Motivation Medicine Part 2: Morning Magic

I was interviewed a couple months ago for an online article about motivation.  I turned the first question — “How do you keep yourself motivated, even when everything seems to be going wrong?” — into a blog that you can read here.  Another question that seemed deserving of some extra attention was whether or not I have any morning rituals that keep me positive and motivated throughout the day.

And the answer is a resounding yes.

Ever since high school, I have had a very regular and relatively ritualistic morning routine.  Now clearly that routine has changed over time — it’s not the same now as it was when I had three kids under four years old, or was doing 30 hour stints at the hospital.  But I have always made a point of giving myself some space and time to prepare for the day ahead.  And truth be told, I think it has been an important factor in my “success”.

Opt for Proactive Not Reactive

If you look at the literature, the general consensus is that a great morning routine sets you up for a more productive day.  My morning rituals help put me in a positive, proactive mindset, where I’m planning and managing my day instead of reacting to it.  There is an intentional fluidity that both grounds and energizes me.  This is in stark contrast to a reactive-style morning: react to the alarm by hitting snooze three times; react impatiently to questions from the kids because now you’re all running late; react to your no-time-for-breakfast “hanger” by scrambling to grab a coffee and donut enroute to work.  I suspect you get the picture. The consequence of this reactive approach is that you end up feeling like you’re playing catch-up for the rest of the day. Call me crazy, but I’d rather start out on top of my game.

It’s a Matter of Science

For any other science geeks out there, you might be curious to know that there’s a physiologic reason why mornings matter and, as a corollary, why people tend to break their resolutions later in the day.  Normal healthy individuals experience a natural spike in cortisol after waking. As a result, energy and willpower are at their peak in the morning and subside over the course of the day. So what’s the message here?  For tasks requiring that extra dose of willpower, waiting until later in the day means there’s a good chance they won’t get done. Want to eat a healthy dinner and also get that workout in? Better to pre-prep some of your meal in advance and opt for a morning sweat!

My Morning Routine

Below I have outlined the general structure of my morning.  Given that life throws us curve balls on a pretty regular basis, I’m not rigid about it.  Some days I have less time than others and I cut corners here and there. But for the most part, this is how I get myself going on the right foot.

I don’t use an alarm unless I absolutely need to be out the door by 6 a.m.  Instead, I wake naturally around 5 a.m. and enjoy just over an hour of peaceful quiet time until my three kids are up.  Before I go anywhere near my phone and the never-ending stream of emails and social media, I make my morning elixir. This is a somewhat meditative process for me, since I enjoy the morning ritual of blending my decaf or matcha with warm cashew milk, spices, collagen and MCT oil.

While sipping my latte, I finish preparing breakfast for my family (it has generally been partly pre-prepped or at least pre-planned).  We try to do a quick sit-down, phone-free brekkie together whenever we can, since family dinners are more of a weekend phenomenon with our work and extracurricular schedules. I derive a lot of personal satisfaction from sending my loved ones out the door with hugs and bellies full of nourishing food.

Once breakfast has been made (but before the kids come to the table and the technology goes away!), I turn on my phone to deal with urgent emails, hit up Instagram to respond to comments and posts, and carefully review my schedule and to-do list.  I have a running list of both work and personal tasks I need to get to, but I update it and select the few main and — barring any unforeseen circumstances — manageable priorities for the day.

The final piece of the puzzle for me is exercise and it’s something I am committed to doing almost every morning.  Getting my body moving energizes me, clears my head, and gives me a sense of accomplishment right off the bat. Honestly, these are all simple things, but I sometimes feel that once I’ve had my boosted decaf, family brekkie and morning sweat and have made a plan of attack, I’m ready for whatever the day has in store.

Dr. Tara's Sunshine Sidebar: Morning Gratitude

One thing I try to incorporate into my entire morning routine is gratitude.

While the importance of gratitude as a virtue has been recognized for millennia, there is a growing body of research to suggest that gratefulness makes us happy.  And no, it’s not the other way around.  We can actually induce happiness by noticing and acknowledging what we are grateful for.  

I make a point of cherishing the little pleasures — the taste of that first sip of coffee, watching the sunrise through my kitchen window. Seemingly simple experiences are no longer overlooked, but can now exceed my expectations and bring me a sense of happiness and peace that previously seemed unattainable. It’s a wonderful way to start the day.  

And don’t forget that gratitude is like a muscle that gets strengthened through use.  Please check-out my Practice of Gratitude Resource to see how you can start or reinvigorate your own gratitude practice!