Eating the same oatmeal every morning that Bill Gates does is not going to make you a billionaire. And even if the Dalai Lama started every day with a double bourbon and unfiltered Marlboros, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be your personal path to eternal wisdom.
We do know morning is a special time. Research shows your mood when you wake up affects how you feel the entire day — and how productive you are. And we know rituals are powerful. Used properly, they have been shown to increase happiness, reduce procrastination, and boost confidence as well as performance.
So what’s the best morning ritual for you? I’ll be honest …
I have no idea.
I mean, really, how the heck would I? (We don’t hang out much. You haven’t invited me over in weeks.) There are some things that work well for most people. I’ve written about general morning routines for happiness, productivity, and wisdom.
But the problem here is that we all have different goals, different moods, and different idiosyncrasies that can drastically affect how impactful any system will be. So this here suit needs to be tailored. Rather than just giving you off-the-rack answers, what follows is going to be more like a DIY kit.
So where do we start? Big picture. What is the point of a morning ritual?
1, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast
Laura Vanderkam interviewed a lot of successful people asking the question: what should you really be doing during your morning ritual? The answer is going to sound a little crazy at first …
You should be doing stuff that does not need to happen today. Or any particular day.
Can you put off today’s workout and still be in shape? Sure. If you don’t see your family today will your relationships suddenly burn to the ground? Nope. Do your big plans for the future have to made by 5 PM? Of course not.
None of these things are time-sensitive but they’re all vital to living the best life you can. But because they don’t have to be done now, often they get done never.
Laura says the best morning rituals are about nurturing; nurturing one of three fundamental areas of life:
- Nurturing your career: Making long-term plans. Building skills. Looking beyond today’s chores.
- Nurturing your relationships: Making plans for your family. Hugging your family.
- Nurturing your self: Exercise. Meditation. Improving yourself by reading amazing posts on that blog with the unpronounceable URL.
What do I like about this book? (So kind of you to ask.) Not only does Laura give clear focus to what a morning ritual should do, she also provides 5 steps for implementation. She explains how to get it up and running, and how to make sure it evolves as you do.
Check it out here.
Alright, we have the 10,000-foot view. But we need somewhere to start. What is this beast really going to look like and what will it entail? To meet this challenge we’re going to use the same time-tested technique that got me admitted to an Ivy League university …
Copying answers off the smartest kid in class.
Seriously, we’re going to look at the specific routines of some very successful people …
2. My Morning Routine
Spall and Xander talked to everyone from military generals to Olympic athletes to the head of Pixar. They provide not only the routines of each but also a clear breakdown of the consistent trends they found in their 64 interviews.
As the authors say: “What we discovered as we got deeper into the process of interviewing people about their morning routines is that almost none of the world’s best and brightest leave their mornings to chance.”
What do I really like about this book? Reading the perfect “platonic form” versions of a morning ritual is nice but life is rarely that simple. Things get complicated. Plans go wrong. What do you do then?
So the authors made sure to ask their subjects some very realistic questions like, “How does your routine vary when you travel? How does your partner help, hinder or affect it?” And if you don’t ask yourself some of the same hard, near-cynical questions about the realities of your morning routine then I hope you like Disney vacations — because you’re living in Fantasyland.
Check it out here.
Okay, we have a big picture view and solid examples to work from. But maybe you’re a “go big or go home” kinda person. That’s my style too. Looking at the successful people of today is fine and dandy but let’s also take a gander at what the greatest of all time did in the morning…
3. Daily Rituals
Mozart. Freud. Picasso. Tesla. And a lot of other people so famous that I only have to mention their last name for you to know who I mean. How did they start the day?
This book is a nice complement to “My Morning Routine.” It’s less rigid and specific, doesn’t get mired in modern problems like email overload and spends more time discussing those idiosyncratic factors that helped the greats be at their best — even if those things made no sense to anyone else.
Ben Franklin’s morning ritual involved taking what he called an “air bath.” That’s what you and I call “sitting around naked.” Not for everybody, granted, but we all do silly things that inexplicably just “work” for us. And this book tells you that’s not only okay, but it might even lead to greatness.
What do I like about this book? Actually, I don’t like this book — I love it. It’s inspiring. I may not opt to smoke 20 cigars a day like Freud, but it’s good to know the titans weren’t all perfect, smoothly functioning machines. History’s geniuses were weird. And, frankly, I find that soothing.
Check it out here.
Alright, we know what a morning ritual is and have examples from modern successes and history’s geniuses. That’s enough to fashion a great, tailored method for starting the day, right?
But then you get to work and everything goes to hell. That morning routine wasn’t the beginning of a master plan, it was a transient exception to the chaos that is your day.
So how do we transition from a morning ritual into a meaningful, productive workday?
4. Deep Work
Rituals shouldn’t stop once the morning is over. Georgetown professor Cal Newport spells out six that will help you get focused on doing the things that really move the needle.
What do I like about this book? It brings us full circle. Cal not only covers what it takes to maximize focus during the day, but he also includes one more vital routine: “the shutdown ritual.” It’s the flip side of the morning ritual, making sure you’re able to power down and relax at night.
Check it out here.
Okay, you have your DIY morning ritual kit. Let’s round it all up and learn about one more book that you might consider the “prequel” to everything we’ve discussed so far …
Here are 4 books that will show you how to create the best morning ritual:
- What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: Covers what a morning routine is, what its focus should be and how to design the fundamentals.
- My Morning Routine: Lotsa lotsa smart rituals from super successful people. Tweak as necessary, add salt to taste.
- Daily Rituals: The routines from the creative titans of history. Read it and be inspired… just don’t be inspired to smoke 20 cigars a day.
- Deep Work: How to not totally blow it when you make the transition from morning ritual to the maelstrom that is daily life.
A morning ritual is a powerful tool. But it’s just that — a tool. If you don’t know what you’re building, what you’re nurturing, where you’re headed … um, what’s the point?
What is your definition of a successful life? And what does it really take to achieve it out there in the big bad world? Which leads us to our bonus book…
Hey, whaddya know, the guy who wrote it — that’s me. I looked at the research to dispel a lot of the myths we’ve been told about a successful life. And we’ve been told a lot of myths.
To be happy, to get where we wanna go, we need to know what really produces success — in our work and our personal lives. Without those answers, a morning ritual is an empty ritual. It needs to be in service of something to be useful. And we need to know what’s truly effective.
Check it out here.
When you know what you want and what will actually get you there, you can start the day with a routine that clears your mind and nurtures your goals. And then the path ahead comes into focus.
The volume gets turned down on the distractions life throws at you. You stop reacting and start determining. You go from defense to offense.
You seize the day. You don’t let the day seize you.
Join over 320,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.
More from Ladders
- 8 morning habits of the least successful people
- You make or break your life between 5-7 a.m.
- This 10-minute routine will increase your memory and creativity
- I’m a neurosurgeon, and the best morning routine I’ve found only consists of 3 simple steps
- A look at the daily routine of Benjamin Franklin, who didn’t always follow his own ‘early to bed, early to rise’ advice