How you spend the first 30 minutes of your day will determine your focus, your productivity, and often the difference between success and failure.
When Josh Waitzkin gets up each morning, he doesn’t reach for his cell phone. Waitzkin is both a world chess champion and international tai chi champion, and knows a thing or two about performing your best.
Which is exactly why Waitzkin does not reach for his phone upon arising. Instead of the noisiness of the internet and social media, he cultivates a quiet space within through meditation, and goes on to write down his thoughts in his journal. Waitzkin believes that this combination of finding inner quiet and attuning to his thoughts first thing in the morning, gives him greater focus and creativity and a more powerful ability to absorb information.
Waitzkin is not alone. Successful people, past and present, have understood how the quality of the beginning of your day casts a long shadow over the rest of your day.
The first part of Oprah Winfrey’s morning is spent meditating and working out. Which is also Arianna Huffington’s morning routine. Ernest Hemingway typically began writing as soon as possible after dawn had broken. The legendary cellist Pablo Casals would begin each morning by taking a walk in nature, and then playing two Bach pieces at the piano.
Steve Jobs would begin each morning by looking at himself in the mirror and asking the question, “If today was the last day of my life, would I be happy with what I'm about to do today?" If he received a negative answer several days consecutively, he knew he needed to make a change.
Why Your Morning Routine Is So Important
Whatever you do when you first awaken sets the tone for everything that follows. If you immediately check your email or the internet or social media upon arising, you are immediately drawn into someone else’s world, reacting to someone else’s thoughts, distracted by what someone else is doing.
Even if you didn’t grab your phone, but instead spent the very first minutes of your day dwelling on a stressful event in your life, that feeling of stress would cling to you through your waking hours.
Most successful people have clearly defined morning routines. And what their routines have in common is that they create space for themselves, a space in which they are able to direct their lives in the way they intend rather than simply react to what the world sends their way.
Whether meditation, writing, walking, working out, playing the piano, asking yourself searching questions about your life direction – all of these involve being inner-directed rather than outwardly reactive.
Starting your day by creating this space for inner direction gives you a greater feeling of control over your life. It also makes for a quieter and less stressed mind that can respond to the stressors of everyday life far more effectively.
How many times have you said, or heard a friend or co-worker say, “I have no time for myself.” By deliberately creating an inner-directed morning routine, you begin the day with time for yourself. And that changes everything.
You might protest that you have no time to meditate or exercise or any of this other stuff that successful people do in the morning. And no, you’re not getting up a half hour earlier to do it.
You do have time. And you don’t need to get up a half hour earlier. As self-help guru Tony Robbins has said, “If you don’t have ten minutes, you don’t have a life.”
Think about your morning routine now. Do you reach for your phone when you first get up, or shortly after? Then you probably spend at least ten minutes (or a half hour) of the beginning of your day responding and reacting to other people’s content.
Ask yourself: What would happen if when you first got up, you waited ten minutes, or 30 minutes, or even an hour to check your phone? Would the world stop? Is there an email that would ruin your life if you responded at 7:30 a.m. instead of 7? Would your life fall apart if your first activity of the day was something other than disagreeing with someone else's social media post?
You already know the answer. The truth is that we reach for our phone first thing because it's mindless and we don’t have a specific morning activity to replace it. If instead, we placed our phone a few feet away where we couldn’t grab it easily and start scrolling mindlessly, and used that same time for an inner-directed activity to set the tone of our day, everything – and I mean everything – would change.
A Few Morning Routines To Get You Started
The specific inner-directed activities that successful people choose as their first act of the day vary widely. It’s not so important which specific activity you choose, but that you choose an activity that works well for you, and that gives you space and a sense of inner direction first thing in the morning.
You can take an hour, or just ten minutes. I find that 30 minutes is an ideal block of time to set the tone for your day. But even ten minutes will make a world of difference. Here are a few morning activities you can try:
Take 10 or 25 or 50 slow, deep breaths
Meditate or pray, or just sit and do nothing and enjoy the down time
Implement a routine of gentle stretches or yoga poses
Take a walk
Ask yourself questions about your life direction
Write it down in a journal
Take a warm, relaxing bath or shower
Review your goals that you have previously written down
Work on a side project you’ve wanted to accomplish but could not previously find the time