We’ve all heard it before: Having a morning routine is essential to a successful life.
Scientists and CEOs alike have extolled the benefits of establishing an early morning ritual for decades — there are those who get up at 4:30 a.m. every day and complete a workout before the sun rises, and others who savor the quiet of mornings with a hot cup of coffee and reading.
But mornings are hard. It can be far too tempting to hit “snooze” on your alarm when thoughts about all that you need to get done during the day flood your mind, or you’re cozy under a pile of blankets, especially during the winter, when mornings are colder, darker and drearier.
There are science-backed benefits of having a morning routine: past research has shown that a consistent morning routine can reduce stress, boost your energy levels and improve your productivity at work.
If you want to cultivate a pre-work morning routine and don’t know where to start, consider these three recommended practices from psychologists:
Your to-do list might be doing more harm than good, psychologist Jessica Jackson warns.
Checking your emails, calendar or to-do list soon after you wake up “immediately starts the day off on a stressful note, and tells your brain to go into panic mode,” Jackson, who is also the global clinical diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging manager at Modern Health, tells CNBC Make It.
Instead, Jackson recommends all of her clients start their day with an intention meditation: taking a few minutes to sit in silence, take a couple of deep breaths, and choose a single word, or sentence, to be their “north star” for the day.
“You can tell yourself, ‘My intention for today is to feel successful’ or ‘I want to be comfortable today’ and think about what you can realistically accomplish in the next 24 hours to feel that way,” Jackson explains. “It can also be a single, powerful word like ‘gratitude’ that will guide how you react to and reflect on whatever happens throughout the day.”
Setting an intention each morning before work can help you better align your actions with your values, stay focused on your priorities, and, most importantly, get excited about the day ahead, instead of dwelling on every task you need to complete that day, Jackson says.
Unplugging from technology in the mornings is the best reboot you can give your brain, Debbie Sorensen, a Denver-based psychologist, says.
Looking at your phone or computer right after waking up primes your brain for distraction and can trigger your stress response if you see or read something negative, Sorensen points out.
Instead, find an offline activity that recharges you, such as reading, writing in a journal, going for a walk or attending a workout class. The benefits of doing a relaxing, offline activity in the morning will last throughout the day, Sorensen says, because you’re starting the day off feeling “more grounded and recharged.”
“It gives you sustainable energy to help you power through the day and keep stress in check,” she adds.
Sorensen likes to spend her mornings reading with one of her kids on the couch or catching up over a cup of coffee before the rest of her family wakes up. “It’s a really sweet, quiet moment of quality time that I look forward to, and it rejuvenates me before I plunge into work,” she says.
Fun is a critical yet undervalued part of the wellness equation, Laura Pendergrass, an industrial psychologist who advises Fortune 500 companies, says.
Find one small thing that will make you laugh or smile as part of your morning routine, Pendergrass says, to boost endorphins and set a positive tone for your day, whether it’s a 3-minute dance party while you’re getting ready for work or calling one of your funniest friends to say “good morning.”
“Self-care in the form of fun is just as important as anything else we do to take care of ourselves,” she says. Pendergrass says she will often spend a couple of minutes before work watching uplifting nature documentaries, a practice that makes “a huge difference” in her mood.
“We recognize the importance of recess for kids and build it into their school time, but we forget the importance of play as adults,” she says. “It’s up to us to create our own enrichment opportunities to do something fun or creative and inject color into what could otherwise be a gray day.”