Do These in the Morning and be on Your Way to Greatness

If you want to make your dreams come true, the first thing you have to do is wake up. – J.M. Power

Much have been talked about the benefits of morning routines. There are a handful of variations and I suppose this makes sense as we are all different in our own ways. What works for one may not work for another.

For example, I find a long list of wonderfully lined-up routine out of reach and at times out of this world.

  • Wake up, smile and make your bed
  • Brush your teeth, wash your face and have a cold shower
  • Resist the urge to check your phone, emails or social media
  • Meditate and perhaps re-correct yourself
  • Listen to uplifting music or positive affirmation
  • Read a book or article for 15 minutes
  • Exercise, stretch and maybe throw in some yoga
  • Write your goals, review your goals
  • Plan your day, work your schedule
  • Track your expenses, review your budget
  • Cook yourself a fulfilling breakfast
  • Make an antioxidant smoothie

I get overwhelmed every time I try to follow that beautiful list above. I will be happy if I can find enough time and energy to accomplish half the list. Time is limited, especially between the moment I wake up and when I am suppose to leave for work.

Mornings can bring a special challenge to parents too. As a parent you will constantly have to juggle the needs of your children and household.  Sometimes your time is never your own. Getting kids ready for school, attending to elderly needs, making breakfast for the family, sorting out the laundry, watering the plants and what not.

On certain days, you would consider yourself lucky to find enough time to go to the bathroom and groom yourself just so that you can be presentable for work.

But still, I agree, the best way to start your day is to have a good morning routine. No doubts. But  you will have to purposefully carve out time and for your good self before the world gets up and gets hectic.

It is worth it. The best reason for you to make it a point to establish and carry out a good morning routine is that it generates a positive momentum. This momentum is an important part of human psychology. When you have started your day right by moving it forward positively, you are more likely to keep accomplishing positive things the rest of the day. A good morning routine sets the right tone for a wonderful and productive day ahead.

Personally I would simplify a morning routine into the following 4 elements. Technically it is only 3 because the first one is actually done the night before.

1. Get enough sleep

Any good morning routine must start with a good night sleep. By a good night sleep I mean at least 7 hours of quality rest for us adults. Non negotiable. I have many times try to cheat and reduce the amount of sleep so that I can have more time for a good morning routine. But all I found was that I ended up short-changing myself when I am less than 100% to tackle the challenges of the day.

There are tonnes of resources on the importance of sleep but my favourite reference is from sleep scientist Matthew Walker, director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley – a research institute whose goal is to understand everything about sleep’s impact on us, from birth to death, in sickness and health. In his research, Walker demonstrated powerful links between sleep loss and, among other things, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and poor mental health. The evidence Walker presented is enough to send anyone early to bed. It’s not an option at all. Without sleep, there is low energy and disease. With sleep, there is vitality and health.

Read the article on Matthew Walker’s work here – Sleep should be prescribed. What those late nights out could be costing you.

The next thing you should work on is getting up at YOUR right time, consistently. We have often heard that people who wake up earlier are often more productive. This does not mean that night owls can’t have a productive morning that leads to a productive day. Their “mornings” may take place a little later, but it can be also productive nonetheless.

What time you wake up is not as important as getting up at the same time each day. Waking up at the same time each day will help you get in tune with your body’s clock. Your body follows a circadian rhythm which is often referred to as your “internal clock” or “body clock”. Your internal clock helps to regulate your level of sleepiness and wakefulness over a 24 hour period. Try to go to bed and wake up consistently daily so that your circadian rhythm is stable, which will then lead to optimum hormone levels, body temperature, metabolism, and immune system.

2. Get in Touch

Once you are up, fresh from a night of sufficient rest, the first thing I would recommend is to get in tune or in touch with your inner being. Now depending on your preference and belief, you have a few options to achieve this.

Personally, the moment I wake up I would sit by the bed edge, drink half a bottle of water (about 300ml, placed beside the bed the night before) and be grateful. I will quickly think of a few things that I am grateful for and how they are just right for me. Example, I woke up healthy, my sons are growing up strong, I live in a comfortable house, I enjoy my work, etc.

Counting your blessing daily is good, but I do this also because you need to give your body some time to recover from a lying down position before you jump up and get moving. Getting up quickly after lying down for awhile can some times cause dizziness. This dizziness is called postural or orthostatic hypotension. It can occur when the brain receives incorrect information about the body’s position in relation to its surroundings and movements.

After brushing my teeth and washing my face (to ensure that I am really awake and fresh), I like to spend some time journalling. I write about my goals and have a quick brainstorm on how I can achieve them. I note down any ideas that come to mind. You can always journal and write about your feelings at the moment or a recent experience. Be flexible. The idea is to get in touch with yourself and what is important to you.

If you are a Christian, you can use this session to have devotion, to have a quiet time with God. Pray, read the Bible and meditate on God’s word. If you are a Buddhist, you can take the time to centre yourself with good posture, steady breathing and mindfulness. Then learn some basic mantras. Pray for happiness and wellbeing for your family and friends. Whatever religion you are in, get in touch with God.

3. Get some Movement

The next thing you will want to focus on is your physical body. Depending on your preference, you can get in touch mentally/spiritually first (Element 2) before working out or vice versa. I don’t find the sequence critical so it is up to you. Whichever works best.

What you want to achieve in this activity is get your body to sweat, at least. The intensity will depend on your level of fitness and how much you have been working out. All of us starts from a different base so it is hard to prescribe something standard for everyone.

If you have not been keeping fit, you may start light with some form of stretching. Better still if you can go for a brisk walk around your house. Fresh air in the morning is good for you. If you have been active, try going for a run. If you would rather stay indoors, use the treadmill or elliptical trainer. If yoga is your thing, go for it. Any form of stretching and cardio workout is good. You decide what, how much and how long to work out.

The catch is you have to make sure that the work out is sufficient. If it does not make you sweat at least a little, you are probably being too easy with yourself. The activity is too light or too brief. You don’t have to exercise till it sucks, but I would aim for a good hard effort. Elevate your heart rate, sweat out those pores and get breathless before you catch your breath and recover.

A good morning workout will enhance your metabolism, improve your physical energy and enhance your focus and mental abilities all day long. You will walk around feeling a sense of accomplishment, knowing that you have completed an important daily task. You don’t have to press for time trying to fit in an exercise in the evening. Waking up early in the morning to exercise enhances your personal discipline. Lastly, waking up early to exercise will in turn help you sleep better at night. Your body will enjoy a healthy sense of fatigue at the end of the day and you will be ready to sleep, well. And the positive cycle continues.

4. Get the Fuel

Don’t skip breakfast, unless you are deliberately fasting. Skipping breakfast can set you up for overeating later in the day. A healthy breakfast on the other hand gives you energy and set the stage for a great day.

If you are like me before, you may be grabbing breakfast on the run when you are late to get out the door. You actually can do this, if you have prepared your breakfast the night before. Nothing wrong, as long as you ensure that you have some healthy food to fuel your body in the morning.

However, I have in recent months incorporate and allocated some time in the morning routine to ensure that my family and I have fresh and prepared breakfast. I do so because breakfast is an opportunity for me to bond with my children, especially to show them that I love them by providing them something to break fast each morning.

I like to start with a lemon, not coffee. Yes, squeeze a lemon into a glass of water, add some honey, stir and drink it down. There are many known benefits of lemon and I am sure you have heard and read them everywhere. Rich in vitamin C, it enhances your immune system, flushes out toxins, aides digestion, rejuvenates the skin, and many more good stuff.

You want to aim for a breakfast that combines good carbs and fibre with sufficient protein. Yes, aim for a healthy dose of protein. A protein-packed breakfast can satisfy your appetite and help you eat healthier all day long. I will not dwell into recipes of breakfast with high protein. You can google it and plenty of high-protein breakfast ideas will show up.

I like to keep it simple and not be too worked out on the number of grams of protein to consume. Soft-boiled eggs, low sugar cereal or oatmeal with milk, peanut butter on wholemeal bread, tuna chunk wraps are simple pleasures I rotate around the week.

Cheat Days

Following any decent morning routine will not be easy. So are you allowed any cheat days? I will say no. No cheat days. Why? Because like it or not, you will inevitable fail to follow the good routine on some days, despite the noblest intention and stubbornest willpower. And when that happens, don’t get too stress out and don’t be upset with yourself. Just treat that as your unplanned, accidental cheat day. Make sure you get back into the grove the next morning. No sweat.

Stay Flexible

No one is the same. Your position at this point in life will be different from mine. You might be a teenager, just single, married, with children, etc. So everyone should have a different morning routine customised to your current situation. Also, things change as we move on in life. A couple just blessed with a baby will certainly experience a major shift in their mornings. Their morning routines would have to be revamped totally to accommodate the latest addition into the family. So always be flexible and always be ready for change when the need arises.

Once you get used to your morning routine, you will find that it gets easier to follow and somewhat becomes automatic. That is a new good habit forming and very soon you will not have to think or will yourself so much to do it. It has after all becomes a routine.

So with your new and wonderful morning routine, what can you expect next? Nothing much, not at least for awhile. I can guarantee that you will not be great as yet. You will not see any drastic improvements for a short while.

This is where you don’t give up hope and slack off. If you consistently put in the morning routines day in day out, I believe you will slowly but surely experience improvements in your life physically, mentally and even spiritually.

5 Ways to a Happier You

I once heard a man conclude his 83th birthday speech saying that “The ultimate aim in life is happiness”. This statement from his speech had me thinking that night. Is happiness really “the” aim in life?

After some thoughts, I realised there might be some truth to his penchant for happiness. Look at it this way. If you were to ask enough times why something is important to you, chances are you will eventually end up with the same answer – so that you will be happy.

Why do I work so hard at my job? So that I can get that promotion. Why…? So that I can feel the sense of accomplishment and make more money. Why…? So that I can be happy.

Why do I get up so early in the morning to exercise? So that I have a healthier body. Why…? So that I am stronger and look fit. Why…? So that I play better sports and feel more confident about myself. Why…? Because it makes me feels good, and… happy.

Happiness may be all that matters in the end. Now, how then do I get this happiness constantly? Too bad that wise man left the stage without elaborating on this.

So I decided to spend some time to think about my happiness and how I can have more of it in my own life. With a little research and evaluation of my past experiences, I was able to quantify them into 5 points.

1 – Get a handle

Your happiness is your responsibility. Period. The first step towards a happier you is to acknowledge that you and you alone are in charge of your happiness. Yes, it all starts and ends with you.

Our tendency is to put the blame on others every time something cause you to be unhappy. “My son spilled his milk again.” “The bad traffic made me late for my appointment.”

Sure, things can happen to you and it may not be your fault. You may not have caused it. But you should not put the blame of your unhappiness on others too. Your happiness from these situations will largely stem from how you think and how you respond.

So how can I take control of my happiness?

Awareness is the state of knowing your own feelings and ability to assess what you are capable of. This involves being able to understand your emotions and what triggers them.

So awareness is a good starting point for you to be happier today. Be aware always that happiness is something you choose for yourself. Every time you start drifting off, become aware of it. Get a grip of the negative feelings and work on being happy.

Two ways you can build and improve your self-awareness:

Review the day – At the end of the day, spend at least 15 minutes with yourself. Keep out distractions. Reflect and write down what happened to you, your feelings, and how you dealt with them. Take note of your emotion experiences. Focus on the positives.

Talk to others – Honest feedback from close family and friends can be invaluable. Write down what they say. Compile their inputs and compare them as you journey along. Again, look for trends. Is there anything you can learn from their perceptions of you?

2 – Count your blessings

Gratitude makes us happier. I won’t go into statistic but the fact that you are reading this in the comfort of your chair shows that you already have much to be grateful for. Be grateful that you are alive, healthy, that you have a family and many friends, that you have employment and comforts in life.

Research shows that gratitude is good for you. It reduces anxiety and depression, helps you become more positive, strengthens your relationships with others, and encourages compassion. It also has been shown to increase your feelings of happiness.

Every time you think that life is tough and there are no reasons to be happy, think of the many individuals that don’t get a chance to make it as far as you did. Poverty, famines, disease and droughts claim thousands of lives each year. Many don’t get proper education opportunities and many others struggle to put food on their tables.

Happy people know that they don’t get to be happy all the time. They can appreciate bright moments, little victories, small miracles and the positive encounters that bring real happiness.

Don’t put your focus on material things either. The path of continuing happiness does not come from the latest iPhone of a fancy car. Things will come and it will get old. The joy never last. Your blessings do not have to be derived from things.

Money and things will not make you happy. They will make you comfortable, but not buy you happiness. Happiness is beyond that. Happiness is a state of mind. It is generated from within. It starts and ends with you.

3 – Find your element

When you were seven and someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, anything seemed possible. Fireman. Doctor. Soldier. Astronaut. Your answers then were guided by what you thought would make you really happy. There were no limits.

But for many of us, as the years go by, we begin to let our dreams be peeled away. We settled and allowed our conditions and surroundings to shape us into what was not meant to be.

Research suggests that when you are living your life and making choices that are in line with your values, you’re likely to feel happier.

So take a little time and reflect on what is most important and meaningful in your life. You can think about times when you felt happiest or most satisfied and what the common factors in those situations may be.

For example you may be unhappy now at the office. This dissatisfaction with your job can be traced back to a mismatch in core values. If your company doesn’t value the same things you do, you will feel unhappy even if you like your work.

4 – Give them away

Start being generous with your time and money: research shows that you will be happier for it.

In their book The Paradox of Generosity, sociologists Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson found that Americans who describe themselves as “very happy” volunteer an average of 5.8 hours per month. Those who are “unhappy”? Just 0.6 hours. A total of 2,000 individuals were surveyed over a five-year period in this study. Researchers interviewed and tracked the spending habits and lifestyles of 40 families from different classes and races in 12 states, even accompanying some to the grocery store.

If giving is good for you, why aren’t more people generous? After all you could be generous in your own way and at your level. I did some hard thinking and realized that I was actually afraid. Afraid?! Yes, afraid that it would be a loss. Afraid that if I gave money away or devoted my time, I would be losing something. So I have not been as generous as I could be because in part I was ignorant, but more so I was feeling fear and insecurity.

Now I understand that generosity will benefit me and not just other people.

We may think that we can only be generous once we have make it or made enough if money. This is a fallacy for that day may never come. It is in our nature that when we have more, we will want more.

Therefore the idea is to start giving your time and money to those in need today. You don’t have to look very far. Start with your immediate circle family and friends, your workplace and surrounding community.

Be kind to your spouse. Spring clean your wardrobe; give away clothes that you have not been wearing. Is there a nephew or niece that I can help their homework with? How about treating your co-workers lunch? Any non-profits in your community that you can volunteer your time or contribute money to? Look around, and you will start finding opportunities for you to get generous.

Start small and you will be happier immediately.

5 – Do something fun

Indulging in what is fun to you will make you happy. What would you do if you have some time off?

Whatever it is, carve out some time for your hobbies. Don’t go for a big hobby project that requires consideration time off and money yet. Go for the easy wins immediately, hobbies that do not have to take away a big chunk of your time. Plan and book it on your calendar so that you can indulge it without guilt.

I enjoy movies but I have always been bombarded with the feeling that watching movies is a waste of time. Often I would watch a movie (because I just enjoy a nice action flick) and feel horrible afterwards because three hours have passed. A good three hours which I could have done something more productive with.

Another important thing is you have to be able to choose the activities that are personally meaningful in order to make a difference in experience level. The ability to choose is very important for happiness. Intentional activities

The next time you are feeling down, try taking a break and have a little walk. Get outside, enjoy some fresh air. Travel to a new place. Visit the museum. Go to a concert. Studies have also shown that the feeling of wonderment and amazement can promote happiness and well-being. Depending on your interest, this overwhelming positively feeling can be derived from going on a beautiful hike, visiting a natural wonder, looking at masterpiece of art, or listening to an incredible piece of music. Once in a while, indulge in activities that will impress and even excite you.

What next?

At the end of the day we all know that it is easier said than done. Although I have been putting the above 5 ideas to work, I am still facing my fair share of unhappiness. Life is still a challenge at times and it will always be filled with ups and downs.

Regardless, it is important to know that your life is sprinkled with ample opportunities for discovering happiness. Look for the little things that will make you happy.

Being happy is a choice. It is just like the decision to pursue the actions, such as the five ideas in this article, that will develop happiness in your life.