Are you routinely tired, anxious, down, or foggy in the morning?
If so, you might have considered that you need to give yourself a morning routine. But the truth is that you almost certainly already have one, which is why all of these symptoms are so routine for you…
Being the habitual animals we are, we slowly get ourselves into rhythms of behaviour that make us feel all those negative physical and psychological symptoms. We sleep in, we eat poorly, we watch television, we stop doing the productive activities that make us genuinely happy … Suddenly, our mornings look and feel pretty bleak.
Because of our habitual natures, we can’t transform our morning routine in a single day. But also because of our habitual natures, we can create sustainable change by gradually introducing new, productive habits to our mornings.
In this article, we take a look at some of those habits, focusing on exactly why they can transform your day.
There’s no need to mess around with worn-out truisms about how a morning routine is the secret weapon of successful people. We’ve all heard those stories of billionaires waking up at ridiculous hours to do things you never seem to find the time to do (Richard Branson, for example, starts his day at 6 AM with a game of tennis, followed by weightlifting).
No, no, no. There’s no need for anecdotes here. The science is clear enough on its own. Let’s cut right to the chase and look at the concrete ways in which a morning routine sets us up for workplace happiness, day in and day out.
We’re going to pinpoint exactly how a morning routine can produce office wellness by focusing on the areas of Mood, Energy, Organisation, and Brain Function. Along the way, we will look at some specific elements of a morning routine that will provide benefits in these areas.
The most essential aspect of wellness in the workplace is maintaining a good mood. This doesn’t mean that you spend all day at work with a big smile on your face and never have a bad word to say about anything.
Certainly, a morning routine can and should make you feel happier. But at a more fundamental level, a morning routine should provide you with the foundation to allow you to withstand stress and feel positive and confident.
The key ingredient of a morning routine, in terms of mood-boosting, is sleep. The science is very clear that good sleep is the cornerstone of our mental health, and it’s also clear that we need to sleep to a regular rhythm to be getting properly restful sleep. So, make your sleep routine: go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
The next mood-boosting weapon you’ve got in your morning routine arsenal is exercise. Even a short bout of exercise will have the effect of releasing serotonin in your body, along with a juicy bouquet of endorphins. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is most famous for being our bodies’ way of keeping us happy (but it also improves our brain functionality, among other things). Even a quick 30-minute run or a circuit of squats, pushups, and star-jumps can be enough to trigger a serotonin release, making us feel positive throughout the day.
Exercise doesn’t just make us happy, it also makes us feel less anxious. When we exercise, our body releases cortisol commonly thought of as the stress hormone. This isn’t a bad thing. Cortisol is critical in allowing us to cope with stressful situations, particularly by keeping our blood sugar levels elevated so that we can fight or fly more effectively when we run into a lion on the prairie (this is the original purpose that the hormone served for our caveman ancestors).
When we do 10 km of running, we put our bodies under a comparable amount of stress. But the good thing about doing exercise is that your body experiences stress in a controlled way, and it learns to deal with it. The rush of endorphins we get when exercising counteracts the effects of the cortisol release and, as our heart rate slows, we feel super calm.
Our morning routine is also essential for ensuring that we have enough energy to power us through the full workday without crashing. Obviously, sleep is once again critical here, as it is responsible for recharging our brain and body. Also, exercise is once again a major contributor to maintaining energy reserves throughout the day. On the other hand, sedentariness is known to induce daily fatigue, so if your morning routine consists of eating cereal on the couch, don’t expect to feel too bubbly come afternoon.
One of the essential aspects of a morning routine should be healthy food. Too often, we cut corners and eat sugary cereal or a supermarket bakery item for breakfast. And while it doesn’t hurt to eat these things every now and again, if your aim is to boost your energy, you really want to be giving yourself time to prepare genuinely nutritious food.
When you wake up, your glycogen stores are low. This means that your body has low sugar levels. If you don’t eat, your available energy stores won’t be restocked. Although that might make it sound like you need to consume sugar in the morning, that’s not right. You actually want to be eating carbohydrates (particularly wholegrains) to help your body keep your blood sugar levels steady.
A much-underrated element of an energy-boosting morning routine is sunlight. Scientists are now very aware that getting early exposure to sunlight each day is important for a number of reasons. For example, when we expose our bodies to sunlight early in the morning, it calibrates our body clocks so that, come night time, we are feeling readier for sleep.
But the body is also naturally attuned to release energy stores when it is exposed to sunlight. Your morning routine should therefore try to incorporate sunlight exposure. This might mean setting your breakfast table up by the window or going for a jog around the block. Five to ten minutes of exposure is enough to tell your mind and body that it’s go time.
Your morning routine also represents an opportunity for you to get your mind organised for the day ahead. This is important so that you don’t rush to the office after your gym session with a whole lot of energy and not much idea of how to spend it.
A really good element to employ in your morning routine is planning. Taking two to five minutes to jot down what is that you want to achieve for the day can give you a lot of direction, saving you hours in procrastination and other forms of inefficiency. There is a lot of science behind goal setting, and the overwhelming verdict is that it not only makes us more efficient but also helps to reduce stress as well. When we have a clear idea in our head about what we are going to do, it declutters our mind, a process that is essential for maintaining calmness.
Now, almost all of the morning routine ideas that we’ve spoken of so far also contribute to improved brain function, but it’s worth reiterating this. It’s very clear that sleep, exercise, sunlight, and healthy food are all absolutely critical for optimal brain functioning. But that’s really not a surprise to anyone anymore…
One element of a morning routine that we haven’t yet mentioned is meditation. Of course, meditation is well known for reducing stress, but less talked about is its positive impact on brain function. Research shows that even just ten minutes per day of mindfulness meditation improves working memory and makes the brain generally more efficient.
Another activity that goes well in a successful morning routine is reading. The benefits of reading don’t end with your accumulation of knowledge and your exposure to great works of literature—although, these are both good enough reasons to read on their own. Science has now shown that reading has both short- and long-term impacts on brain function.
In the short term, reading can help your brain to practice using a whole number of neural pathways that it doesn’t use otherwise. Of course, language processing is an obvious neural activity that reading forces us into. But good fiction also forces the brain to flex its muscles of imagination, memory, and reasoning (we don’t just want to know what happens in a story, but why it happens). A single reading session can improve these networks for a period of a few days. But when you incorporate reading into your daily routine, the effects accumulate over the long-term.
So now you’ve got all the pieces in place for a killer morning routine to rival Richard Branson. But one final word of warning: don’t go too hard too soon. Just like when we set ourselves an impossible gym schedule, setting an elaborate morning routine can be the wrong way to go.
You might decide that each morning next week you will toast your own granola, read War and Peace, link up with a meditation guru, and smash out one hundred push-ups. But if your current routine doesn’t look anything like that, you’re probably going to fall off the wagon by Wednesday.
Instead, aim for sustainability and only try to introduce one new element to your routine each week. That way, you will form genuine habits that are sustainable over the long term and provide you with real workplace wellness day to day.