There are some work days where everything clicks: you filter through your emails, you perform your best in every meeting and your ideas are free-flowing. Other days though? You start the a.m. with spilled coffee during your commute and end it with a passive-aggressive email from your manager. No matter which side of the bed you wake up on, your employer or your clients still expect you to be amped with your best brilliance.
One way to ensure your daily genius is to rethink your morning rituals, according to registered dietitian and professor Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FAND. “The early morning is a time of habit. We all habituate, but that doesn’t mean our routine couldn’t stand some improving. Creativity is not all spontaneous — it’s like anything else — it needs some prep,” he explains. “Think about the things that make you more creative, or at least up your chances for being inspired and make those part of your daily routine.”
From what happens within the first hour after your alarm clock sounds to what you do right before you lock your front door, try these wellness hacks to boost your creativity, ASAP:
Go to bed earlier
Be honest, how many bargains do you make with yourself to rationalize ‘just one more’ Netflix episode? Maybe you decide you’ll skip breakfast, you’ll catch up on sleep on the weekend or you’ll cancel that 8 a.m. conference call. All professionals struggle with bedtime, but Ayoob says it should be more of a priority, since your level of rest directly impacts your brain. Because fatigue impedes your ability to perform, Ayoob suggests adding another hour of sleep so you can reap at least seven hours of sleep. Eight, of course, is preferred. While European and South American executives may argue, another way to attract the sandman for a restful evening is to avoid a late dinner. “While your stomach doesn’t have to be empty, but sleeping after a large meal is never a good plan for sleeping well,” he explains.
Live by the RPM mantra
No, you don’t need to study up on mechanics 101 to feel inspired in the morning, but rather, do what you usually do … with intent. As mindfulness teacher Shelly Tygielski recommends, the ‘RPM’ mantra is simple: rise, pee, meditate. Since your bladder can be a distraction, take the five seconds to relieve yourself before settling into energy-boosting meditation. “While we may be tired, early mornings are the best time to give our brains a workout and take advantage of the fact that prefrontal cortex is the most active at this time of the day. This area of the brain is correlated to the creativity, divergent thinking and problem solving,” she explains.
For the first hour, don’t do anything
If the idea of sitting pretty in your bed, staring at the ceiling and combing through your to-do list gives you anxiety, don’t sweat. By having an hour to ‘just be’ certificated coach and motivational speaker Karen Eldad you give your noggin’ another hour of rest as you engage in activities that bring you joy. Whether this is meditating, drinking coffee, wandering around your home in a bathrobe, eating a healthy breakfast, having sex or playing feel-good music, this is your 60 minutes of freedom before the chaos of the work begins. “It is your day, the most important thing you can do is align and start it off happy as a human being,” she says.
Avoid your iPhone
Of all the activities you choose to do in that hour of freedom, make sure you don’t use it scrolling through Instagram or paging through emails. As Eldad says, if your first experience of the day is adding more pressure and stress to your psyche, your creativity will be stunted immediately. In addition to the sense of anxiety and overwhelm that will flood over you, your mindset also shifts to prioritizing the needs of others over your own. This doesn’t allow you space — or the permission — you need to explore your visions and exercise your talent. “The big key to your success lies in serving yourself first, and in clear boundaries around your time. Go get ’em,” she adds.
Shy away from any sort of composition assignment? Can’t seem to formulate sentences that effortlessly string together or follow proper grammar or spelling fundamentals? Life coach Rachel DeAlto says far too many people are hyper-critical about their writing abilities, causing them to avoid this recommended A.M. practice. “Not only are morning pages amazing for stress relief, but they may lead to creative ideas on their own. Wake up and simply write. Pay no attention to structure — just write. Letting it flow before the day gets in the way has been shown to release anxiety but also spur some inspirational thoughts,” she shares.
Tygielski calls this a ‘stream of consciousness’ practice, that allows you to deplete your mind of anything that’s harboring or brewing and turn it into useful content. “Sometimes what may seem like random thoughts to us actually formulate great ideas. This is a process used by a lot of musicians when they write song lyrics—being ‘free’ enough to release anything that is on your mind without being attached to it or judging it allows us to really examine the contents of our mind, and sometimes we even surprise ourselves,” she says.
Head out for a walk
Before you blame your lack of vitamin D on seasonality, remember even the sunshine that hides behind the snow clouds is beneficial for your psyche, your lungs, and your overall wellbeing. As Tygielski says, a short, brisk walk or sitting near the window facing outside is not only an easy habit to form but a rewarding one. “Just being in the sun helps us stimulate neurotransmitters that arouse our brain. And believe it or not, the more we are exposed to sunlight, the more we produce melatonin – which is a natural hormone associated with sleep — which is helpful in determining how restful our sleep with be at the end of the day,” she explains.
Plan your day
Once you’ve had your hour of ‘me time’, it’s helpful to map out your day. Because professionals can easily be overpowered by a mounting list of responsibilities, setting your priorities allows you to maximize more minutes for creative pursuits. Eldad follows a specific method that helps her maintain focus. To begin, dedicate the first chunk of the day to the biggest task—the one that makes her cringe the most at the thought. Though you might procrastinate this deliverable, she explains it’s better to knock it out first-thing because your energy levels are the highest, as it allows you to release the pestering anxiety and make room for more enjoyable tasks. Afterward, tackle the urgent items, where people are waiting on your reply. Lastly? Go to the easy and fun stuff that allows you creative liberties.