Lately, I keep seeing many articles on morning routines and how they will make you more successful. You just need to keep to the schedule in these articles and you will be a better version of you in no time.
While I sincerely believe in many of the principles in these articles and try my best to practice them, I want to take a bit different take on this topic.
Your plans of changing yourself will constantly change and you need to be ready to face pain and frustrations on the way to achieving your goals.
Life and nature are diverse. Having routines is important for long-lasting health and reduced stress. At the same time, change and adaptability are also key components.
Bellow, I’ll share what works well for me in my daily life and how it impacts me.
The usual success tips for becoming better human
People who are on their way to become “super humans” follow these principles at least according to many sources. :) I am still just experimenting to see what will happen.
1. Figure out your priorities!
You have only 168 hours per week. Use them wisely! Know your objectives, organize them and be ready to adapt to the changing flow if you want to achieve them.
2. Sleep well, allow yourself all the 3 REM cycles each night!
Sleep dept is like rust for a machine, it will eat you up until it breaks you.
Unfortunately, you can’t repay the dept with sleeping 12h–16h one day of the week. It simply doesn’t work like that. Many sources point that 7h-8h sleep per night is the magic number. Just, try to really listen to your body and give it a rest if it needs more.
Take in consideration, that if you are suffering from sleep deprivation, usually it takes around 2 weeks of 7h-8h sleep to fully recover and get all the benefits from a well rested body. The last cycle each night is the most important so try not to cut your sleep short. Go to bed earlier and stay away from blue light in the evenings. Most modern display devices have functionality to reduce the blue light “ Night mode” so try using that as much as possible.
3. Move that body!
Movement brings life to the body and mind. Preferably, do the moving in the morning so it can set you for success during the day. Go to the gym, do sports, yoga, anything that is challenging your physical and mental self to adapt and be better than the last time. Anything that gives your muscles and body a moderate stress is good for you.
4. Eat diverse and healthy!
Eat good food. This mean diverse food. Eat less refined sugars, more veggies, healthy fats, fermented foods and moderate amount of protein. Cook your own food, it can teach you a lot about life itself. It will make you respect food and waste less of it.
Remember, we become what we eat and drink. Our digestive system is like the root system of a tree/plant. If the system is compromised then the tree/plant will stop growing or even die.
If you want to blossom and bare good fruits that the world can enjoy, make sure your root system is happy and healthy!
5. Do the important and hard work first!
You have limited amount of mental and willpower energy. I wish it was like fusion reactor, but it is not! This means, your “battery” drains at a similar rate as your smartphone battery. The more you use it the less will power you will have to do your daily tasks. Then you need to get you 7h–8h recharging cycle.
6. Be aware of your emotions, thoughts and surroundings!
Mindfulness, is super important especially with all the distractions of today’s life. There are many ways to achieve it and maintain it. Meditation and all its variations (active, focused, passive, etc) are one of the tested methods to train your awareness. Just spent time alone with your thoughts and be patient. The positive effect will show up quicker than you think.
7. Create stuff you love!
Humans in general, find satisfaction in influencing the world around us. Just observe how satisfied babies are, when they manage to change their surroundings through their action (e.g. painting a wall).
Creating stuff bring good feelings and emotions into our inner world. It potentially can solve a problem and actually change the world for better. Use some of your time to create stuff that brings you joy!
8. Lifelong learning is a must
Constant learning is a must in today's world. Best way of learning is by doing stuff so if you are doing all the top points you probably already are practicing lifelong learning.
Other ways to tap into the vast accumulated knowledge is to absorb information from books and good scientific places on the WWW. Books are distilled from hundreds if not thousands hours of research, reflection and labor. For a small price you can have access to this knowledge and remix it with your own. Wonderful, isn’t it!
Courses, lectures, meetups and purely communicating with other lifelong learners also is a important to keep your brain functioning properly for long years.
9. Be happy and play
All the things above become meaningless if you don’t achieve happiness and you can’t find time to play. By playing I mean finding time to enjoy activities with your close ones. This can take many forms, computer/ board games, movies, stand-up comedies, hiking and camping, just gathering together and having some hygge.
Ironically, people tent to believe happiness is a final distant goal. The fact is, that it is and it is not! Hah, again Paradox! It is true that you can become happy when you reach your goal, but at the same time many small chunks of happiness are hidden on your way to there. It is just a matter of you opening your eyes and trying to find them.
10. Balance and repeat
Balance all these activities every week and repeat. Then you just need around 10,000 hours and you will become a master of it. Maybe if you do it with mindful deliberate practice you could achieve it in less time.
Now lets see what are some of the learning from my journey on improving myself.
Reality is complex and beautiful
“To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.”
— Edmund Burke
Practicing and incorporating new routines in my schedule. Then spent some time reflecting, adjust and then repeat. That’s what I did, after each article/book I read about self-improvement. … I actually, still do that. It is a journey. Remember, constant adaptation and change is the key to success.
I experienced one small problem from all these articles and tips. They seem to be targeted at people, who live alone and are either freelancers or work something that leaves relatively big chunk of disposable time each day.
Don’t get me wrong, still most people can apply these principles. If you have a lot on your plate you just need to have the right expectations. Things won’t go that smoothly as the articles/books describe. It will be a pain! Mental, emotional and physical pain at times.
That’s fine! It is part of the fun journey. Experiencing all these colors and emotions makes life so beautiful.
Once you start introducing more variables to the equation, things quickly get progressively more complex.
Just imagine, having a partner that you share majority of your life with. Add communication with different people/friends at different times of the day, meetings at work. Necessary disruptions that shatter your focus, while you are executing important task. Kids, dogs, cats and more. …
Oh! Wait, I forgot the weather, air quality and all the environmental impact you are experiencing every day. I live in Denmark and we really appreciate when we have sunny days! :)
All these are things you have less to no control over. The paradox is that this chaos and symphony of randomness makes up the beauty of life. It gives you all this wonderful diversity.
All we need to do is to apply the above principles to the best of our capabilities and still be flexible to change daily.
The impact I’ve noticed so far
“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”
— Napoleon Hill
Focus that can cut the problems
I would argue, that the first point “ Set your priorities!” is the most important point. If nothing else, just do that one and I promise you that you will improve many aspects of your life.
As a person, I tend to be very easily distracted by wanting to learn and achieve new things frequently. This usually results of just dropping things half way when I loose interest. Not the best quality ever, but it’s OK as long as I work on changing it.
Setting my priorities, and actually writing them down in OneNote (a free tool that I use for note taking purposes) has had super effect on me executing the principles. I wrote my goals as a table where I have Objectives and set of Action points and Measurable results for each objective. This might sound familiar to some of you, it is inspired by the OKR method for businesses.
Let me tell you that this has been working very well so far. I’ve been trying it for more than 3 years and it still evolves to suit my needs. The new addition is adding a column with skills I need to acquire to achieve my goals.
The point is to make your list reach your subconscious brain. Then things will start happening, you might even thing it’s magic, but it’s not! It’s your wonderful mind finding the most optimal way of achieving the goals.
Tip: Make sure you check this list at least once a week! If you are bad at remembering it as me, just set a reminder.
Programming my mind to wake up early
This one was a serious pain in the ass for me! I’ve managed to make it work only in the recent 4 months. Of course, you can use your alarm clock. But if you are waking up around 6 am or 5 am, it might feel like someone smacked you with a shovel on the face. Especially, when outside is full darkness.
Most of our decisions are made on subconscious level and then the consciousnesses goes for the ride. Here is how to program yourself. Combine emotion generated from your objectives list with a bit of logical thinking.
Remember the time when you were afraid not to be late for that presentation early in the morning. It made you wake up few times during the night without any alarm. The same principle works with daily waking up early in the morning. It is possible to set you internal clock alarm to wake you around specific time e.g. between 5 am — 6 am.
What I do is intentionally thinking of when I want to wake up so I can reach my goal. Of course, I still have my phone alarm as backup. The programming seems to work quite good and often, especially if I am grabbing my 7–8 h of sleep.
However, I still fight the problem of waking up 15–20 min before my alarm clock and saying “Ah, I can sleep a bit more till the alarm goes off” and then I get the shovel smack.
Tip: Spent 1–2 min in the evening accepting mentally and emotionally that you will wake up at the time you want.
Keeping healthy body and mind
Following the principles of getting healthier, stronger and more mindful, seem to work relatively smooth for me. Especially, when I attached them to the habit of early waking up. Attaching new habits to more matured ones is a key trick of making your life easier.
“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”
― Samuel Johnson
Why I chose to go early to the gym (might be useful to convince yourself):
1. My brain is not that awake so I can’t make excuses not to go. In comparison to after work hours, when I can forge the most brilliant excuses not to be active.
2. The gym is almost empty early in the morning. It feels nicer with fresh air and space to move around without waiting for other people to finish their sets or selfies.
If you are curious, here is my usual daily routine for the last 4 months.
Wake up around 6 am. Commute to the gym (3 times per week) and listen to Audible (usually lectures from “The Great Courses” ). Train as intense as I feel, depending on my energy level. Go to the Office and eat good breakfast ( usually oats, nuts and skyr), drink coffee or a nice green tea. Work, eat, work, work…
… in the evening hours after 6 pm I am trying to spent at least 20 min reading a book and at least 15 min watching online course related to a skill I want to acquire. I am also aiming to meditate at least 10 min per day ( it might happen in different times of the day). Two times a week instead of the gym I go to my Aikido practice.
Of course, there are days where all things go down the drain. Other days things are just going slow and you feel like giving up and demotivated. Even frustrated if you have difficult time with solving a problem.
In the end, it is important the next day to continue from where you left off. All this invested effort, impacts not only the physical but also the mental state and slowly increases the will power resources you have. In return, this increases the capacity to take on more.
Tip: Connect your new habits to your already established ones. In the end you will make a whole chain of productive habits. We become what we repeatedly do.
Enjoy the journey and the results
Working out and pushing yourself to become better than yesterday is damn exhausting activity. It can burn you out super quickly!
That’s where social contacts, having fun time and doing what you love comes. I am very fortunate to have a job I enjoy doing every day and very understanding, and clever people around me. This makes everything I do easier and more enjoyable.
Improving ourselves everyday is important, but only if we are having fun and enjoy the process. That’s what matters the most in my opinion. If you feel happiness of what you’re doing and the results you are achieving, you will want more of that.
Experiencing that happiness of the journey and achieving your objectives will push you to repeat the whole thing over and over again.
My struggle to better self continues…
Procrastination, is a nasty monster that is hard to destroy! I am still working on figuring out an efficient way of starting with the most difficult tasks first instead of spending time on the easier stuff.
Some people would say “Just Do It!”. In theory is that simple, but in practice our brains usually think of achieving things that will spend less energy so we are quite good at convincing ourselves of doing the easier stuff first.
Currently, I am trying an approach I call “Opportunity cost evaluation”. It is inspired by economics. The idea is to evaluate everything I want to do and decide, which opportunity cost I should pay with my time and energy.
Example: I have two choices of doing two different tasks in the same time frame. I need to choose how to use my limited time. By putting my mind to work and thinking of the consequences of each option and the impact it has, I can evaluate where my time and effort will be better spent.
For now, this method seems as good way to battle procrastination. It gets me started. It helps me think of the opportunity instead of the obligation. Once you shift your mind to think about the opportunity you can tap into huge amounts of emotional and will energy. It can propel you forward.
The other struggle, I am facing is rediscovering my stupidity. The more I learn about different topics, the more I realize how much I don’t know. This gives birth to very mixed emotions of frustration and excitement at the same time.
Just imagine, all these hours of learning and practicing new skills and in the end you discover so much new stuff that you still need to learn. It makes you feel like you know nothing. Damn universe, why is it expanding so fast!?!
I guess this is part of the journey, all these emotions serve as good fuel to push myself further and learn new stuff.
To sum up, make sure to clear your mind and set up your objectives. Find out what you really want to do with your time. Make a short plan of what you need to do to get there and how you are going to measure your progress.
Keep your physical and mental health by moving your body and challenging yourself with new experiences.
Create as much as possible and focus on things that cause positive emotion in you. Appreciate the people around you because they will keep you sane and away from burn out. Give away what you can so there will be free space to receive what others are giving.
Go achieve whatever you want and change the world to be a better place! It will take time.
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