Creating a morning routine that sets me up for more productive and uplifting days is one of the best practices I've discovered in the past few years.
The way I begin my day has a huge impact on how the rest of the day goes. If I begin by feeling present, grateful, and organized, I infuse the rest of my day with the same qualities. If I start out frazzled, the rest of the day feels frazzled. If I am grumpy in the morning, I'll feel grumpier throughout the day, and even the smallest annoyances will get to me.
I used to get really upset with myself if my morning grumpiness led to a down day, especially after starting Happier. Was I a complete fraud teaching thousands of people how to live happier lives when I couldn't even turn a bad morning around?
If your tough morning leads to a tougher day, please be kinder to yourself than I used to be: It's not your fault. Our brains are naturally more sensitive to negative feelings, but when we feel down, they become even more sensitive. Bad mood begets more bad mood; this downward spiral is something many research studies have shown to be common for most of us.
The opposite is also true: Starting the day in a positive way makes it easier to have a better day and, perhaps even more importantly, helps you to manage through challenges that might come up with less stress and anxiety. So a couple years ago I decided to become more intentional about creating a morning routine that set me up for the day. I see it as an anchor, a way to begin the day with a strong foundation.
Here are the 3 practices that I've found to have the most positive impact on my mornings and days. I call them M-A-G-I-C: Mindful Awakeness, Gratitude, Intentional Commitments. They don't take a lot of time and you can adjust them to fit your schedule. But I do hope that they will inspire you to add a bit more magic to your mornings and lead to better, more resilient and productive days.
MAGIC Morning Practices
1. Mindful Awakeness Practice
To be mindfully awake is to focus your attention on the present moment, to bring your mind and your body together in it. (50% of the time our minds are distracted from what we're doing at that moment, so this is a helpful practice for most of us.)
My morning Mindful Awakeness practice is a 20-minute meditation. Before I do anything else for the day, I go down to my little meditation spot in the basement, set my timer, sit comfortably on my cushion, and try to focus on my breath. Some days I'm able to focus better than others, but even when my mind is jumping around, the practice of sitting down and being aware of it is immensely helpful.
You don't have to meditate to practice Mindful Awakeness. You can spend a few minutes writing in a journal. You can make your favorite morning beverage and not do anything else while you do it -- just focus all of your attention on the process of making and drinking it. You can simply sit still for a few minutes, being still and silent. This is the practice to help you Be. Here. Now. -- so take some time to find a way that helps you do that.
2. Gratitude Practice
If you've read my emails or been part of Happier for a while, you won't be surprised to learn that this is one of my MAGIC morning practices. Thousands of studies have shown that gratitude is quite literally, a magic pill, a practice that helps you feel more content and less stressed, more optimistic and less anxious. Did you know that the simple act of trying to think of something you appreciate activates neural pathways in your brain and releases serotonin and dopamine, both of which make you feel good?
Our brains have a negativity bias: They are always looking for something to fix, something that might be wrong or dangerous. To practice gratitude is to ask your brain to get off its negative auto-pilot and to notice small, positive things which are already there, in your day. We get used to the familiar, and that includes many small moments of goodness, kindness, or beauty we encounter throughout the day. You may have a really nice cup of coffee in the morning, but since you do it all the time, your brain starts to take it for granted -- it's almost like you don't do it.
So the practice of gratitude is the intentional act of pausing to notice and appreciate those small good moments. I use the Happier app to capture my morning gratitude moment, but you can write it in your journal or say it to someone, which helps your brain register it. It's important that you capture it in some way and that you are very specific about it: Less "I am happy to be alive" and more "I am grateful for this warm cup of coffee and the ray of sunshine on my face as I drink it." To be effective, your gratitude practice has to be intentional and specific, otherwise your brain will simply ignore it.
3. Intentional Commitments Practice
Before I dive into work in the morning, I make a list of 3-5 things to which I am committing that day. Some of these are to-dos I need to get done during the day. But others are what I call my Daily Anchors, the practices that are part of my inner daily work. For example, I often write "LovingKindness" as one of my Intentional Commitments, as a reminder to myself to make this a priority for the day. If I am being particularly harsh on myself, I'll add "self-compassion" as one of my Intentional Commitments.
These go on top of my to-do list and that means they are my priority for the day. I won't get them all done in the morning, but setting my intention and focusing my mind on them really helps to set the tone for the day and keep myself organized.
Don't make your list of Intentional Commitments too long. The purpose of making this list isn't to write out everything you want to get done but rather, to give yourself a focus for the day -- and it's impossible to focus on too many things. At the end of the day, take a look at your list and see how you did. If you consistently notice you're not getting to most of your Intentional Commitments it's a good sign that your list is too long.
I hope you will give these MAGIC Morning Practices a try and make them your own. This has been a really important practice for me and I'm really excited to share it with you!