Donnerstag, 11. August 2016

Morning Routines: Start Your Day Right

As a short intro, I'd like to apologize for not posting anything in roughly three months. During that time, I've been working on my Bachelor's thesis getting the "official" part of my life straight. Since that involves a lot of writing, I lacked motivation to write even more in my time off. You might also notice that this post contains slightly scientific phrases - that's what writing a thesis does to you. I am almost finished with the thesis now and figured that waiting for the doctor in Vancouver and riding on public transport for roughly 3 hours to pick up my beloved leather jacket that I have forgotten would be a good opportunity to blog again. Without further ado - read on:


not every morning starts like this .. but it could be just as magical!


"7 am, waking up in the morning;
gotta get fresh, gotta go downstairs;
gotta get cereal;
seeing everything, the time is running;
everybody's rushing to the bus stop."

Sorry. I may just have given you a song that's now stuck in your head. For those who aren't aware - this is Rebecca Black with "Friday". Yeah, that 13-year old girl. Why would I do that to you? Certainly not because of her musical prowess. No, because the first passage of the lyrics is about something that we all have - routines. 

What do you do every morning? I assume it is somewhat similar to the lines above. And I assume it is the same every day. This is what this post is about - morning routines, or the way we start every single day of our lives. We all have one. Rebecca Black has one. Successful people have one. I also have a very particular one. But in order to understand exactly how and why morning routines are so effective, let us first take a look at two things: routines in general and the prerequisites we need to be the most effective person that we can be.

Routines

Routine: "a habitual or mechanical performance of an established procedure."

A routine can last for 30 seconds or two hours. It is anything that you do on a regular basis in a very particular way. Brushing our teeth is a good example - it is something that we (hopefully) do at least twice a day and is so deeply anchored in ourselves that we sometimes catch ourselves wondering if we've actually brushed our teeth five minutes after doing so. We are so used to it that we stop thinking. That, dear readers, is the power of routines - switching off the mind. 

Two of the most important finite tangible resources that we have are time and decision energy. I've already covered the topic of time allocation in a different post, so I will focus on the second of the two: decision energy. 

We all make decisions every day. While a few decisions are indeed important (as in, which job should I take), most of them are mundane. What should I wear? Should I get a Latte or a plain coffee? What should I eat for dinner? Should I skip class? 

To be honest: does any of that really matter? Yet we spend lots of time thinking about those questions, and I am no exception. I've stood in front of my wardrobe several times for 20 minutes, pondering if that grey shirt goes well with the light blue jeans or if I should rather go for the black one. Oh, and which shoes? The orange ones? The white ones? What an exhausting process. 

I've always thought that Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg simply are eccentric oddballs, who wear the same clothes every day. But after going through aforementioned struggle a few times, I understood that it actually makes sense to always wear the same items (not exactly the SAME - that'd be smelly, but you get the point). After all, it is a decision that you do not have to make every day - and those guys are professionals at it: making decisions is their job. Quite counter-intuitive, isn't it? 

That's where "decision energy" comes into play. We only have a certain amount of decision energy every day. Every decision that we make reduces this amount by a bit. For illustration purposes, say we have 100 units of decision energy daily that we can spend arbitrarily. Moreover, the more decision energy that we allocate to a decision, the "better" it will be.

Note: This, of course, is a very simplifying model. Decision making is a science that hundreds of books have been written on. If you are new to the field and would like an easy read, I would recommend to you the book "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell, in which he talks about snap decisions and how they can actually improve our lives.

Now say you make 25 decisions a day. This allows you to allocate on average four units of decision energy to each decision, causing most of your decisions to be mediocre rather than great. You might not notice it, as most of those decisions are mundane anyway, but every now and then a decision will pop up that will require more energy. In another case, you spend a lot more decision energy on the first decisions of the day - which then leads to decision fatigue later.

Supermarkets capitalize on this human flaw. After a long shopping trip comparing prices, deciding between products and figuring if we really need this, we yearn for checking out, having depleted our energy. This is why candy is sold at checkout - we are already worn out, thus less able to resist the urge to buy yet another set of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups!

mmmmm - delicious!

Imagine you'd only make 10 decisions every day. Now you have 10 units of energy for every decision, which is a lot more. It allows you to really focus on the pros and cons of what's truly important. As a result, better decisions will most likely be made. 

Therefore, we want to minimize the number of decisions that we have to make every day. 

This is what routines are for. Every decision within a routine is already predetermined. You don't ask: with what part of my teeth should I start brushing? You also shouldn't ask: what should I have for breakfast? Eliminating those questions allows us to focus on the most important objective of our lives - doing the right things. This is also known as being effective. 

Effectiveness

"Success does not lead to happiness. Happiness leads to success." - Ryan Holiday

What is the right thing? This question one can only answer one self. For me, the right thing is to be happy (which I've also written a post on). I've noticed in my life that if I'm happy with the things that I'm doing, I also tend to be very good - or successful - at them. However, in order to be happy, a few very basic needs have to be fulfilled that I have broken down into three aspects:
- A healthy body
- A focused mind
- Inspiration

Health comes first - physically and mentally. Countless surveys have determined this, and I've also done some qualitative research with both my grandmas. They both agree that the thing they're happiest about is their health - and that's also what's most important to them. Sadly, I have not embraced this lesson fully yet, as I constantly try to push my body to its limits, whether if it is athletics, sleep, or alcohol consumption. However, I try to minimize the damage by employing habits that are good for me - more on this later. 

A focused mind is also essential. When a million of thoughts are swirling through your head, chances are that you won't be able to think clearly. There is a reason why nearly all people that I would consider successful meditate. Until one or two years ago, I thought meditation was this esoteric thing that only "enlightened" people do - the guys who don't have a job and purely live in their spirits. Then a friend (who I consider to be very driven and rational) came up to me and told me to give it a shot. I did, and the results were amazing - so good that I decided to integrate it into my very own morning routine, which is presented in a subsequent section.

Inspiration encompasses all things that give you new ideas, new approaches, new ways of thinking. Reading this post hopefully also falls into this category. To me it is essential to read and conversate with people that I enjoy being with every single day. Those two activities are what sparks my imagination, gives me motivation and in the end makes me happy. Always be on the move, always try new things. Even if you just learn one tiny thing every day, in the long run, it will accumulate to a quite significant amount of knowledge eventually.

The routine I am about to present was not just put into place one day - it slowly evolved from adding and removing certain elements, trying out variations and constantly tweaking every part of it. 

So what is it? Here we go!

My Morning Routine

TL;DR:

0) Alarm goes off between 6:30 am and 7 am. No snoozing allowed.
1) Make bed.
2) Pee.
3) Sit down and fill out morning portion of the 5-Minute-Journal. Write down any thoughts that are on my mind. 
4) Start listening to audiobook or podcast.
5) Chug glass of (ice) water.
6) Start cooking a omelette with tuna and spinach.
7) Wash dishes while omelette is cooking.
8) Prepare fruit and tea.
9) Eat breakfast (still listening to audiobook).
10) 5 minutes of evercise. 
11) Brush teeth.
12) Shower.
13) Put on clothes.
14) Meditate.
15) Start the day! 

Analysis

0) I'd much rather get up even earlier, but a healthy body needs its sleep and I'm not getting enough of it anyway. I don't have an explicit minute on which I wake up, as I'm using the app "Sleep for Android", which wakes you up once you are in a certain time window and in a phase of light sleep. This makes waking up a lot more comfortable. Also note the "no snoozing allowed": I've made the experience that snoozing implicitly suggests that you are not looking forward to the day, thus rendering it a bad day before it even started. Every day is a great day! Do you remember the excitement of waking up on your birthday? All those presents waiting for you? Man, was I excited and ready to get up - even before my parents most of the time! It is my goal to recreate this excitement every day. Of course, that does not always work properly - but listening to Eric Thomas' "T.G.I.M." (Thank God It's Monday) series usually gets me up to speed. 

Note: I can highly recommend listening to motivational songs, speeches, and videos. Eric Thomas does the trick for me, appealing to my athletic brain. To get started, check out his most famous video: how bad do you want it?



"A warrior makes his bed every day." - Jocko Willink, former Navy Seal and Chief of Navy Seal Training
1) I am no soldier, but making your bed every day has great implications. Essentially, making your bed is a project in itself. It only takes 27 seconds, but it is the first thing you've achieved that day. No matter how bad your day will be - by the end of it, you will walk into your room and be reminded that you at least achieved one thing that day! It also just feels great to lie down in a made bed - no one can argue with that.

2) Can be messy at times. I'll spare you the details.

3) The 5-Minute-Journal is a journal in which you write down three things that you are thankful for and three things that would make this day a great day every morning. Keep in mind that happiness leads to success - so if you remind yourself every day what you are grateful for, happiness is inevitable. It is also a great method to put the focus on things that you want to get done today. By knowing this before the day actually has started, I at least am a lot more focused. This is a habit that I am trying to adopt for said reasons, but have not fully integrated yet.

4) The probably most important part of my morning. As I am running on a routine, I do not need to focus on the things that I am doing. That happens automatically. Thus, I can get my "reading" for every day in. The great Chinese general Cao Cao made a habit of reading every day more than 2000 years ago, and so did successful people before and after him to this day. 
I usually listen to audiobooks from the genres self-improvement, philosophy, business, psychology and the likes or to podcasts about similar topics. To get started with audiobooks, check out "The Obstacle Is The Way" by Ryan Holiday or "Bold" by Peter H. Diamandis. For podcasts, definitely check out "The Tim Ferriss Show", where the host (and my favorite author) interviews successful people and breaks down why they are so successful. Many of the elements in this list are from those interviews. My favorite episodes so far were the ones with Jamie Foxx, General Stanley McChrystal and Scott Adams. If you're more into history, "Hardcore History" by Dan Carlin is the way to go - I especially encourage you to check out his episodes on the mongols of the 1200's: "Wrath of the Khans". 
I get most of my inspiration from this activity. It is perfect as you can do two things at the same time without really sacrificing any attention. Very efficient - and that makes the German inside of me happy. 

5) During sleep, the body dehydrates. In order to function properly, this water needs to be replenished. To add a little spice and to get the blood flow going, try ice water. That might be painful at first, but it definitely gets the job done!

6) Oh, the omelette. My favorite. As of today, I have been eating this omelette for 21 months straight and found the perfect version for me. While you don't have to eat it, here are a two reasons why it makes sense: in order to burn fat, it is advantageous to eat a healthy portion of protein within 30 minutes to 1 hour of waking up. Protein also helps with muscle growth, and is the perfect breakfast for someone who tries to avoid as many carbohydrates as possible. This is what eggs and tuna are for. Spinach is a powerful vegetable that provides a great deal of essential minerals and vitamins. The exact recipe can be found in a future post - stay tuned! If that's not your style, that's okay - but try adding some protein to your breakfast while eliminating some carbs! 

7) There are some things that just have to be done in a household. While washing dishes is not necessarily one of them, it is easier than repairing our dishwasher - something that nobody living in my shared apartment has achieved in four years. Keeps the kitchen tidy and the flatmates happy. Also perfect for listening to something else. 

8) To go with my omelette, I will always have some fruit (usually grapefruit with a bit of brown sugar or orange) and green tea with a dash of lemon juice. I don't handle coffee that well, so green tea provides a good alternative and apparently also is incredibly good for you. Same is true for fruit - besides the taste, it is a great source of vitamin C and antioxidants in an effort to keep my frail body healthy. 

9) Yes, I use a fork and a knife. Also a great activity for listening on the side. 

10) The majority of my training takes part during other times of the day (although I've started working out in the mornings more and more, which makes this part obsolete). As an active Lacrosse player, it is essential to keep my body in shape - but it does more than that. 5 minutes of working out can work wonders and get the bloodflow going - energizing you for the rest of the day. I usually do a selection of push-ups (10-50), planks (1-3 minutes) and air squats (25-100). If you find it hard to get started, simply get into the habit of doing one push-up right before you shower. They'll become more and more over time! 

11) I have no idea how I brush my teeth. Probably an activity where I should switch on my mind every once in a while.

12) Same is true for showering. I have plenty of good ideas in the shower though, because the audiobook is turned off after step 9. Gives me room to think. I usually shower warm, then turn to ice cold for the last 30 seconds. Highly refreshing and good for getting yourself back to reality. Takes some discipline to do though. According to Tim Ferriss and the "Iceman" Wim Hof, taking ice baths and ice showers are incredibly good for your body - but I cannot handle more than 30 seconds yet. 

13) Coming back to decision energy - I try to prepare my outfit before I go to bed. Thus, I do not have to face this excruciating challenge in the morning. And no, I do not only have one outfit. On the contrary, I do enjoy shopping for clothes - and that does not make the decision easier. 

14) As mentioned before, I picked up the habit of meditating not so long ago. It helps me clear my mind for the day ahead. I use the application Headspeace (link), which is perfect for beginners like me. They have a free 10-day program that takes around 10 minutes every day, and it's wonderful. I still only meditate for roughly 10 minutes, which seems to be enough for me. Meditation also supposedly has health advantages, although I have not noticed any yet. 

15) And go! Let's rock this day! 

And that's it. Just kidding - that's a ton of activities, built over the range of about two years. If you look closely, you see a pattern here - most of the activities relate to one of three prerequisites for effectiveness: 0, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 have the purpose of maintaining a healthy body; 13 and 14 keep my mind sane; 3 and 4 provide the much needed inspiration. This leaves 1, 2, 7 and 12 - but there are some things that simply have to be done. And it's a lot nicer to come home at night without having to worry about dishes. 

Your Morning Routine

I am sure you already have a morning routine in place that works for you. Very good! But maybe, just maybe, there is room for improvement, which is why I wrote this post. My routine is by no means perfect, but it works well for me - and what works well for me, might also work well for you! If there is one aspect that you particularly like, try integrating it. If you have something in your routine that is missing in mine - I am keen to know! 

Keep in mind that it takes 21 days to build a habit - more for some, less for others. If you manage to do the same thing for 21 days straight, it will become an integral part of your day. In the end, the goal is to make you effective and therefore happy! That's what matters - not torturing yourself in order to become an optimized self (like I do at times). Use routines to your advantage, but don't let them dictate your life. Break them every once in a while. 

I would like to close with a tribute to my father, the most routine-driven person that I know. I used to smile about the times when he'd get incredibly angry because there was no coffee with foamed milk in the morning. And I used to wonder how he manages to get up at 6am every day, focus on his work all day and still be balanced. Looking back, I should have adapted routines sooner - like he did. He's been my idol when it comes to routines, both in a good and bad way: I've also noticed that I get caught up in my routines very quickly, which causes me to be highly inflexible. This is what I want to work on - breaking the habit (sounds familiar? Linkin Park wrote a song about it.). 

I'd be very interested to hear about your routines, your thoughts and the aspects that you would like to integrate into your life. It doesn't matter if it's via Mail, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter or whatnot - just do me one favor: don't be like Rebecca Black and include it in a song. Thank you!















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