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Let's get one thing straight here... I am NOT a morning person. If left to my own lack of devices, I would lay in bed for several hours before frittering away the rest of the morning while trying to decide how to best begin the day. It's nothing to do with laziness, I profess to myself - my brain simply runs on Pacific Standard Time, despite having lived in New York for most my life.
So what can a guy do to transform what can only be seen as a massive black hole of wasted time, into something more useful, maybe even productive? What guys do best... try and control as many discomforting variables as possible and follow 3 steps:
2) Install a program complete with rewards to accomplish whatever you like - whether you like it or not! (IMPORTANT to remember when designing a new habit, for the first two weeks, the beneficial feeling comes after the activity - not during. So make sure your structure is solid, simple, and sustainable enough to uphold for 14 days no matter what. - For cheat-sheet help see how to make a habit flow chart via Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit.
3) Execute the Plan to initiate the self-perpetuating positive feedback loop that, when properly designed, will result in the acquisition of a permanent new habit by means of self-induced classical conditioning.
Here's how it's done...
The name of the game is to preserve as much decision making "juice" as possible by designing an automatic system, or automated sequence, of cues, triggers, and actions, whereby each activity triggers the next to occur, until you've done what you have to do, using as littler brainpower as possible.
Now, I didn't set out with the expectation nor intention of transmuting my hangover-like, lollygagging morning misfits into my most productive times ever, but inadvertently, that is what happened. My current morning routine goes something like this:
7:00am - Alarm #1 goes off on my iphone which is set on the floor beside a yoga-mat in the center of the room. This first "alarm" is an intro-to-meditation track downloaded from itunes university, which instructs me to stretch for one minute before guiding me through a morning mediation. - I loath the teachers soft, soothing voice at that ungodly East Coast hour and stumble reluctantly over to the mat, incentivized only by the cold hard fact that fresh hot coffee will soon be my reward. The track ends after 7 minutes, but I sit, breathing, still, now calm for an additional 13 or until cued by my next alarm...
7:20am - Alarm #2 sounds; Muse's cover of Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" as I drift to the kitchen and begin to brew my beloved black beverage. Steeping with the french press take 4 minutes during which time, still in a neverland-ranch haze, I slice a piece of fruit and set it atop the table. Coffee-time begins accompanied by the commonly used writer's exercise known as "morning pages" or 750 words - which often leads me to produce over 1000. Or however many churn out before triggered by my next alarm...
7:45am - Eye of the Tiger from Rocky rings forth (alarm #3) and this, combined with the recently infused ergogenic jolt of caffein, inspires me to hit the "gym". I pickup my 40lb kettle-bell and perform 30 swings followed immediately by 15 pushups. A 30 second rest brings me over to the bathroom door which I use to stabilize myself for a set of 12 handstand pushups followed by 25 bodyweight squats and 12 bicep curls (with my work bag) to finish things off. The entire workout consists of 5 different sets of full-body exercises for a total of 114 repetitions. It Takes 4 minutes to complete before hopping in the shower where I brush my teeth.
7:54am - Washed and dried, I click open the NPR Mobile app and take in the 6 minute recap of what's making headlines while dressing myself in the cloths laid out the night before.
8:00am - Fully dressed, self-expressed, exercised and all the rest... complete with wallet, keys, lunch and space-penn - I'm out the door. A good start to a better day.
What's really important is this: that from the moment I wake up until the time I arrive at my destination, I DO NOT LOOK AT THE CLOCK. Not once. Three alarms are strategically set at interval times to act as hot-triggers for specified actions based on pre-associated sounds (or in this case, songs). Should I need to see my phone's screen for any reason (usually to turn on NPR), I make a point to NOT look at the time. I don't want to know. I don't want to feel pressured or wonder whether I'm running late. After all, there is no need. I just set up the structure and trust the system. - Remember, it's the morning. I'm a zombie. I can't function. I just want to relax, respond to my cues, get my rewards, and not have to think about anything at all.
In structure, there is freedom - Buddhist proverb
As it turns out, most practitioners of modern psychology agree that the vast majority of people, although they may resist the notion, function much better with a set structure or routine. In my experience, waking up without a routine is kind of like going to the gym without any plan. You meander around from one corner to the next. You pick up some free-weights, realize they're too heavy, set them back down. You wander over to a piece of cybex equipment, stare at it like something out of Modern Marvels, feel intimidated, and scurry off to realize that you have no clue what you're doing. And so on until the clock runs down. - Not the most efficient workout is it?
A better POA would be to follow the 3 steps I outlined above (and utilize the resources provided below). Design a structure you think will work for you. Keep it light and simple at first. Do this as an experiment with nothing to loose. The worst case scenario is that you realize you have to simplify your objectives at first, and test different rewards. This is how you learn about yourself and how to adopt the habits you'll need in order to accomplish whatever your goals may be.
A person without a goal is like a ship without a chart, it just sails around aimlessly with no place to go. - Arnold Schwarzenegger
Assuming you have some goal, some activity, or some thing you want to do. You must realize that nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished without having to overcome a few obstacles. Some of my friends are freelancers facing constant uncertainty while others work 80+ hours per week with families to feed. My point is this. You have the power to design your own picture. And with a little fortitude, planning, and alarm-clocking arbitrage, that picture will have no choice but to come to life.
If I can make my mornings work for me, imagine what you will make work for you...
BONUS: Quick Links & Resources for Installing New Habits
- Outsourcing Motivation - previous article outlining the basic ingredients of Habit Design
- How to use Procrastination to Foster Productivity - post providing example of how to classically condition yourself to do anything
- The Power of Habit - Game-changing bestseller about "why we do what we do in life and business"
- Flowchart explaining How to Break A Habit
- Flowchart explaining How to Make A Habit
- Principles of behavior design from BJ Fogg at Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab
- BJ Fogg's Website - for everything related to behavior design
- 750 words - Cool and practical application of the "morning pages" exercise. Whether you are a writer or not, this is a great activity to do as a mind-dump and sanitization method to set you straight and thinking clearly for the rest of the day.
- Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue - NY times article explores the implications of recent research findings which conclude that we, in fact, have a finite amount of decision-making power per day.
- James Clear - Entrepreneur and blogger with highly instructive free ebook on transforming habits
- Air Meisel - Friend and Achievement Architect always sharing actionable ways to be more productive at everything... like he does with this article he posted on The Daily Beast called: 12 Ways to Be more Productive in 5 Minutes