I love the silence and the stillness of a morning; there’s something blissful about it that sets the tone for my entire day. While I can appreciate the morning now, this wasn’t always the case. If I’m really honest, I used to have really bad habits that prevented me from succeeding in my day-to-day.

“If you win the morning, you win the day.” — Tim Ferris

In college, I lived my mornings in a reactive state — I stayed up to the point of exhaustion —normally from video games— and after a few hours of restless sleep, I would be startled awake from the blare of my alarm clock. The first thing I would do was reach for my phone and mindlessly peruse social media for the next half hour. When I finally rolled out of bed, I’d quickly determine my breakfast by how much time I had available between getting dressed and rushing out to catch the bus.

This lifestyle continued into my adulthood. Replace “social media” with “email”, and “catch the bus” with “drive to work” and you’ve successfully captured my first few years out of college. My life was reactive, and living in this state meant my day was dictated by external forces beyond my control.

If you don’t take ownership at the start of your day, you won’t take ownership over the rest of your day. Tweet 

What were my errors in living in a reactive state?

  • Sleeping out of exhaustion — When I would collapse from exhaustion, I had no control over appropriately winding down my mind and body. At this point in the night, my brain was physically telling me I can’t go on and as a result, it would shut off. When you sleep out of exhaustion, you have no control over easing your body into a period of rest. It’s like pulling the plug on a computer rather than shutting down the programs and saving the files.
  • Checking social media/email first thing in the morning — If the first thing I do is check social media or email when I wake up, I’m opening myself up to the outside world. One angry email from a client or one unflattering photo or comment on social media has the power to derail my entire day. Life is already noisy enough; by exposing myself to social media or email before I’m mentally prepared, I’m letting the noise of the world deafen the quietness of my morning.
  • Not making time for breakfast — Our bodies need fuel, especially in the morning. By not prioritizing time for a proper and nutritious breakfast, I’m neglecting properly refueling my body. A car can’t run on fumes, yet we think our bodies can when we neglect to eat in the morning. It’s no wonder I would feel sluggish throughout the day.

So, what’s the secret to ensuring that your morning — and your day — is a success?

Be Proactive, not Reactive

The most important thing about owning your morning —and your day— is being proactive, not reactive. Try and set up as many “wins” in the morning so that when you’re ready to open yourself up to the rest of the world, you’re already in a state of flow. It’s like a basketball player who’s “in the zone.” Once he’s drained jumper after jumper, he’s “on fire” and it doesn’t matter if you double or triple-team him; he’s going to the sink the shot. I think of my morning in the same way. By being proactive in setting up wins in the morning, it doesn’t matter what life brings my way, I’m ready.

So here’s what being proactive in the morning looks like for me:

  • Going to bed at a reasonable time — what many fail to realize is that a morning is an extension of the night before. If I go to bed exhausted, it shouldn’t surprise me when I wake up feeling exhausted. Having learned this, I intentionally go to bed between 10:30 — 11:00pm and wind down by praying and reading a book.
  • Waking up — I know my body functions best when I get between 6.5-7 hours of sleep. This is just me — most people need more. That said, most days I’m able to wake up around 5:30am without an alarm clock. By waking up on my own, I have more control on what I want to start first, rather than my alarm dictating when I should start.
  • Drink water — The first thing I do when I wake up is drink water to rehydrate. Drinking water in the morning helps fire up your metabolism, flush out toxins, and get the kick you need to get started. I fill up my water bottle the night before and keep it right next to my bed so I don’t skip out on this step.
  • Make my bed — this is my first “task” of the day. I credit this piece of advice to UT Chancellor, Admiral McRaven (The video can be seen here):“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.” — Admiral McRaven

    Making my bed has taught me that even on days where nothing seems to go my way, I can settle in for the night knowing two truths: 1) that God is still good and 2) I’ve made my bed and tomorrow will be better.

  • Pray/meditate — Before I jump into the noise of the day, I start with being silent. No thinking, no doing, just being still and reminded of my identity. Most days this is really hard because my mind is already racing. The Valley of Vision (Leather): A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions has helped tremendously for meditating and praying when I can’t do this on my own.
  • Read a book — I spend half an hour reading a book that will challenge me mentally or spiritually. It’s easy for me to get distracted with action items, but reading in the morning keeps me growth-oriented and focused on “why” over “what.” **I’m currently re-reading a Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth**
  • Journal — I’ll likely dive into how I journal in another blog post, but I spend about an hour each morning writing and thinking. Physically converting thoughts into words has been tremendous for me in being able to look back and see how I’ve grown. This gives me perspective to see that I’m still moving forward, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different? – C.S. Lewis
  • Write a letter of thanks — This has been introduced into my morning routine as part of my theme for 2016. It has already helped teach me gratitude and to cherish people in my life. By being proactive about this, I’m able to enter my work day in a state of gratefulness and thanksgiving in all areas of life.
  • Make breakfast — I now know that what I put into my body will have a huge impact on my energy levels throughout the day, so I pack my first meal with nutrient-rich foods. This includes a green smoothie (banana, spinach, kale) as well as a breakfast salad — I know. don’t judge — which includes egg, sweet potato, cucumbers, tomato, chickpeas, chia seeds, and more spinach and kale. By being proactive about fueling up, my day isn’t interrupted by the growl of my stomach.

There’s no such thing as a perfect morning

This routine isn’t perfect. It serves as a guideline, not a to-do. I understand that life throws curveballs and there are days when my schedule gets thrown off and I’m not able to complete everything. But I still try, and that’s what being proactive is about. Make your goals a priority, but show yourself grace when you fall short. To win the day, you start with the morning.

What does a proactive morning look like for you?