When writer Sarah Blake tried a fitness challenge last month, the overwhelming takeaway was the impact having a morning routine had on her goals. So, she spent 30 days trying to maximise her morning habits to reap all the energy benefits. Here’s how she got on.
In his book The Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod presents the winning formula for a morning routine that has apparently changed lives the world over. Talking about his own experience of adopting the routine, Elrod writes: “My stress levels dropped dramatically. I had more energy, clarity, and focus. I felt genuinely happy, motivated, and inspired.”
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Who wouldn’t want to feel like that? In a bit of a funk after the sluggish winter months, February felt like the perfect time to throw myself into a challenge that would help me forge a new morning routine. As a fully fledged early bird, adding in a few simple self-care steps for optimum health and energy seemed like a pretty easy win.
Elrod advocates for a six-step morning routine of ‘Life S.A.V.E.R.S’, which he says are “guaranteed to save you from a life of unfulfilled potential”. These include silence, affirmations, visualisation, exercise, reading and scribing. With those as a guide, I decided to build my own routine that looked like this:
- Gratitude diary
- Daily affirmation
- Reading 10 pages of non-fiction
- Exercise (20 squats, 20 sit-ups, 20 press-ups)
Here’s how that six-step routine has changed my mornings for good.
Getting it completely wrong
I go to bed the night before starting the challenge feeling genuinely excited about developing a habit that’s been praised for having a positive impact on productivity and overall wellbeing. But when the alarm goes off on day one, I… hit the snooze button. Several times.
Worse still, I realise that the excitement has evaporated and been replaced by a looming sense of dread. I’d been looking forward to the outcome of the challenge but I didn’t actually want to do the tasks beforehand. I give myself a reprieve, vowing to start the next day. After four days in a row, I start to panic and by day five, I know I need help.
Sally Baker, senior therapist at Working on the Body, immediately tells me that the reason I’m feeling so much resistance to the routine is that it obviously just doesn’t resonate with me. Anna Mathur, psychotherapist and bestselling author of Know Your Worth, agrees: “It’s nice to have a template, but when we adopt someone else’s routine, we can easily find ourselves feeling like we’ve failed if it doesn’t benefit or work for us in the same way.”
When Dr Marianne Trent, clinical psychologist and founder of Good Thinking Psychological Services, remarks that my chosen tasks “seem more like a lifestyle overhaul than a morning routine”, I realise that in trying to emulate Elrod, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. I should have thought about whether his routine would serve me, rather than simply jumping straight in.
Plumping for plan B
Week two gets off to a better start, with a second iteration of my morning routine that looks wildly different to the first. Karen Eyre-White, productivity expert and coach at Go Do, explains that “a morning routine should be focused on whatever has meaning for you in terms of what you want to achieve”, and with that in mind, I hone in on my overarching goals – realising that the two things I really want to achieve are increased productivity and decreased anxiety.
Baker tells me that “the right morning routine is one that aligns fully with your goals”, so I task myself with just two new ways to start my day: tackling my hardest piece of work, followed by taking the dogs for a walk.
While both of these things are already staples of my daily to-do list, I tend to put them off until later in the day, despite the sense of relief that doing them brings.
Sure, I swap my existing 30-minute morning routine for one that could potentially take me three hours, and no, I’m not doing anything new. But I am doing something different, and it immediately feels right.
By 8am on the first day of the second week, I not only feel a genuine sense of accomplishment, but also an enormous sense of relief that I don’t have to spend the rest of the day dreading tough work tasks and wondering when on earth I’m going to get out with the dogs. The next six days are the same, and by the mid-point of my morning routine challenge, I’m in the swing of things and feeling slightly smug.
Aside from a few struggles with the snooze button, the final 15 days sail by smoothly and, after that shaky start, the challenge is a resounding success. Focusing on my hardest piece of work first thing frees me from hours of panicky procrastination and I’m starting my days feeling like I’ve achieved something instead of struggling with a sense of dread.
The upsurge in my self-belief is palpable, my productivity is at an all-time high. And – crucially – any work-related anxiety has waned.
Morning routine: the verdict
My plan B morning routine feels a million miles away from the original tasks I’d based on Elrod’s Life S.A.V.E.R.S. Yet my goals and intended outcome weren’t dissimilar to those detailed in his book. I just needed to set a clear destination and plot my own route.
Attempting to mirror the minutiae of The Miracle Morning had made the challenge feel insurmountable, but as soon as I allowed myself to nurture new habits that made more sense to me, everything fell into places.
What now that the challenge is over? I’ll absolutely be keeping up the changes that have helped me do more and feel better.
How to build the ideal morning routine – and stick with it
Don’t make the mistake I made in attempting to replicate a routine I’d read about, and take heed of Baker’s advice that “a lot of morning routines are Instagrammable but offer little else”. Mather warns: “[You should be] wary of anything too prescriptive and inflexible” – stressing that an ideal routine “will differ wildly from person to person and even day-to-day”.
Eyre-White suggests starting small. “An overly ambitious morning routine can be hard to start and sustain,” she explains. If you’ve got your heart set on making several changes, Trent recommends a gradual approach to habit stacking, letting things “shift into lifestyle changes” before attempting to adopt new behaviours.
How to build morning motivation
The key to mastering a morning routine, according to Baker, is “clearly defined goals and giving yourself credit for everything you accomplish”. Think about what you want to work on then break down those goals into something you can implement daily. If motivation falters, Eyre-White recommends thinking carefully about what you’re trying to achieve. Indeed, I only managed to engage with and sustain a morning routine once I’d chosen tasks that served my goals from the get-go.
“If we have a morning routine that works for us”, says Eyre-White, “then we feel a sense of accomplishment first thing and are more able to conquer the rest of the day”. Speaking from my own experience, starting the day with a sense of achievement alleviated my anxiety and got me closer to my goals. Baker explains that a morning routine can be “a great strategy to interrupt the negative voice in your head and replace it with an inner cheerleader”.
As creatures of habit, a big benefit of adopting a morning routine, adds Trent, is that it “can become a calming, soothing ritual that helps give structure and predictability to our day”. And the really good news? According to Mather: “If the routine is right for you, you are likely to notice the benefits from the very first day.”
For more routine ideas, visit the Strong Women Training Club.