Once something is routine, it takes less mental effort. The ritual gets completed more or less through its own momentum.
Routines and rituals are awesome!
Unless, of course, you've got a crappy routine. One that gets in the way of how you want to feel, what you want to do, how you want to live... and is now running on auto-pilot!
A routine that has settled into your brain and your bones is tough to change. Tough, but not impossible. Break it down step by step, and you can change what you want to change.
Does this open up a pandora's box of self observation for you?
Are you sure something is "off" but aren't sure how to figure out what?
For now, let's stick with setting you up for a good night's sleep.
We need to feel safe and relaxed to fall asleep and sleep well. (Being bone tired does the trick, too.) That's why end of day routines are so useful. By being familiar, they ground you, make you comfortable on some level.
But just sorta comfortable isn't what we're going for.
I want you to feel like you did when you were a kid: tucked into bed, Dad reading you The Amazing Bone for the fiftieth time.
So check in: how do you feel when you go to bed? Just kinda normal or genuinely relaxed?
If most nights you go to bed feeling calm and at-ease, then keep doing what you're doing! At some point, well is good enough and better is a misuse of your energy.
If your mood at bedtime isn't what you want, changing something about your evening routine may help.
Once you get used to observing how you feel at the end of your day, start to notice if certain activities shift how you feel.
Here's an example of what I mean: Say you leave work feeling tense, then go to the bar for a drink (or your local yoga studio for class!) and, shortly after, leave feeling more relaxed.
That's a ritual that addresses the need to feel relaxed.
Pay attention to how you feel, what you do in response, and how that action actually effects you.
When you notice a routine behavior (drink after work) that isn't truly having the effect you want, try adding a new behavior to it (go to yoga first).
It might be hard to make that addition at first, but try! Schedule it in and it will be right there on the calendar: yoga... and you still get to go to the bar after!
And then, bit by bit, you may realize you've replaced the need for a drink.
Basta! Ritual changed. Kinda painlessly.
Of course, there are other examples where the swap isn't so neat. It's okay if a great idea flops.
Experiment, but also give yourself a break between testing ideas. In this case, too much trial and error may be crazy making!
You can tackle the problem through physiology by trying soothing activities (bubble bath anyone?). You can read a host of classic suggestions here. None of them works for me, but that shouldn't matter to you.
If you love setting aside time to drink your valerian root tea before bed, hold space for that. Don't let anyone tell you it's not important!
And if, like me, you think drinking tea every night sounds about as soothing as taking your vitamins, then screw that! It's ok and right for us all to need different things.
Find your thing and own it. Because that's when we feel at ease, when we feel like we are truly free to be ourselves without judgment.
Observing with you,
For many of us, the morning routine has the least variability of all our daily habits. Because of this, you may have found it tough to stop and notice how you feel; it's just so darn "every day"!
I hope you did notice a thing or two, because now we're gonna talk about what to do with it. (Didn't get the heads up to observe how you feel in the mornings? Don't miss out anymore, sign up here!)
There are so many factors that go into shaping your morning. Most of them are out of your control. How can you respond to what is?
Keep in mind what you've observed of "how you feel on waking" as we tackle some variables you can address.
Some feel groggy getting out of bed and immediately step in the shower to wake up.
Others rise feeling full of energy and go for a run to put it to use.
I wake up curious and spend time engaging my churning brain in learning.
What do you feel on waking? And what's the first thing you do?
Aim for something that makes you feel like your morning self --whether that's sluggish or chipper!
I went from a morning yoga asana practice to a morning reading/writing practice. And I totally feel like I'm getting away with bad yogi behavior, since it's bored into us that you should do your yoga practice first thing --to set your day up right and so you don't forget to fit it in. But, dudes! Screw that! For now, my new practice works so much better than meditation at setting up my day right.
But! There was a time when yoga and meditation did the trick. I still highly recommend a morning yoga practice! It may be just what you need.
I love a neat glass of fine whiskey, but more than one too close to bedtime and there goes my morning clarity.
On the flip side, if I go to bed without at least a little bit of wind down time, I wake up at 4am realizing I left an unread email in my inbox. And then I get sucked in to the drudgery of admin tasks. Such a waste of good learning time. *Sigh*
Let go of the day before so you can start the new one afresh. (Easier said than done, but that's why we're talking about it!)
Do any of your evening habits sabotage your mornings?
We'll look at this in more detail in two weeks, but for now, just start to notice if you can connect any evening habits to any morning discomfort (too much scotch before bed, that's not just me --it'll throw your morning outta whack, too.)
Or! Maybe you're one of the lucky ones who's got the perfect bedtime ritual and wakes every day just as you need to.
Bravo you! What are you doing that's working? Protect it! And if you can't always stick to it, know that you may need something extra to move into your day without feeling "off."
Are you a night owl with a 9-5 work schedule? Are you a morning bird teaching evening classes?
You may be disrupting your unique biorhythm without realizing it. In a perfect world, you can change your schedule to be more efficient in your sleep-wake patterns. But since it's not a perfect world (yet), maybe you can accommodate the mismatch with a small shift in your habits.
What evening or morning ritual can you adapt to better support your natural patterns despite a tough schedule?
Night Owls: If the science has it right, it takes you longer to wake up in the morning because your circadian rhythm is slow. This means give yourself more time.
Take the two hours you need from alarm to exit. This means you'll need to go to bed earlier, which may be rough for you.
Try this: set an ideal time to be asleep by, start your wind down process the hour before, and if you're still winding down with reading or something for an hour beyond your sleep time, so be it. Enjoy more of your book! Or whatever. Ideally this won't happen every night. But if it's more often than not, try amping up your exercise routine. Strong exercise will help most of us sleep better --just make sure it's not too close to bed time, because that may keep you awake longer!
Morning Larks: If you must be productive late into the day, give yourself permission to take mental/energy breaks earlier in the day. Take an extended coffee break (or nap) and set yourself up for a second wind!
If you're arriving home close to your bed time, do give yourself some wind down time, but just the minimum, so you can get to bed at as normal an hour as possible. You'll be up early, after all.
What's the minimum? My abbreviated wind down usually involves a bowl of noodles and about 20-30 minutes with my latest silly sitcom of choice. For you, it may be a cozy cup of chamomile tea in a quiet room.
The best way to find it? Start paying attention to what you're doing now and how it makes you feel. If anything makes you feel not great, try removing it (one day at a time). No need to fill the space --a better habit often comes about on its own.
Whatever your mini wind-down is, once you know it, you can rely on it.
Once you've figured out where you fall in the spectrum, own it. And do whatever you can to get the sleep YOU need. That makes your mornings better, which tends to make you a nicer person, too.
While you're doing all this noticing of how you feel on waking up, keep an eye out for yucky morning symptoms! Some indicate an underlying health issue that you should get checked out. If you're concerned, click here to read an article on several common ones.
Treating yourself right isn't always easy, but you're worth it.
Go make your mornings the way you want them to be!
Observing with you,