By Madeleine Ortiz
Think about what you did when you first woke up this morning. Did you wash your face, put on a pot of coffee and then make your bed? Did you lace up your sneakers for a morning walk and then sit down for a bowl of yogurt? Maybe you hopped in the shower, then got your kids ready for school before rushing out for the day. Whatever you did this morning, it was likely pretty similar to what you did yesterday, and every day for the last week and last month when you woke up. That’s because, according to health psychologist Dr. Michael Vallis, whether we realize it or not, we already have an established morning routine.
Whether we realize it or not, our brains love habits – and first thing in the morning is a great time to implement routines that set us up for healthy, happier days. And the great news is that Dr. Vallis says it’s easier than you think to change your current, “less than perfect” morning routine into a smoother, more productive one.
1) Analyze your current morning routine.
Even if it feels like your mornings are pretty discombobulated, Dr. Vallis is willing to bet you actually already have more of a morning routine than you think. For the next week, write down everything you do and the order you do it in for the first hour or so after you wake up. Become a morning routine detective and be detailed with your notes and observations. When the week is up, set aside some time to look through your notes. Once you have a better picture of what your current routine looks like, it will be easier to establish what works and what doesn’t. Highlight all the positive aspects of your routine like making your bed everyday as soon as you wake up, never missing a step in your self-care skin routine, or taking the time to sit down and eat a healthy breakfast. When that’s complete, without judgment, take a look at some of the habits that aren’t as helpful…. hitting the snooze button several times, scrolling through social media in bed for 20 minutes after your alarm goes off, trying on 5 different shirts before picking the one you want to wear for the day or rushing out the door on an empty stomach.
2) Pick something you’d like to accomplish as part of your new routine.
After you’ve figured out what’s currently working and what needs improvement, make a list of what you’d to accomplish as part of your new morning routine. Dr. Vallis recommends making your goals specific and realistic. For example, instead of something vague like “I want to meditate in the morning,” your goal should be something like “I’m going to meditate for 5 minutes at least 3 mornings a week.” It’s better to choose goals that are attainable and then build upon your success rather than choosing unattainable goals that will end up making you discouraged. He also suggests starting with one new habit at a time for the same reason. Once your first new habit becomes routine, then you can add another new one.
3)Attach the new habit to an already established one.
Once you’ve chosen the new habit, you get to decide how it is going to fit into your current morning routine. Dr. Vallis suggests attaching the new habit you’d like to incorporate to an already established one. If you’d like to start taking a vitamin or a medication, take it after you brush your teeth. Keep the medication near your toothbrush so the established habit and the new habit become linked, and the new habit is easier to remember. If you have a bigger goal, like getting some exercise in the morning, Dr. Vallis says to wait to have your morning cup of coffee until after you walk. Knowing you can’t have your morning cup until after you get home can be a great incentive to get you out the door and on your walk. Sliding the new habits in with the old can make transitions easier than you’d think.
4)Just get started.
Sometimes getting started is the most difficult part of integrating new habits into your routine. Even with smart goals, preparation and good rewards, the first few steps can feel daunting. Dr. Vallis has a solution for this too – tell yourself you only have to do a very small piece of your goal and if you want to stop after that if you want. If your goal is to meditate for five minutes, Dr. Vallis encourages you to tell yourself you only have to do a minute. If your goal is a morning jog, promise yourself you can turn around after 5 minutes if you still don’t feel like it. Most of the time, once you’ve gotten over the initial hump of getting started, you’re going to see it through to the finish – even if you told yourself you only had to do a few minutes.
Why is investing this time into morning routines worth it?
Our brains are freshest in the morning. We haven’t been fatigued by the hundreds of decisions and tasks we have to complete during the day. This is why if you’re looking to add a new, healthy habit into your life, mornings are a perfect time to do it. Even if you don’t identify as a morning person, consider using Dr. Vallis’s steps for better mornings to accomplish your health goals. It will give you something to feel proud of all day long!
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