirty seconds. An example he gives is running on a treadmill for one minute and twenty seconds at 4km hour and then 12km per hour (or whatever feels very hard to you) for 40 seconds. This should be repeated three to five times. If my maths is correct that is a maximum of ten minutes exercise.

If you don’t have a treadmill his suggestion is to walk out of your front door and go to the end of your road. From there, walk as fast as you can for one minute. When that minute is over, look to see which house number you’ve arrived at, then walk at a normal pace back to the start. Now you repeat the same sequence, but this time you want to see if you can beat yourself and get to a house further down the road. Try to do this five times in total.

Dr Day concludes by saying that it is so important to stack the deck in favour of motion and the best way to do that is to make it fun. Do the exercises you enjoy doing, because if you don’t enjoy doing it, you won’t do it.

So how do you fit movement into your day? I’d been interested to see how people squeeze this in during their busy schedules. Do you try to be in constant motion or is short bursts of intensive training your thing? Maybe like me it’s just the vacuuming workout on the weekends!

Community

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In the third chapter of ‘The Longevity Plan’ by Dr John Day he says that if you want to live a longer, healthier and happier life, it’s every bit as important to pay attention to your community as to pay attention to what you eat.

‘Community’ means different things to different people, but at its most basic it is the people with whom you surround yourself. In the digital age it can be people you feel connected to via social media. I have to say that I struggle to find people in the real world with whom I feel a real connection. That sounds a bit sad, no actually, it sounds very sad, but it’s the truth. It’s partly because many people my age have grown up children and/or grandchildren and so their lives revolve around family. My partner and I live 180 miles from our parents and we don’t have any children. We therefore have very different lives from most other people our age.

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I spend a lot of my time reading and learning about how to make positive changes in my life. Others probably don’t have as much time as I do, but often I feel that they’re just not very committed to making changes, as it takes determination and hard work. It also takes motivation and sometimes until something happens to give you that motivation then it makes it hard to stick with it during the difficult times. Unfortunately changes in my health made me see the value of looking after myself and motivates me every day to eat well, exercise and enjoy life. I feel that people without a strong motivation talk about losing weight, doing more exercise, etc., but it rarely comes to anything. I am therefore one of those sad people whose community is a virtual one – I feel more in common with people whose blogs I read than with my friends, colleagues and neighbours.

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Sports teams, interest groups, political organisations and lifelong learning classes are great ways to meet new people. I always say that the world isn’t going to come to you. If you want to meet people you need to get out there and join groups, volunteer or sign up for evening classes.

Apparently, if you’re surrounded by people who don’t lift you up, won’t treat you right and don’t appreciate your goals, you stand a much lower chance of living a long, healthy and happy life. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. I certainly know that over the years I have become more like my partner and I use phrases that I have picked up from him and am influenced by his thinking. The trick is to spend time with people that you admire and want to emulate. For me, the trouble is finding them in the first place.  

The healthiest communities are those in which we’re surrounded by people with mutual goals and values and who act accordingly and consistently. I listened to an episode of the ‘Do It Scared’ podcast the other day which was about the core values of Ruth Soukup’s organisation. It was really interesting to hear how they helped influence ways of working. It made such a change to hear employees talking about the positives of working for their organisation.

So how do you find your ‘community’? Do your friends share your interests or do you feel you connect more with others on social media? Do you get to spend time with others who ‘lift you up’? I’d be really interested to know.

Master Your Mindset

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This is the second chapter in the book by Dr John Day, ‘The Longevity Plan’. He states that a positive mindset isn’t just about feeling happy. He believes that the way we think about our lives is perhaps the biggest factor in how our bodies will respond to the conditions of our lives. If we are going to change our lives for the better, we must first change our minds for the better.

He gives us three statements to ponder:

Buddhism teaches that the root of all unhappiness is desire. This does not mean that we should desire nothing, but rather than we should focus our desires on that which is most important to us – family, health and safety – and leave all feelings of entitlement by the water’s edge.

When we’re burdened by trying to maintain the inessential things we have (let alone procure more) we have less time, space and energy to devote to making the real changes that are so vital to creating healthier and happier lives.

Somewhere along the way, many people in our society began associating happiness with ‘having more’.

Considering these wise words I feel that they could have been written for the FI/RE community or for those trying to live a more frugal and simple life. Isn’t that about deciding what is important to you? For each of us we make conscious decisions about what to spend our money on rather than just buying to keep up with the Joneses.

He suggests simplifying one’s life by asking yourself two basic questions:

  1. Do we have what we need?
  2. Do we need what we want?

These questions help us to begin the process of decluttering our lives which is a vital step towards stress relief. Marie Kondo is popular at the moment in the world of decluttering. Marie believes that each of your possessions should bring you joy and if it doesn’t you should thank it for the service that it has provided to you and discard it.

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Although our age is often a tremendously large part of our mindset about ‘where we’re at’ in life, it is a perfectly pointless measure of who we are. In Western culture getting old has negative connotations, but in the village where his study was based maturity was something to be respected. He states that the mere belief that growing older is a positive thing might be an influencer of good health. When you start to worry that you’re over the hill I suggest thinking about the alternative – being dead. I am sure that we would all choose the former!

We all have stressors in our lives. The key to living well with stress lies in how we perceive and manage it. For example, if you have a stressful commute try listening to the books or podcasts you never seem to have time for while driving. At the time that I made this note I didn’t act on it, but now I absolutely love podcasts and have discovered a whole new free world of learning. If you find podcasts you like you might actually look forward to the days when you have to drive for work in order to be able to listen to something. The miles will pass and you may not even notice them.

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Dr Day believes that at its best, exercise is something we should look forward to. Positive anticipation is a vital part of a healthy mindset. How to fit this into your day is probably something that you may still be struggling with. In our sedentary lives, mostly spent sitting at a computer, even thirty minutes a day may seem impossible. Laura Vanderkam, who has written several books about time management suggests that the most successful people, who she has spent time studying, exercise first thing in the morning, as they are least likely to be interrupted at this time. I am sure many of you will be saying, ‘But I don’t have time in the morning’. Check out her advice about time tracking and building a morning routine which may help you find the time in your week.

Linking back to the first chapter on healthy eating Dr Day goes on to suggest ways to change your thinking which will help you address your diet and improve your physical health. For example, when we have achieved something positive or had a difficult day at work we often ‘reward’ ourselves with unhealthy food. He suggests picking something healthier and ultimately more rewarding. For him that is doing something athletic with his family.

We need to challenge customs which are intrinsically unhealthy. For example, why is inviting someone over for alcohol, caffeine or sugar-packed pastries socially accepted while inviting them over for veggies might be considered weird? Why do we celebrate birthdays with cake instead of a complete healthy meal? I have to say that my manager now brings fruit to our team meeting, but it never seems quite as attractive as the biscuits and cake she also brings.

Little by little we can take actions that fly in the face of conventional wisdom especially if what we do conventionally isn’t particularly healthy. That’s not just limited to food. One of the most promising work-place trends over the past few years is the advent of the standing desk. I had thought about this, but it costs over £1000 to buy a desk that you can both sit at and stand at. One option, if you have the space, is to have a shelf at which you can stand to use your computer and then a desk at which to sit when you want a rest from standing.

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If you’re going to take actions that are better for your life and the lives of people you care about you’re probably going to have to endure a bit of ribbing. And if that’s going to happen the best thing you can do is to simply adapt the mind-set of not really caring what those people say. My colleagues call me the ‘food police’ as I tend to refuse the offer of sweets, biscuits and cakes and frequently Google what they are eating and tell them how many spoonfuls of sugar are in that iced Greggs doughnut that they are eating – eight in a ‘pink jammie’!

I think that much of the advice in this chapter is about reframing your life and experiences. You need to have the courage to be different and not just follow the crowd. Have confidence in the choices and changes that you want to make to improve your life. Maybe others might follow your example and join you on the road to improving their mindset as well.