Building your own winning morning routine

The morning routine is often associated with the hustle mentality.

You see references on social media to the #5amclub, attacking the day, grinding before the sun comes up and it can seem like something that only works for The Rock or people that want to be The Rock!

Despite the fact that I’m very much against the grind and hustle mentality, I’m actually a massive fan of morning routines. And I actually think most people could benefit from establishing their own.

But before we get into that, let’s look at what a morning routine actually is.

It’s basically a sequence of habits you perform every morning when you wake up that helps you start the day on your own terms.

For some people that might be an intricate 60-90 minute routine that involves journalling, cold showers, exercise, yoga, meditation and so on. And for others it might be simply sitting in silence for 5 minutes enjoying a cup of tea and thinking about the day ahead.

A morning routine can come in many forms and should be about what works for you.

Unfortunately though, this can be where people are put off the concept. They think that if they can’t follow these all encompassing routines they see online, that it won’t work for them. But that’s absolutely not the case.

I first came across morning routines about 6 years ago when I read a book called ‘The Miracle Morning’ by Hal Elrod. He suggests that your morning routine should be made up of 6 steps; silence, affirmations, visualisation, exercise, reading and scribing.

I tried it for a week or two and I did feel good, but didn’t keep it up. I just found there was too much involved. Even though you could adjust the steps for how long you had, I still felt it took too long. 

Essentially it just didn’t work for me at that particular time.

Then towards the end of 2019 I did a 6 week breath-work course that included cold showers. I got into a routine of starting every morning with the cold shower followed by the breath-work and found that this did work for me. 

I continued this for a few months then when the pandemic hit in 2020 and we went into lockdown I found I had slightly more time in the morning without usual the commute I’d be doing. So I started to include additional elements from the Miracle Morning like journalling, reading and going for a walk.

The entire routine took about 30-40 minutes which worked for me and I felt great doing it. 

Even when the lockdown ended and I didn’t have quite so much time in the morning, I found that there were elements – like the cold showers and journalling – that I could still do. If I have time now, I do more, but those core habits have remained as part of my own morning routine since.

This all sounds like a lot of effort though doesn’t it!

So what are the benefits of having a morning routine and why bother?

There’s a quote I really like from Ryan Holiday,

“The truth is that a good routine is not only a source of great comfort and stability, it’s the platform from which stimulating and fulfilling work is possible.”

Going back to 2020 when my morning routine was at it’s best, something it gave me which was much needed at the time was a sense of control. There was huge comfort in that.

Regardless of the uncertainty in the world at that time and the anxiety that brought, I knew that I could lean on my morning routine and feel like I at least had some control over that.

Whether we dealing with pandemics or not, what most people would benefit from is a feeling of starting the day on their own terms.

However, in contrast most start their day by hitting snooze on their alarm over and over again. Then rolling over and scrolling through social media. Looking and other people’s lives and drawing unhelpful comparisons. Before hurriedly getting ready and rushing out of the door.

This is complete opposite of starting the day on your own terms.

This is putting people on the back foot foot and in a negative headspace right from the off. And with mental health issues more prevalent than ever, I do think that it could be really helpful for more people to start their day more positively with that feeling of control. 

As well as providing a feeling of control, comfort and stability, a morning routine can also give you the platform from to which to be at your best and bring your A-game.

Say you have an important presentation or a job interview, starting your day with a morning routine that you know allows you to feel and perform your best is huge.

It could include eating the right foods to maximise your energy levels and focus. Perhaps exercising, journalling, positive affirmations, if you know these things get you in the right frame of mind.

You can then go into whatever you are doing feeling calm and confident, knowing you are fully prepared. And this applies on a day to day basis too. It’s knowing that you are setting yourself up to perform as you need to, both physically and mentally.

There’s also a ripple effect that can come from this.

If you have a goal like losing weight, starting your morning positively is more likely lead to you making good choices throughout the day. From a practical standpoint your morning routine might include a healthy breakfast and prepping your lunch. Similarly building exercise into your morning routine is a great way to factor in a fitness goal you might have.

The point is it’s not just about the morning routine. It’s about the positive knock-on effect of starting your day on your own terms. The choices you go on to make and the way you feel as a result.

If this has got you curious about how you could apply this yourself, let’s look at how you get started with your own morning routine.

One of the biggest factors to consider is how it will work when things don’t go as planned.

Most people do what I did with the Miracle Morning routine, they go all out and try to do it all. Then when that doesn’t work – which it likely wont for long – they give up.

Instead, ‘hope for the best, plan for the worst’.

Don’t build your routine based on what you could do, base it on what you will do.

Start simple with realistic routines you know you can definitely do consistently. It might even be just starting with one thing. Then use the habit stacking approach. Once you’ve got that nailed, you add something on top.

What I suggest to clients is to almost have a Plan A morning routine, and a Plan B.

When your morning is completely on your own terms, you can follow Plan A. But when things don’t go as planned, you can still use Plan B. The beauty of this is that you maintain that element of control. You still feel like you are starting you day on your own terms to some extent.

It might be as much about what you don’t do, as what you do. 

For example, avoiding social media for the first 60 minutes of your day is a game changing habit to build for anyone. This could be your Plan B. Then your Plan A could be to stretch, meditate or plan your day.

Once you’ve established your morning routine or the two versions of your morning routine, it’s also really important you are willing to adapt.

Over time you’ll need to as your circumstances change. You might have children or move to a job that requires a longer commute. This doesn’t mean that you should give up on your morning routine, it just means adapting.

Review your circumstances and look at your Plan A and Plan B routines then make amendments where necessary.

You might also find that day to day things come up that might disrupt your morning routine. Again be prepared for this because the last thing you want it to be anxious and frustrated when you are unable to perform your morning routine exactly how you’d like. Your morning routine should work for you, not against you.

For those of you with children, this is especially important.

Make sure your expectations of what you’d like you morning routine should to like are aligned with the reality of what actually goes on in your house every morning. What can work really well in these circumstances is stripping things right back to what you absolutely can do.

Again, not what you want to do, but what you can do.

A client of mine was recently expecting his third child. He’s got a really well adapted set of morning habits but it was clear these would be disrupted. So I asked him what one habit he knew he could absolutely still do every morning.

For him it was having a cold shower. 

That became the extent of his morning routine for a while. We deliberately didn’t define when this would happen because we couldn’t be certain of that. Just that he would have a cold shower at some stage. That was one thing he could have some control over and there was huge comfort in that at a challenging time. 

It became a habit he could really lean on.

I’ve talked a lot about starting the day on your own terms, but for a lot of people this isn’t something they’ve ever considered. Most people start their day on autopilot and just roll from one thing to the next and before they know it the day is over.

A really powerful question to ask yourself as part of your morning routine is, ‘What do I want to achieve today?’

We complain about our day not going the way we want it to, but we rarely actually define what a successful day would look like. Give this some thought and consider how you’d like to feel when you finish your day, what would you like to have accomplished?

Some people like to write this down as part of their journalling. You might simply go over it in your head whilst having a cup of tea or walking to work.

Once again, it comes back to this idea of control. You are setting an intention for how you would like your day to go. With this clear in your mind you can follow it up with the necessary actions to make it happen.

Not a morning person?

This is one of biggest reasons people give for not making changes to their morning routine. The thought of getting up any earlier – when they already wake up feeling sluggish – sounds like the last thing they need.

First of all, you don’t need to get up early in order to have a morning routine. For you it might be getting up at the time you do now, but being more consistent with this and then having a routine that follows from there.

But if you do want to get up a little earlier, then yes, the first few days probably will feel like a struggle to get up. And you’ll probably also find that you’ll start to feel tired earlier in the evening. 

But this is a good thing.

If you continue to go to bed at the same time and get up earlier, then you’re not going to get enough sleep. But if you can get into the routine of going to bed slightly easier too, then you can get sufficient sleep and have a morning routine.

This is another reason why I like morning routines, it also requires you to have a pre-bed routine.

A pre-bed routine is a brilliant way to unwind from the stresses of your day and ensure you have the most restful sleep you can. (Check out my blog ‘Do you have an evening (pre-bed) routine?’ for more on this)

So now you’re book-ending your day with positive habits for your health and wellbeing.

The final piece of advice I’d give you is to give your morning routine time.

Be patient and willing to adapt because building lasting habits isn’t easy. After a couple of days when you just want to hit snooze and roll over and go back to sleep, remember how many benefits there are to persevering. In time your routine will be so well established that you just get straight out of bed, you wont need to be motivated because the discipline will be there.

Stick with it.

The comfort, control, stability and platform to be at your best that it will bring will be worth it!