Medical student / Blogger
· 6 min read
Morning habits are widely suggested among psychologists, entrepreneurs, writers and many successful people. They can be beneficial when it comes to starting your day on the right track, set the tone and nail it. This article discusses its effects and provides examples of the ones I think are best and that I do regularly. Some may work for you, some may not. It's essential to try them out, adjust them or perhaps not even start them. Find out what best fits you, start implementing it and stick to it to see its effects. I recently came across a great podcast featuring Ramit Sethi, who is currently one of my favourite authors. He thinks that morning habits are overrated and scrolls Instagram every morning and is just as successful as some entrepreneurs that are much more strict when it comes to their morning habits. Like for example Tim Ferriss, the host of the mentioned podcast, is a burning advocate of morning habits. Yet another proof that you alone should determine how beneficial they are to you.
The way you start your morning largely determines the tone of your whole day. A good start is always beneficial. In a basketball game, a great start will lift the team's morale, give it some momentum and allow them (give them a reason) to be confident in their performance. It gives them an edge over the competition since the tempo is now set and controlled by them. The competition in the morning, however, is usually yourself. You're effectively competing against activities that do the opposite for you, whatever that may be. Of course, a good start never determines a victory or a loss, just as a good morning never fully determines the tone of your day. However, it helps substantially and that's what it's important to keep in mind.
Having an established morning routine helps you compensate for whatever didn't go as planned and puts you back on track. If your morning routine is focused on waking you up it will substantially help you cope with whatever the situation. One of the physiological reasons behind this is that your brain has a peak in functioning (also called "natural peak productivity") during the first 60 to 90 minutes (2 hours at most) after you wake up . The idea is that we should spend the best functioning period of our day on ourselves. There's nothing wrong with doing things for fun and relaxation, what's not optimal is the period in which we do them. That's why I think it's much better to spend those 90 minutes on learning and personal development.
The morning usually defines your whole day, but what defines the morning? Or should I rather say, when is the morning defined? The answer can be the evening or the day before, but ideally, it's a habit that you have to define only once. Figuring out your morning routine that gets you started may be the key, but making it a habit is just as essential. The environment and how you set it up in advance can have a huge impact on your routine. Keep in mind, however, that the environment can have consequences in both ways, good and bad. As much as it's beneficial to determine your best morning routine and habits, it's equally important to identify the ones that break your day. This requires some time and experimentation, but if you know that certain activities are bad for your whole day, you shouldn't do it.
Speaking of which, I'm sure you've heard stories about people (usually entrepreneurs) waking up at crazy times such as 4 a.m. I haven't tried it yet, but it just may be beneficial if you think about it. This still gives you your 90 minutes of peak brain performance, but before anyone else, which allows you to peacefully, by passively removing all distractions, achieve what you want. Of course, waking up at such crazy times is of little help if you get too little sleep. I'm sure those entrepreneurs were able to wake up at such times, but only after a good night's sleep. However, I don't believe waking up early or late determines the type of the day you're going to have. It again comes down to each individual and their routines.
One of the ways to start your morning is reading books. Reading is one of the ways to take advantage of the peak brain functioning in the first minutes after waking up. In general, it does many beneficial things to us and our brain. The information that we absorb in the form of words when reading, our brain has to actively process what we read. It has to connect together all the words in a logical structure and produce a narrative. This is also where imagination plays a key part. All of this requires maximum concentration, a lot more of it when you compare it to, for example, movies. The brain also has time to interpret all of the information in a much more ordered way. Again, comparing to movies, where there is too much information and too little time to interpret it all to the extent of books. All of this makes books and reading awesome tools for the development of our thinking, concentration and knowledge. Adding even more to the argument that we should read during the time we're at our peaks. 
The second idea that a lot of people practice is journaling. A daily journal, whether in the morning or in the evening can provide some benefits worth thinking about. Number one is sharpening your memory. This means it stimulates you to search for whatever feelings, events and wishes that you exerted or exert. Number two, it provides you with proof of your progress. You can look back and clearly see your mood, your activities and your feelings thus allowing you to focus on the process instead of the goal.  A great way, that sometimes also works for me, is the so called Five Minute Daily Journal. The idea behind it is that each morning you write down 1) three things you are grateful for, 2) three things that would make your day great, and 3) three daily affirmations about yourself. In the evening you then reflect on how your day went by writing down three amazing things that happened to you and three that you could've done better that day. That's it and it can do a lot for you, especially mentally, bringing you positivity, optimism and reflection. This is a scientifically proven technique to a more positive way of thinking.  Want one?
Meditating for a few minutes or just practising mindfulness is also one way to start off your morning. Its numerous benefits would make this article too long. The first thing each of us can really benefit from is stress reduction. Stress is caused by the hormone cortisol. Some scientific study results report that mindfulness meditation reduces its values and the inflammation response connected to it.  Secondly, it enhances self-awareness. This means it allows you to develop a stronger understanding of yourself, helping you to develop and focus on yourself. The third most important thing to me that it does is lengthening the attention span. Science once again suggests that individuals practising meditation can refocus better and better maintain their attention.  If you're just starting out or if you want to just try it, download an app, such as Headspace.
Another interesting, yet quite straight-forward routine is exercise. Vasant Narasimhan, the CEO of Novartis, wakes up early in the morning and exercises. No matter where he is in the world. Exercise, even if only a small number of repeats can make a huge difference over an extended period of time. It speeds up blood flow, heart rate, elevates blood pressure and so makes you more alert and is along that really healthy. Making only 10-20 push-ups can make all the difference. If you're the type that prefers something more intense, you could, for example, try 7-minute workout. A workout that is scientifically proven to be very beneficial, consisting of simple exercises that take only 7 minutes to complete.  I've written about it in a post about improving medical school exam period performance.
The truth about morning habits is not uniform. Just as with a lot of other things, we are different and different things help us achieve what we want. A simple habit of, for example, making your bed every morning is a simple task that may stimulate all the other achievements throughout your day. That's why it's important to try some of the above-mentioned ideas and go from there. Make adjustments, try new things, and stop practising them if they turn out to not be what you need.
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