fine-tune your morning routine

I’m very excited about April 2. On that day, the web site “” will be featuring yours truly! It’s truly an honor to be selected…I believe I actually had to survive a rigorous vetting process (probably consisting of them actually opening my email when I sent it to them). I do hope that you will enjoy that site; meanwhile, it provides a good chance to take a look at the practices I’ve added to my morning routines.

The Perfect Gray Morning

  1. Wake up naturally, at a time when my body is feeling rested. Failing that, wake up to the gentle sounds of Rise.
  2. Stumble to the kitchen, have a cold glass of water and take my Gray’s-Getting-Older pill.
  3. Open up the shades, trying to get as much natural light as possible into the room.
  4. Do about 15 minutes of ^%$#@ing yoga. Including balance poses that are embarrassingly hard for someone with a B.S. in Dance.
  5. Sit zazen for 15 minutes.
  6. Pour a cup of coffee (my partner has set the timer for me the previous night, so it’s fresh) as a reward as I pull out my journal.
  7. After 2 pages of writing, have a breakfast of toast and fruit while watching a TED Talk or RSA Animate or similar stimulating and inspiring video.
  8. Then begin the day’s tasks.

How often do I get Perfect Gray Mornings? Maybe 60% of the time. Part of neglecting it is traveling, but really it’s not so much the travel as the self-consciousness of doing these kinds of rituals around other people. Other times I will get a rare opportunity to sleep in with my partner (who normally is out of the house before 6am) and the routine goes out the window.

Yes, But Does It Work?

Yes, actually, it does. I think of this time as time spent “sharpening the saw”, as Covey fans would put it, though the real revelation came during my Simple Man of Peace Retreat, when I first realized that if I had a “perfect” then I felt sharp. But I’ve also used the journal and the sitting to work through anxieties, to address issues that get lost during the hubbub of the day.

Much as it pains me to admit it, even the yoga has worked well to make my joints ache less. I take the stairs up to our apartment more easily.

More importantly, there have been days when I have woken grumpy or unmotivated and found that forcing myself into the morning protocol helps alleviate some of the lassitude. That’s the thing about having a protocol; sure, it helps keep you in line when you want to stray, but it also functions as a support when you don’t want to continue.

Messing with Habit

Charles Duhigg, in The Power of Habit, talks about how every habit has three parts: the trigger, the action, and the reward. Based on that theory, it’s easy to see where some of my morning routine could use some tweaks. I love that first drink of water, so it makes it easy to remember the medication. Similarly, the coffee has become associated with journaling, and I’ve got notebooks full of my whines (ahem, I mean) reflections for the edification of my progeny when I’m gone.

On the other hand, while the yoga mat in the living room is a great trigger, there has yet to be a good reward for the yoga. Sure, I mentioned the benefits…but those are not immediate enough to really function as a habit-reinforcement. Sitting, on the other hand, has been something that I’ve been doing since I was 18, and so that has not only become an easy morning habit, I’ve expanded it to a short evening session as well.

You might think that the “dull” feeling I get when I don’t do the protocol would be enough to get me up…but unfortunately, that’s not the case. In fact, I’m more likely to slack off on those mornings to the point where I feel rushed with my to-do list, which just exacerbates the “See what happens? guilt trip I put myself on.

So if you have any suggestions for rewards for yoga, I’d love to hear them.

Meanwhile, what’s your morning protocol? Everybody has one; it’s just a question of whether it’s intentional or not. And if yours isn’t…then who’s dictating it for you?

And how is it shaping you?

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