If you want to maximize your success and happiness, there is one routine that should be the foundation for your entire day. It’s when you wake up. You have a choice when your eyes first open to maximize your potential or succumb to the daily grind.
When we enter deep sleep, or slow wave sleep, the hippocampus influences synaptic connections in our cortex (the intelligent part of the brain) that consolidates all the memories from that day and repairs the different synaptic connections. That’s a neuroscience way of saying that when you wake up your brain is rested and in its most productive state.
The quickest way to waste this opportunity, and what people of all ages all around the globe do today, is to reach for your phone.
If you‘re checking social media and email first thing, you are starting your day with emotional reactions to what other people say and think. You are loading your brain with information that other people created. You can’t help but react. You are not choosing what is most important to you to start your day with focus and purpose. So what’s the solution?
A morning routine.
Here’s mine and why I do it – and encourage even my kids to do it too.
1. Gratitude moment
Think of all the things that you are grateful for: being above the ground when you wake up, the friends and family in your life, the loyalty and love of a four-legged friend, good health, a roof over your head. Anything you can think of to be thankful for will set you up to be happy. You’ll learn to look on the bright side rather than dwelling on the negative. Marcus Aurelius proposes to remind yourself in the morning “of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
We spend most of our day shallow breathing and not getting the most from each breath, and it’s easy to fix. I meditate on my breath doing a combination of Tummo breathing and Kundalini Yoga breathing. While you are doing this if you calmly focus on just the breath, you’re getting the benefit of mindfulness practice and optimizing our physiology . You also open the blood-brain barrier to get more oxygen to the brain.
3. Lube the joints
When I was 14, I bought a book by a famous Italian cycling coach. He had all of his athletes wake up and do 5-10 mobility exercises first thing. Head rolls, arm circles, toe touches, knee raises swung out, etc. Find a few calisthenic exercises to help you open your shoulders, hips and spine; it is a proven way to get energy circulating through your body and shake off the cobwebs of sleep.
4. Maximize your brain
Since your mind is fully repaired and open to learning, the first hour is the best time to do your most important learning or creative work. I usually take the time to improve my French language skills. When I was working on Fear is Fuel, I would do all my big picture planning and creative thinking first thing when I woke up. BONUS TIP – before going to bed at night, ask yourself a question with a problem you’re trying to solve five times and try to dream about the answer. You’ll be amazed at what “pops” into your head when you wake up or while you’re dreaming.
5. Take a cold shower
At least 3 mornings a week, I’ll take a cold shower in the morning which increases testosterone, produces some of the most elusive anti-oxidants, and greatly strengthen the immune system. A study from the Netherlands of 3,000 people showed a 29% improvement in health (as measured by sick days at work) by taking cold showers. They had a control group who took regular showers and the cold shower group had better mindset and less sick days. Even going hot to cold for the last minute of your shower works!
I hope you take a few of these ideas and make them your own. Focus on what you can control and start your day on your own terms. Just doing that alone reinforces that you are in charge of your day, and you have dominion over your limbic brain, the amygdala and hippocampus. In layman’s terms, all of the things that get you worrying about missing out on a critical email, text or a Snap streak will be gone. You don’t succumb to the fear response. You start your day with courage, which breeds the confidence to make not just your day, but your life, a more fulfilled and successful one.
Patrick Sweeney - the Fear Guru - and author of Fear is Fuel is an adventurer and inspirational keynote speaker who works with the world's top CEOs and companies helping them create a culture of courage and fulfill their potential.