Successful entreprenuers Arianna Huffington, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates all have a morning routine.
But having a morning routine will not turn you into Arianna Huffington, Mark Zuckerberg, or Bill Gates.
Many try to copy the habits of successful people to become them, and it doesn’t work.
Habits and routines are a means to an end — nothing more.
You can adopt the habits of others — I encourage you to do so — but it’s important to understand why you need the habits and routines in the first place.
Let’s start by knocking out all the bad reasons to start a morning routine:
I’m not a morning person, yet I wake up at 5:30 (almost) every morning and go through my morning routine.
I have a full-time job, but I also write and have a side business. I’m married with a 20 month year old daughter. I have dreams, but I also have bills to pay and responsibilities.
I used to be able to write whenever I wanted to, but circumstances don’t allow for that anymore.
In my case, I was well into pursuing my dream, so I already had the motivation to adapt when my circumstances changed.
In your case, a morning routine can be beneficial for many reasons:
A morning routine gives you the opportunity to pursue something you’ve been putting off. Unless you work the graveyard shift, you can’t say you don’t have enough hours in the day. You could wake up early.
And, I know, after going to work and taking care of your kids and running errands and this and that, you have a right to sleep. It’s fair to say all your reasons for not wanting to wake up early are good ones.
But then what? I’ve found that moving forward in spite of a long list of perfectly justifiable excuses separates those who get what they want and those that don’t. In other words, tough shit.
Imagine you get to wake up and have your perfect day. You get to go to the job you love or the business you own, or you could stay at home and explore other activities because you don’t need to work that day.
Maybe you go for a morning run, have breakfast with your kids, head to your personal library to read and spend the day in the city.
Maybe you go to your workshop and paint, sculpt, or handcraft necklaces.
Don’t imagine yourself hopping on your private jet or boarding a yacht, be real. You have certain unmet goals and dreams — if you take the time to consider them they’re not hard to discover — and you probably have a good idea of what you really want from life.
Aside from these items, you have the fact you’re going to die before you get to becoming the person you’re both meant to be and want to be. When I want to hit the snooze button, I remind myself I only have this life to pursue my highest ideals.
If you want to pursue a morning routine, think in those terms. If you want to get fit, write a book, build a business, etc, the morning provides ample time. A goal or vision will help you wake up, not a vague sense of wanting to be more productive.
With my “why” as a background, you’ll see how my morning routine acts as a tool to improve my unique set of circumstances and move me closer to my goals.
This is important, because the next time you read a morning routine article about someone like Mark Zuckerberg, you’ll realize his routine is aligned to the needs of a billionaire running one of the most successful companies in the world. You might be able to adopt some of his habits, but you’ll adopt them for entirely different reasons.
Routines and habits can have universal value. Understanding this while removing the idea of a causal relationship between those habits and success itself gives you the perspective you need to use your routine as a means to an end instead of the end itself.
Now to the routine I’ve used to build the life I’m living now.
I meditate for 20 minutes every morning.
If you’re anything like me, your mind zig zags at high speeds all day long. You have a little bully living in your head trying to sabotage everything you do.
I’m only able to meditate — completely go blank and focus on my breathing — for seconds at a time. Once I hit the zone, I think to myself “I’m meditating!” which means I’m no longer in the zone. That’s okay.
Meditation shows you how ridiculous your thoughts are. It’s a way of observing your own thinking in a detached way.
From time to time I’m able to remind myself that my mind is a filthy liar, what I dread probably won’t happen, and my actions can take precedent over my doubts.
Meditation also gives me a creative edge.
Through authors like Cal Newport and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, I’ve explored the concepts of flow and deep work.
According to these authors, your best creative work comes from a state of concentrated, deliberate, and focused practice. Meditation puts me in the zone to focus for long periods of time.
I stole this idea from James Altucher and take no credit for it, but it’s one of the most useful exercises I’ve ever done.
According to James, if you don’t exercise your idea muscle, it will atrophy.
To keep his creative muscles continually flexed, he created a daily practice of writing down 10 ideas per day. The ideas can be about anything.
Here’s a picture of some of my “idea journals” and other note-taking devices:
Half of percent of 3650 is 18. If you can come up with 18 rock star ideas per year and execute just one of them, you can transform your life.
This exercise has helped me write books and successful articles. It’s solved problems in my personal life. It’s made me healthier.
The gap between idea and execution will always exist, but cultivating the habit of coming up with new ideas creates a motivation to follow through with them.
I saved the most important part of my routine for last. I spend an hour to an hour and a half writing every day.
Building a writing career takes dedication. It takes years to create the skill to match your taste. I wouldn’t say writing is hard as much as it’s time-consuming. Sometimes the words don’t come out right and you have to try and try again before they do. I need time to work and rework without interruption and the morning is the only time I can do that.
My writing isn’t the point. I discuss it because I want to highlight the fact that the bulk of my routine is spent working toward my purpose in life. I’m crystal clear on my writing aspirations, so it makes it easier to wake up early.
Until you have a great reason for getting up, you never will.
Life demands a lot from all of us. I understand you can’t dilly dally around all day chasing dreams when you have responsibilities to take care of, which is why morning routines can be so great.
I go through my normal day and the inevitable b.s. will occur — someone will cut me off in traffic, clients will be angry, I’ll have dumb errands I don’t want to run, my kid will be screaming because the sticker attached to her hand fell off — and by the end of the day I’ll be spent.
But I get the satisfaction in knowing I started my day doing what I enjoy. My morning routine gives me the permission to find meaning, income, and purpose right now.
I don’t have to wait until the kids go to college or when I have more free time or when the problems of life halt long enough for me to exhale.
If you find a purpose worth working toward, a morning routine gives you the opportunity to pursue it uninterrupted every day.
As a result of performing my morning routine over the past few years, I’ve been able to make a real leap in my writing career from where I started. I’ve been fortunate enough to sell thousands of copies of books and have my work read by hundreds of thousands of people. I used to just dream about writing. Now I’m doing it.
My meditation practice has made me much more level-headed than I used to be. I’m no zen master, but I’m able to pause to reflect on my thoughts and even change them from time to time.
I’ve come up with thousands of ideas and my idea muscle is strong. So much so I almost feel the fear of missing out because I can’t try them all at once. The practice has made me a better employee, writer, husband, father, you name it.
The caveat here? These are my results. I developed a morning routine, but I didn’t become a billionaire now did I?
I provided background on my routine to provide context. I suggest you create your own morning routine but go into it with the thought of how it will serve your specific needs.
Too often, people look to techniques and tricks to fix who they are. Habits and rituals give you skills and techniques to enhance who you are. The process of discovery it takes to uncover the real you is an entire process in and of itself.
If you take anything away from this post I hope it’s this — creating a practice isn’t just about results.
Try to hold this thought in your mind. You’re forever flawed and your practice will likely be a failure in the short run, but you’ll become much better for doing it in the long run.
Without knowing you, I can guess you have a dream you want to pursue — you either know it consciously or subconsciously.
If there’s one surefire way of removing your excuses to pursue it, it’s waking up early as hell.