Many of us have heard about “ideal” or “optimal” morning routines. We read what famous people and some of the most successful CEOs do. Oftentimes, it sounds like waking up at the crack of dawn and doing some combination of activities before everyone else gets up. We believe that there is a magic combination of activities or optimal routine that can make anyone successful if you just give it a try.
If you’re familiar with The 5AM Club, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re not, it is the concept of waking an hour before everyone else in your household to do a mixture of meditating, exercise and learning. Don’t get me wrong, I have often subscribed to this belief that the earlier I get up, the more successful I’ll become.
To be honest, there have been times in my life where this has worked really well for me. Waking up at 5:30AM has given me the time I needed to work out, check my emails and gulp my coffee before rushing out the door to go to work. After the Pandemic hit though, I wondered if there could be a better way. I was tired of the blaring alarm sound going off while it was still dark outside. It’s as if my body went immediately into fight or flight as soon as that obnoxious noise pounded my eardrums.
Designing intentions for how you want to feel
As the ability to go to the gym became impossible in the early days of COVID, I started to get curious about how I felt in the mornings. Instead of my typical autopilot routine, I was forced to slow down and reconsider how I wanted to feel in the morning. I had honestly never asked myself this question. Instead, I typically looked at my morning as a series of tasks I wanted to get done (exercise, eat, wake up, get ready).
As an experiment, ask yourself right now how you want to feel when you first wake up. For me, some of the words that come to mind are: calm, energized, rested, contemplative. In my pre-Pandemic life, how I was actually feeling was almost the complete opposite. I felt tired, rushed, and stressed.
For the next step, write down everything you currently do in your morning routine. Once you have that list, write down how you feel as you’re doing each of those tasks. Do they line up with how you ideally want to feel? Notice if, like me, there’s a disparity between how you want to feel and how you actually feel as you do each of the items on your routine.
Creating space in your optimal morning routine
Once I had looked at my own list, I realized I needed to change almost everything about my morning routine in order to create the feelings I wanted to feel. Instead of working out first thing which often made me feel panicked and stressed, I opted to replace it with journaling which made me feel contemplative and calm.
Two cups of coffee in the morning? Gone. I replaced them with one cup of MUD\WTR to feel more calm while also feeling energized.
Checking my emails and Instagram first thing? Also had to go. Instead, I opted to journal and meditate for a few minutes in order to feel rested and also check in with how I was feeling.
Waking up without an alarm
This next step might feel like the scariest of all if you’re anything like me. When I first met my partner and he told me he had never set an alarm in his whole life, I was shook. “How is that possible?” I asked. I had used an alarm every day of my life since I was old enough to get myself up and ready for school.
Slowly, as I had chipped away at my old morning routine, I started to come around to the idea. “What if I really could start my day without an alarm?” I asked myself. So I started to experiment. At first, I needed to start being super diligent about my bedtime. I realized that if I ever wanted to train myself to get up at a reasonable hour, I would need to be disciplined about going to sleep at the same time every night.
Test, test, iterate
Next, I started to test on weekends what my natural wakeup time would be. If I went to sleep by 10pm every Friday and Saturday night, I wouldn’t wake up until 7:30am. This seemed like a crazy amount of sleep to me, at first. However, the science backs this. It is recommended that most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. While 8 is the average, it is not a one-size-fits-all recommendation as I had once thought it to be.
After finding out that my body needed 9.5 hours of sleep, I had to recalibrate my bedtime. Instead of going to sleep at 10pm and waking up at 6am when I thought I needed 8 hours, I realized I needed to try going to sleep at 9pm if I wanted to get up by 6:30am. I did this for a number of weeks before my body got used to sleeping its full amount. Slowly, I began to do this every day, but would still set a “last ditch” alarm at 7am just in case my body didn’t actually wake up naturally on time. While I needed this a few times, as the weeks and months went on, I realized I no longer needed to set this.
Eventually, my body also repaired itself from years of chronic undersleep that eventually I noticed I needed less sleep than I had initially. Now, my routine is pretty much back to 10pm with a wakeup time around 6:30am.
There is no one-size-fits-all optimal morning routine
Just as I discovered with the 8-hour sleep recommendation, there is no one-size-fits-all optimal morning routine. The important thing is to set intentions around how you want to feel and ensure that the activities you choose to do actually align with those feelings.
It may take some time to experiment and find exactly what works for you. If you still find that your morning routine is giving you difficulty or you’d like some support in creating structure around your day, working with a coach can be a great option.
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Summer is a coach, writer, speaker and the founder of Created with Confidence. When she’s not working with clients or spending time outdoors, her favorite thing is helping ambitious humans succeed in following their dreams.