How do you start your day? I know that until about a year ago my morning was simply something that I needed to get through so that I could get on with my day. A typical morning might have looked like this: hear the alarm go off at 6:30, ignore that until 7:00, fall out of bed and stumble into the kitchen for the preparation of my french press coffee, get in the car and go to work/errands. I’m willing to bet that a lot of peoples mornings are similar.
This was proven by the Pew Research center, who conducted a survey of over 3000 adults. Over 20 percent of all adults feel rushed in the morning, with that percentage doubling for those that work.
While you have most certainly heard that the morning is time we should be making use of, what exactly does that mean? Should we be working? Relaxing? Planning the day? Eating? I have chosen to use the morning to invest time into myself. The rest of the day is for working and hustling. Instead of using the morning as a time to simply get ready for work, why don’t we use the time to direct our energies into a purpose driven day instead of a stressed or rushed day? To start a day with practices that energize us physically and mentally is key to not only a good day but a productive life. If we never take the time to purposefully “work in” instead of “work out”, we never refill our stores of purpose and energy. Let’s check out a few ways in which we can start a purpose driven day.
Starting Off With Gratitude
This is a practice that I have started recently, thanks to the importance of it being driven home by the great Ben Greenfield. While Ben focuses on gratitude from the angle of the Christian faith it by no means has to be flavored with religion. All you need is a journal, and a steady practice.
Gratitude is an emotion we don’t always acknowledge. We can easily become immersed in the swamp that is our thought loops. We can focus too much on things like work, everyday stress, and our phone bothering us for attention every 3 minutes. We have to cultivate a feeling a gratitude. Be conscious of what we are blessed with everyday. Pick one thing. Gratitude even has science on its side. Having a practice of gratitude can:
Grab a journal, and simply ask yourself two questions every morning. “What am I grateful for today?”, and “Who can I serve today?”. The answers should not be complicated. It could be, “I am grateful for more time with my wife today”. For service it can be “I can give my brother a call, who is facing some problems in his relationship”. I promise you it will change the course of your day. Get to the journal first thing in the morning to set your day on a trajectory of service to others and gratitude for what you have.
Exercise Before Breakfast
The exercise can vary, and doesn’t necessarily have to be a full blown HIIT workout (although if your feeling it go for it). The point is to really capitalize on the fact that your body is in a fasted state. You haven’t eaten anything since dinner. Your body’s digestive processes are at rest, and no outside sources of calories are being burned. You will be running on your own fuel, body fat. Your pancreas will be thanking you for not having to pump out insulin since dinner the night before. What is the one way to speed up that fat burning and improve the body’s insulin response? Exercising while in a fasted state.
The research on this is pretty extensive. Before anyone says “how will I have any energy to workout out if I haven’t eaten!?”, the reality is that our bodies have plenty of stored energy for 1 to 2 hours of high intensity exercise and 3 to 4 hours of moderate exercise.
A study was done in 2010 on the effect of exercise on males eating a high-calorie, high-insulinogenic diet (basically the Standard American Diet). The men were split into groups that didn’t exercise, ate before exercise, and exercised on an empty stomach. After 6 weeks those that exercised in a fasted state had improved body composition and increased lean muscle mass, as well as increasing their tolerance to glucose and sensitivity to insulin. The other groups gained weight, even those that exercised on the same diet.
I love exercising in the morning. It propels my day forward because I am getting something DONE in the morning that is improving my body. It makes my body feel good, as well as my mind. Things can happen through out the course of the day that might prevent us from getting movement in later in the day. Simply block out 10 to 15 or more minutes to get some fasted movement in. I like to do sets to failure of body weight exercises. Do some kettle bell swings, practice some yoga, for for a short run or walk. Just do something. While it may not be enough time to do a traditional 5 by 5 lifting program, make time later for that if you are trying to build muscle. for now, just move.
Have A Practice Of Mindfulness/Meditation
Out of all of these practices, this is the one that I simply will not skimp on if I am crunched for time. My meditation practice has improved my life in more ways than I can count or realize. It puts me into a state of truly feeling my thoughts and my body. I am not nearly as reactive to emotions when I am meditating steadily. I can deal with stress better. I can handle difficult people with more patience. There is nothing that fills my day with purpose more. It isn’t just me that gets benefit out of this. We can all upgrade ourselves with some mindfulness.
Meditation works to improve almost all markers of health. A meta-analysis on controlled studies concluded that meditation reduces cortisol, C – reactive protein, blood pressure, heart rate, triglycerides and tumor necrosis factor-alpha.
My favorite effect of practicing mindfulness is the change in reactivity I get. It is not that things don’t bother me as much, it is that I can analyze an emotion like anger when it comes up and not react like I normally would. This was also shown to be true in one of the most stressed out populations around: healthcare workers. 100 healthcare workers went through 8 weeks of mindfulness meditation training. Afterwards without exception they all scored significantly lower on depression, anxiety, and reactivity.
My practice goes as follows.
- After writing in my gratitude journal and moving for 10 to 15 minutes, I find a comfy spot. This is usually sitting on my pillow in the sunlight in my bedroom. I set a timer for 15 minutes. (it can be as short as 5 minutes. Any amount of time is beneficial.)
- I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths, holding longer on the exhalation to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (opposite of the fight or flight associated sympathetic nervous system).
- I watch my breath go in and out in the full expression. In the nose, down the throat, expanding the lungs, and back out. I try to feel sensations in my body as deeply as I can.
- As thoughts or emotions come up I simply look at them, and return my attention to my breath. This promotes a sense of awareness around how these thoughts feel, without reacting to them or judging them.
That’s it. Like I said, it can be as short as 5 minutes or as long as you want or have time for. Try it everyday for a week. I strongly recommend Sam Harris’s app Waking Up. He has a few introductory free guided meditations that are helpful primers in establishing a good technique in your practice.
That’s it everyone. That routine takes me all of 35 minutes. The upgrade in my consciousness and feeling of purpose cannot be overstated when I nail the morning routine. It makes the whole day easier, more enjoyable, and more orientated towards serving others. Try it out and see what you think for a week. Comment below if you try or have questions!
Elliot Steele is a Primal Health Coach based in Chelan WA. He strives to empower those looking to regain their health after a lifetime of misinformed practices. This is the essence of Steele Back Your Health, to truly learn how to be healthy with sustainable habits. Check out the coaching and blog page for more info!