I’ve been on a hunt for “personal productivity” for a big chunk of my life, looking for magical recipes against chronic procrastination and trying to waste as little time a day as possible. To be very frank, at times it would involve much more reading and thinking about HOW to reach this mystical productivity, rather than actually doing anything productive. This search for ways to manage as much a possible in a day without cutting on sleep and family time has led me to a topic of morning rituals. You don’t need to read lots of books about “secrets of success” to know that the first things you do in the morning are supposed to determine the rest of your day, how much you are going to achieve before the sunset and most importantly how you will feel about it. Famous people are being constantly bugged with a question “What is your morning routine” by other success-hungry souls, who hope to follow a clear roadmap to achieve what they want.

So was I. It’s human nature to start copying others when you have no idea what to do yourself – and as many successful copycats show it is not always a wrong strategy. A list of the most common morning rituals can be easily found and it barely exceeds one page in length. One after another I tried to follow them, fiercely pushing myself to the one and the only “right” thing to do first in the morning. But something went terribly wrong:

  • I tried to read a few pages of a book every morning – but I as a law student at that time I had to read a few hundred pages daily, and another few in the morning turned into nightmare.
  • I prepared daily a glass of water to drink the moment I woke up – but I lived in Berlin without proper heating, and the water would get so cold during the night, that the first reaction after drinking it was to shiver and get back to bed.
  • I banned myself from touching my phone in the morning – but at that time I was in a long-distance relationship with a 10 hour time difference, and morning was supposed to be the happiest time of the day.
  • I tried to write a daily plan immediately after waking up – but I would start feeling overwhelmed starting my day with thoughts of all the commitments ahead before even brushing my teeth.
  • I tried to run for one hour in the mornings – but the only use of this exercise was to understand that running is the form of physical activity that doesn’t suit me.

I wasn’t managing to follow the chosen rituals and it would put me off even more for the rest of the day. In desperation, I started digging for types of routines famous people used to follow in the mornings, trying to find information beyond entrepreneurial blogs and motivational literature. To my surprise, the routines of many great people from previous centuries were far from what a modern internet crowd would consider viable:

Mozart spent one hour on dressing only, Tschaikowski started his day with going through correspondence, Balzac napped in the morning (because he worked throughout nights and afternoons) and Fitzerald’s mornings were mostly spent on fighting hangover. No, my point is not that it is the right thing to start your day with a cigarette and a hungover. My point is different – there is no universal recipe. 

Trying to do what others were doing I failed to understand that I already had foundation for my morning rituals in my existing habits and instead of completely breaking them, I just had to build on what already was there. Moreover, I had to build new habits slowly, making baby steps. These two very simple principles are among some other well-known methodologies which are not meant for morning rituals only, but are useful for general change of habits, if it is something you are after. All of them are not universal, because in the end of the day we need to find what works for us personally:

  1. Habits stacking – a methodology which helps you build new good habits, by “stacking” them on top of old ones.
  2. Use of “triggers”– to change your habits and behavioral traits you should understand what triggers them. If you understand a trigger – you can either avoid it or use it to your advantage.
  3. Habits tracking – to be able to follow any of the first two methodologies, you need to observe yourself and your habits carefully, see your natural behavioral traits and record them.
  4. Peer pressure – you can find an “accountability partner” which will make sure that you are following your new routine, until it becomes a natural bahavior.
  5. Take “baby steps” – start with very small habits, which take just a few minutes. When I was trying to establish my morning rituals, I would blame myself if I couldn’t do one hour of exercise at once. It was the best killer for motivation and stopped exercising all together. If you want to start exercising in the morning – start with 5 minutes only, and then the time will extend naturally, slowly.
  6. Put yourself in a situation where you have no choice, but to follow your new habits – eliminate any decision-taking in the morning. The best example are known habits of Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs to wear the very same clothes every morning.
  7. Create the right environment – we tend to ignore our physical condition trying to achieve productivity and change our habits. Letting enough daylight into your room, making sure that you are not hungry and that you slept in can be those missing ingredients for your right habits at the right time.

But there is one methodology (or call it a  golden rule) which you will not find in any of the books. It seems so simple and obvious, but it is the main rule that we tend to forget about.

You have to start your day with something that makes you feel happy. Very happy.

The main secret I discovered for the right start of the day and an easy morning rise – is to have something to be looking forward to. Remember that feeling, when you are a kid and you have your birthday the next day, and you really want to fall asleep as soon as possible, so that you can wake up as soon as possible and enjoy everything the day has for you to its fullest? Surely, not every day is a birthday. But it is in our power to start our days with something we enjoy and really look forward too – and it can be extremely simple. Now, my day starts with a great cup of coffee in a company of my husband and an hour-long yoga routine, which started as a 10 minute stretching session just a year ago. Most likely, you do have some great morning rituals already, too.

If you are interested in reading more about morning rituals, habits and ways to change them, here is a short reading list for you:

 – Hal Elrod, The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM)

 – S.J. Scott, Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less

 – Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

 – Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

 – Matthew Kelly, The Rhythm of Life

 – Mason Currey, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

 – Barrie Devenport, Sticky Habits: 6 Simple Steps to Create Good Habits Stick

 – Stephen Guise, Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results (Volume 1)

 – Jocelyn K. Glei, Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (The 99U Book Series)

 – Lawrence Epstein, The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep (Harvard Medical School Guides)