Are you starting your day right? Maybe a better question is: what does “right” mean and why does it matter?
Your morning sets the tone for everything that comes after it. Being intentional about your morning forces you to slow down and tune in, which in turn, brings calm and clarity to your whole day.
Consider this: what if you didn’t flick open your eyes and immediately start scrolling Instagram, and as a result, take on all the anxiety that comes with it, then rush to your computer, only to fall into emails, work and calls for 5-8 hours—and take on the stress that that brings?
What if, instead, you took five minutes to slow down, breathe, let your phone and emails WAIT and do something that makes you happy? I’m here to promise that if you do commit to being intentional in the morning, rather than letting work, social media, or the news dictate your day, you WILL be happier, more relaxed and easier to be around.
In fact, a start-of-workday mood study, focused on customer service representatives, found that those who started their day feeling happy and calm tended to stay that way throughout the day. Conversely, those who started in a bad mood didn’t really “climb out of it”—and they felt even worse at the end of the day.
I know this to be true because when I got intentional with my morning, I noticed:
- Less anxiety
- Less frustration
- Less irritability
- Less anger
- Less reactivity
While there is no “right” way to start your day, I created five pillars for an intentional morning that will vastly improve how you feel each day. If you’re stressed, anxious and irritable, you’re not starting your day right. Make a change, starting tomorrow morning.
Pillar #1: Minimize Digital
Unplugging is the first step to a less stressful morning for one simple reason: digital is stressing us out. In a 2019 survey of 2,010 millennials, 56 percent of respondents said that technology and media overload is a source of stress. It’s not hard to imagine why:
- You log into social media, where you’re bombarded with the highlight reels of every person you know—and likely many that you don’t. Suddenly, you’re thinking: Ugh, I need a vacation or why is her life always so perfect?
- You log into your work email, where you’re immediately anxious about what your boss or co-workers need. Now you’re focused on: How quickly can I get to that? Should I skip breakfast to handle this asap?
- You turn on the T.V., where you’re forced to take in the stress and anxiety of every news story you see. You get lost in unquestionable questions: How can this be happening? How can I ever make a difference?
That’s why unplugging from digital in the morning is one of the simplest and most powerful tools for starting your day right. It also gives you a chance to focus on Pillar #2: Slow Down.
Pillar #2: Slow Down
You’re not in a hurry to answer an email. You’re not riddled with anxiety from social media. You’re not doing much of anything—which is why this is the perfect time to lean into the slow down. If your morning dictates your day, it would stand to reason that a hectic morning would lead to a hectic day—and that’s exactly what you want to avoid.
Instead, now is the time to slow down. When you do, you may find that there are so many little moments you’re missing by rushing through these first hours of your day.
- The taste of a fresh cup of coffee or tea.
- The sound of birds waking up all around you.
- The pastel sky of the first morning light.
Slowing down allows you to notice the beauty of the morning, but don’t stop there. You need to bring Pillar #3 on board too: Tune Into You.
Pillar #3: Tune Into You
You’re moving slow, noticing the beauty of the world around you. Now is the time to tune into you and what’s happening inside. The importance of this is simple: If you don’t tune into what’s happening inside, you carry that potential anxiety, stress, and unhappiness with you throughout the day. If you recognize it now, however, you can address the issue and reach a place of calm before leaving your house or sitting down at your computer.
The most common way to tune into yourself is to meditate. Meditation combines breathing and stillness to help you get aligned with yourself. In addition to identifying potential negative emotions and then finding a renewed sense of calm in the moment, meditation also has many other benefits, including:
- Reduced stress
- Improved focus
- Greater self-compassion
- Better mood
- Less aggression
There are many ways to meditate, and you can choose whichever one feels best each morning. A few options to consider include:
- Movement meditation (walking, yoga, stretching)
- Still meditation (seated or lying down)
- Guided meditation, which can be done while moving or sitting
- Breathing meditation (no words, just focused on breath)
While meditation is incredibly valuable for starting your morning right, there are many ways to tune into you. Here are some different options to bring into your routine:
- Journaling: I like to start by writing what words are floating around in my mind. This usually gives some clues as to what I’m feeling and needing in that moment.
- Sitting with calm music: Simply sitting with your coffee or tea while listening to calming music can be powerful.
- Sitting in silence: I love to enjoy my tea while looking out the window in silence. With few things to distract me, I’m able to drop in to what I’m feeling and needing.
While tuning into you what you need and how you’re feeling is crucial in the morning, it’s also important that you take this mindful morning one step further with Pillar #4: Practice Gratitude.
Pillar #4: Practice Gratitude
The power of gratitude cannot be overlooked. According to Joel Wong, Ph.D. and associate professor counseling at Indiana University and Joshua Brown, Ph.D and professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, the benefits of regular gratitude practice include, fewer toxic emotions—even if you don’t share your gratitude writings or thoughts with anyone else, based on a study that included writing gratitude letters each day.
What’s more, Wong and Brown find that the benefits extend well past that morning: “When we compared those who wrote the gratitude letters with those who didn’t, the gratitude letter writers showed greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex when they experienced gratitude in the fMRI scanner. This is striking as this effect was found three months after the letter writing began. This indicates that simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the brain.”
You can bring gratitude into your morning routine in many ways. Here are a few options to consider:
- Write a gratitude list: Write 3 to 5 things you’re grateful for.
- Do a gratitude meditation: Use a tool like Insight Timer to focus on what you’re grateful for.
- Focus on gratitude in bed: Say 3 to 5 things you’re grateful for before you get out of bed.
In the midst of practicing gratitude, tuning into you, and taking in the beauty of the morning, I want you to do something else that’s critically important: Pillar #5: Breathe with Intention
Pillar #5: Breathe (With Intention)
We breathe without thinking every single day. When we breathe WHILE thinking about it—that’s when the magic happens. Intentional breathing brings you into the present moment by forcing you to focus on one single thing: your breath in and your breath out.
This focus does a few things. First, it helps you release the worries about what’s to come or what has already happened because you’re anchored in the present.
Even more importantly, it encourages you to take deeper breaths. We tend to fall into shallow breathing when we’re stressed, anxious and overwhelmed. By simply turning our focus to our breath, we can see whether we’re taking shallow breaths, and if so, use that as a cue to better understand what stressors are at play.
Once you begin breathing deeper, and with intention, you may find that you quickly move into a state of calm. This happens because breathing deep allows more carbon dioxide to enter your blood, and in turn quiets down various parts of your brain, like the amygdala, that handle stress responses, according to UW Medicine.
To get into this powerful practice of deep breathing, take 10 slow, deep breaths before you get out of bed. Then, at each step of your morning, check-in by asking: Am I breathing deeply and with intention right now? Remember this question as you pour your coffee, while you look out the window, and when you’re meditating to tackle stress before it’s able to wreak any havoc on your day.
Starting Your Day Right: Get Intentional in the Morning
Don’t check the boxes of your morning routine and leave for work feeling frazzled, anxious and stressed. Instead, get intentional about starting your day right with the five pillars for an intentional morning. With a few simple habit tweaks, you can change the course of your day, which in turn, of course, affects every other area of your life. Commit to an intentional morning and watch all the other pieces fall into place.