Hate struggling through the mornings? Me too, here’s how I tried to adapt and set the tone for the rest of the day.
I don’t know about you, but since working from home became a ‘thing’, I’ve gone from being one of those people who thrived on early mornings – starting every day with exercise and my daily post-workout smoothie, before arriving promptly at the office at 9am – to barely being able to function before noon.
Since lockdown, my circadian rhythm has been completely off. Instead of getting up early and dedicating 60 minutes to self-care like I used to (ie running, reading, yoga or eating breakfast), my routine now consists of hitting the snooze button on my alarm at least three times, okay fine… maybe four, and throwing the covers back over my head. Every. Single. Morning.
I no longer seem to rise and shine. By the time I finally roll out of my cocoon, puffy-eyed and sluggish, I’ve only left myself 15 minutes to frantically get dressed and ready for the working day. I’m a tangle of anxiety as I mindlessly drift from bed, to phone, to coffee machine in a haze.
Despite no longer having a 30-minute commute to the office, I’ve found it harder than ever to get out of bed in the morning. Perhaps this sounds familiar to you?
“Before the rest of the world is eating breakfast,” writes time management expert Laura Vanderkam in What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, “the most successful people have already scored daily victories that are advancing them toward the lives they want.”
Many successful people claim that a carefully choreographed morning routine is the key to a productive day – and I used to be one of them. My morning routine which consisted of a workout was my way of setting myself up for the day – full of energy and ready to tackle anything that came my way.
President of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, Ed Catmull, mixes three shots of espresso with three scoops of cocoa powder and two sweeteners. Elizabeth Gilbert makes homemade chai and dances. Richard Branson plays a game of tennis, while Marie Kondo starts the day with a tidying ritual and some yoga.
These people, with their seemingly superhuman energy, appear as though they have it together – or so the stories imply. Benjamin Spall, co-author of My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired (in which he interviewed more than 300 successful people about their morning routines) writes in The New York Times that “the choices we make during the first hour or so of our morning often determine what the rest of the day will look like”.
Adrienne Herbert, author of The Power Hour and an all-round wellness guru, agrees. “The very first hour of your day is critical. It impacts your energy, mood and decision-making for the rest of the day,” she writes.
In an attempt to get my mojo back, I decided to challenge myself to getting up early (between 6:30 and 7am) every morning for a week – and carve out time to commit to things that make me feel relaxed, energized and motivated.
On the first day, as predicted, I struggled to wake up. But, I’d preempted this battle and decided to lay out my yoga outfit the night before and book onto a live morning yoga flow with Minnie Samengo Yoga. For most of us, setting a specific time for activity – and putting it in the diary – tends to lock us into actually doing it. Minnie’s class started at 8am, and because it was pre-scheduled, I rolled out my mat, lit a candle and showed up.
The next day, I did the exact same thing. Signing up to a specific class was keeping me accountable – if I didn’t turn up, Minnie would know – and that alone was powerful enough to get me out of bed an hour earlier than I needed to.
Another way to create some sort of accountability, so I found, was to go public. “I’m waking up at 7am tomorrow,” I told my housemates, proudly. “I’m going to go on Zwift for half an hour and then stretch on the mat before I enjoy my morning coffee.” Saying it out loud meant I’d committed to becoming a morning lark for another day.
By day four, the consistency of waking up at the same time each day was starting to help. I’d agreed to meet a friend for a run around the common, so I knew I’d have to be up and out the front door by 7:45am. Knowing that she’d be waiting for me at a specific time was enough pressure to make sure that I was up – she was my ‘accountability buddy’.
On the last morning of the working week, I managed to hurl myself out of bed early again, but I wasn’t really in the mood to move. So instead of running or jumping on my bike, I enjoyed the quiet and wrote a to-do list for the day. I made breakfast without the sound of urgent emails nagging for responses and focused on the day ahead without any interruptions. Maybe, taking control of your mornings really is like investing in yourself?
“You cannot give what you don’t have,” Adrienne reminds me. “I start each day by doing something for myself, it’s not selfish or self-indulgent, it’s necessary – now more than ever.”
“My motto is: you can do hard things. Getting up early isn’t always going to be easy, but I know that it will always be worth it. I’ve been waking up early for my morning ‘Power Hour’ for years and it’s non-negotiable for me now, because I get so much out of that one hour each day. It’s a small thing that has an immeasurable impact.”
Sure, I made it through my one week as an early bird, but how can I make these new habits stick in the long run?
Get specific and do it daily, suggests Adrienne. “Having a vague goal such as ‘I want to start a business’ or ‘I want to get fit’ isn’t going to be enough to get you out of bed at 6am every day,” she says. “Ask yourself why do you want to do this? Who will benefit? How are you going to achieve it?”
Of course, getting up early also means going to bed early. Breaking news, I know. But if you want to wake up with the sun, you should adhere to the basics: stay off your phone a few hours before bed and get enough sleep. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but stop scrolling on Instagram at night (me, I needed to hear that).
Members of the 5am club will say you need to get up early to really utilize your morning – Adrienne included. “In order to get the most out of it, your ‘Power Hour’ needs to be early,” she writes in her book. “The honest truth is that, at 5.30am, I do not feel the constant temptation to look at my phone, check emails, scroll through social media or chat to anyone.”
And I know what she means. As a teenager, I’d get up at 5am two or three times a week before school for swim training. Our pool session would start sharply at 5.30am and, apart from the boys making fun of me for smelling like chlorine during Maths class, those morning sessions always set me up for the day ahead.
While I no longer need to be in the pool quite that early anymore, I have enjoyed having an extra hour of ‘me time’ first thing in the morning. It’s made me feel more efficient and less stressed. I’ve seen the (morning) light, and I don’t want to go back to crawling through my mornings in a haze.
Sure, there’s no magic ‘one-size-fits-all’ morning routine. It’s about finding that unique sweet spot that works for you. In other words, what’s good for me may be different from what’s good for you. But I guarantee what you do (or don’t do) during the first few hours of your day will make a huge impact on both your happiness and productivity levels.
All I know is that it feels great to be feeling like my old morning lark self. And while it doesn’t always feel easy, I know I can book in my early morning workouts when I need a little help.
Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram for the latest workouts, delicious recipes and motivation from your favourite fitness experts.