I’m going to take a risk here by admitting something that I realize may make you like me less. I know it’s a dangerous proposal, but I think we’ve gotten close enough that we can be honest with each other. I know you’re a mindful person, so I trust you not to judge me. Or, at least to recognize your judgement, and move past it.
OK, so…I’m a morning person. I like the quiet of my house before others are awake, the warmth of those first few sips of coffee, and the pause they offer before the day’s momentum picks up. I’m pretty clear-headed in the morning, too, and can be fairly productive not long after waking up. Know, however, that because there is equilibrium in the universe, nighttime is a different story. You’ll definitely get diminishing returns from me as they day goes on. In the winter, though, when morning is cold and dark, even I’ll admit that I would rather pull the blanket over my head than even think about putting my feet on the floor. Those are the days when hibernation seems the only reasonable choice.
Since we aren’t going to convince our bosses, professors, and families that we need the winter off anytime soon, the only option seems to be to figure out how to make the morning work for us. When we mindfully check in with ourselves to determine the source of our resistance, we can not only use mindfulness to work through that discomfort, but also structure the beginning of our day in a way that encourages us to get a move on.
Aside from just being plain sleepy, one of the things that makes mornings tough is that we tend to hit the mental accelerator, and dive straight into the day head first. We wake up to an alarm that is often blaring at us from a digital device that also includes texts, emails, a full array of social media options and countless other notifications. We go from sleeping, to semi-conscious, to fully absorbed by external stimuli, completely forgetting to check in with ourselves before facing the world. I mean, when you think of it that way, it’s actually kind of rude – like walking into someone’s house and turning on their TV without stopping to chat for a few minutes first. You wouldn’t let someone else do that to you, so you don’t get to do it, either. At the very least, you owe yourself a hello.
So how do we make this happen? Like any worthwhile pursuit, of course, we make it a priority. We carve out the time, and add some structure to it. Did you think I was going to tell you to just wake up and see how it goes? Oh no. I’ve been coaching for long enough that I know how well that works. You need a plan, but lucky you, this plan is about making you happy. For the first (and maybe last!) time ever, I am giving you permission to not only find your comfort zones, but institutionalize them. It’s time for some morning rituals.
Fun fact about morning rituals: they can start at night. How you sleep has a lot to do with how you wake up. Maybe you’ve found a style of meditation that works for you, and can try to incorporate that into the short timeframe before bedtime. You could put together a simple gratitude list for the day you’ve just lived. Perhaps you’d rather read a few pages of a book, or check out something funny online, or listen to some relaxing music. You could even engage in a few minutes of actual human conversation with someone who makes you smile. It’s important to disconnect from your day, though, before letting your body rest to prepare for the next one. This can also help with insomnia, and can be repeated later if you tend to wake up in the middle of the night with a brain that thinks it’s morning. (If trouble sleeping is your challenge, maybe try this breathing exercise.)
When morning does arrive, turn off that alarm (please), but also take note of your emotions. You’re probably sleepy, but maybe some other things, too. You may want to take a few minutes of quiet awake time or even meditation here, before you even leave bed. If you are feeling uncomfortable about the day ahead, spend a few minutes exploring the source of that discomfort. Is there something big happening today, or is this the general state of affairs? Is there something that is within your control to change, or does the change need to happen within you first? Don’t ask yourself for too much too early, but recognize that while you may be feeling resistance, you can still act. You can still get up, and get going, and as you do, the discomfort may dissipate, or shift, even without you forcefully pushing it away. We humans are really good at working ourselves up over things, and the anticipation of a challenge is often worse than the challenge itself.
Once you’re up and at ‘em, mindfully take note of your surroundings. Noticing even the smallest details in a room can immediately connect us to the present moment. Allow yourself to appreciate the softness of the rug, the aroma of the coffee, the chirping of the birds outside the window, which can add a little joy into those potentially rough first few minutes.
Another key to success here is the plan. Once you figure out what makes those early hours bearable, make it part of your routine. Between you and me, there are some mornings when the promise of coffee is the only thing that gets me out of bed, despite everything I said at the beginning of this post. But it’s part of my morning ritual, so it’s there for me every day. If one day it’s not, I will use my “mindfulness muscle” to breathe my way through that discomfort. We’re not creating crutches or new hurdles here. This is about setting up moments that make it easy for you to connect with yourself before heading out to save the world. Whatever your mission, putting yourself first for even just a few minutes will strengthen your ability to make choices, take actions and interact with others in ways that keep you connected to yourself, and your purpose, during the day ahead.
“The beginning is always today.” – Mary Shelley
Photo credit: Ryan McGuire/Gratisography