February 28, 2011

Morning Routines and Cultivating New Habits

When I read Seth Godin's quote, "You don't need more time, you just need to decide," it struck a nerve. Reminding myself that I have choices about how I spend my time seems pretty elementary, but like so many other "simple" things, they're tougher in the doing than in the contemplation.
Recently, after months of trying to figure out how to cram 48 hours of activity into 24, I decided to take Seth's advice. I can't give myself more time, but I can choose to re-shuffle the time I have so that it serves me better. These days, I'm starting my day between 6:15 and 6:30 every morning. It's about an hour earlier than my usual wake-up time.

Since the extra morning time has to come from somewhere, I'm going to bed earlier: 10:30 (10:00 would be better); lights out by 11:00. So much for the days, long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, when I'd head out with friends at midnight, hit the pillow at 4 am, and be up at 8 for breakfast.

I'm a morning person. I have my best energy in the morning, and I start losing steam in late afternoon. So I know that if I want to get something important done, anything that requires active brain cells, I have to do it in the morning. And there are some things that won't get done at all unless I get to them before my "regular" day starts, which, depending on the day of the week, is usually 8 or 9 am.

These days, my early morning list is all about Morning Pages, meditation, and reading.

I've written Morning Pages on and off over the years. I've found them most useful when I'm trying to think things through, whether it's a specific project or a broader free-floating issue. There's something therapeutic --and freakily effective-- about hitting the Pages with a fresh mind, before it's been assaulted by all those pesky thoughts about the dreaded looming deadline you keep putting off or about taking the car in for an oil change.

Next, I'm aiming for 10 minutes of meditation. I'm a beginner, and this seems the right amount of time for now. And, didn't ya know, there's an app for that! Yoga Moment for Android (I use the Lite version, which is free). Streaming the soothing music from my phone is a pretty simple operation and helps block out distractions.

Reading is the other activity that I've added to my start-of-day agenda. It's hard to find uninterrupted reading time during the day, and the reading I do at night in bed doesn't completely satisfy my reading jones. I love the total absorption of my morning reading, and this aspect has a lot in common with my meditation and Morning Pages. I read between 20-40 pages in a sitting, depending on my schedule that day.

I alternate activities, since I usually don't have time for all three. Some days it's Morning pages and meditation, others it's meditation and reading, sometimes I choose just one.

I'll admit that when I woke up yesterday, Sunday, I wasn't sure at first whether it was Sunday or Monday. It seemed a way-too-early wake-up time for a weekend.  I did get up, but maybe at some point I'll reconsider rules for the weekend. For now, 'though, while I'm setting the habit, I'm going for that 21-day streak.*

Frankly, it's easier to get up earlier than I thought it would be. I didn't say it was EASY, mind you, but EASI-ER.  I think it's because I don't think about it. I just get up, as if don't have a choice. One thing I wasn't expecting is how good I feel once I've stumbled into the kitchen to make my protein shake. Not actually waking up, mind you. That doesn't feel particularly good -- yet.

I think what's happening is that I'm looking forward to how I'll feel once I get started writing/meditating/reading. The pleasure I get from these is a continuing delight. It's joined by the pleasure I feel by honoring myself with time to myself.

It's been two weeks. Enough time to feel hopeful, not enough to see it as a sure thing. I'm focusing on the former, and I'll keep you posted.

So...any advice on sticking with good habits?

 *The identification of this phenomenom is attributed to Dr. Maxwell Maltz, who wrote about it in the late 60s in his best-seller, Psycho-Cybernetics. While working as a plastic surgeon, Maltz observed that it took 21 days for amputees to stop sensing phantom feelings in their amputated limbs. In further research into how the brain works, he found that our brains do not accept new data for a change of habit unless these data are repeated for 21 days in a row. That it takes 21 days to establish a new habit has become an accepted theory since then.


  1. Clara, I'm a morning person too and now that the days are growing longer and there is decent light at 6 AM, I'm shooting for getting up then. In the winter when it's so dark have difficulty getting out of bed. My morning rountine is walking the dogs to early morning bird song, then a more serious power walk, stretching and meditation for at least 20 minutes. I try to make time for reading and writing every day. Those are things are on my Must Do list and they keep me sane. If I don't do them there is usually hell to pay. I get very grouchy!! I'm anxious to see if the 21 day thing works for you!


  2. I'm impressed, Joan! Right now I have 8 am classes three days a week, so those are my keep-it-simple days. That may change next semester. I love the days when I can luxuriate a little longer in my early morning time. And I love the idea of a Must Do list!

  3. Look I found you two. I am absolutely no help in your pursuit of any kind of list. I wake up when I wake up and go to bed when I am tired and every morning I draw a heart in the middle of my note book for the day and ask "what is the path of my heart today." From that I create or find, from somewhere a focus, today is 'fondness' and I just keep that in mind for the day. I also from my heart drawing, using the heart like a brain map, design what I want to play with for the day. I suspect I have no perfection in my world, that is okay with me. I do have many major coincidences and mistakes that turn into what we call artplay around here. How fun to be with you.