[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Sunday, July 13, 2014

4 Obstacles I Overcame Establishing A Morning Routine

In a recent post about my new morning routine, I didn’t mention all of the obstacles I’ve had trying to establish it. Many people asked how I overcame various challenges. Let me be clear, establishing a robust routine I stuck with wasn’t easy. I didn’t just decide and succeed. I’ve been working on this for a few years, failing and learning. Hopefully, sharing my journey can help you as you figure out a way around or through your obstacles.

My brain is on fire late at night and I love sleeping in. Ask my college buddies. I went to no classes before 11am and played, I mean studied until 2am most days. So my first attempt for a strong routine was a late night routine. But a nighttime routine didn't work for me. 

First, neither my job or my kids were okay with me sleeping until 10am. And I want to be fully engaged with both. Second, my wife wasn’t able to stay up crazy late and didn’t like going to bed alone. Third, my most frequent behavior, when I did stay up late, was to spend that time playing: TV, video games, novels, etc.

If you can make a night routine work, then go for it. I have friends who have a productive late night routine. Mornings aren’t intrinsically better than nights for reading, writing, praying, etc. But after trying both time slots, I found mornings to be much more productive for me. Do your own experiments and see what works best for you. 

One exception to this is exercise.  The science is clear. Exercising wakes your body up, including boosting the metabolism so you burn more calories and think more clearly for several hours after exercising. Sleeping slows those same processes down. Exercising at night means you lose some of the benefits and can have a harder time getting to sleep.

I understand being tired. I have a full-time job, sometimes do speaking/consulting on the side, have 4 young children, a wife I like to date, I am very active in Christian ministry outside my main job, I write books and blog, and try to talk with friends all over the world. I understand tired. In fact, last year I was diagnosed with medical exhaustion. Yeah, I’ve been that tired.

I had a big breakthrough when I decide to make my first priority increasing my physical energy. For a long while, I worked almost exclusively on habits like sleep, eating, exercise, and even took daily supplements prescribed by my doctor. If getting in shape, including exercise, is a new part of your routine, prepare yourself for at least 3-4 months of physical exhaustion. While you're in this phase, give yourself permission to do less of everything else. Don’t slack off the plan—taking breaks only extend this exhausting phase. Slowly, your body will improve and eventually you’ll have the energy to add other elements to your routine.

One more tip here, the first thing on my routine is something that helps me wake up. I read and think and pray. It wakes my brain up and gives me time to remember why I have a morning routine. I don’t think I could begin with a workout or writing.

Extra time in the morning doesn’t mean I’m sleeping less. Remember, a healthy body is foundational to be able to do the rest of the things I want to do. So that does mean I have had to reduce some of my other activities. Welcome to mature living—every new thing you want to add to your life means choosing something to subtract. For me, it was video games. I still love them, but I only play two limited games on my smart phone. And I’m considering stopping them both so I can add something else. 

It isn’t that I don’t still love video games. It’s that I’ve found other things I love doing even more. And if you don’t truly find something that valuable that you’d give up something else to do it, then maybe it shouldn't be in your regular routine. Make a choice one way or the other and own it.

Part of my job includes traveling. Every couple of weeks I wake up in a hotel. And even when I’m at home my start time changes wildly. Some days I have to leave the house by 6am and others I work from home with only a phone call in the afternoon. Some days I’m done by 5pm and some days I’m not home until after midnight. Literally every night I have to consult my calendar and change the time on my wake-up alarm.

Whenever I need to leave the house, I set the alarm for 2 hrs earlier. Different time every day, same routine. Here’s what I’ve learned: I never regret getting up early. But I have regretted taking a morning off. One trick I’ve used is to get up and just do the first item on my list, giving myself permission to go back to bed if I’m still too tired after that—I never do go back to bed, though.

Full confession: Some crazy early days, which are infrequent, I give myself permission to do a shorter version of the routine (e.g. 10 minutes of exercise rather than 30).

Build your morning routine in layers. You don’t have to jump from shower and shave to a two hour morning routine. What’s the most important first step for you? What single habit would add the most to your life? Start there. When that’s in place, you can add another. Planned well, each habit you establish will make it easier to add the next. 

My recommendation: If you don’t know where to start, improve your physical energy first. It will make everything else easier.

Take the long view and don’t beat yourself up, even if it takes years. Don’t be fooled. This is not a small life change. Respect the effort it requires as well as the benefits it provides. In fact, I’m probably not done improving my morning routine. There are two parts I still want to improve. Bit by bit, I’m working on living a more exceptional life. And you can, too.

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