The Mind-Body Morning Ritual

Win the morning, win the day.

There’s a reason for our growing obsession with morning routines and rituals. They work.

Lose an hour in the morning, and you will spend all day looking for it.” — Richard Whately

I’m no stranger to ritual and routines. In addition to having researched and written about the neuroscience of routines from a medical perspective, I’ve also experimented extensively with routine variations ranging from the very complex to the bare basic elements needed for lasting behavioral change.

What I want to share today, is a distillation of the distillate. The basic building blocks, or philosopher’s stone from which you can (and should) create your own personalized morning ritual.

First off, what should a morning ritual aim to do?

Imagine your mind as a pond. Sediment fills the water. Each particle is a thought. If left to run amok, our thoughts will create chaos. What we’re after, is clarity. Order leads to clarity, clarity leads to focus, focus leads to action. Chaos leads to stagnation, stagnation leads to muck, muck leads to the dark side. Yoda agrees with this logic.

Basically, we want to go from this:

To this:

…ordered, organized and to a single point of focus.

Here’s how we get there

Sticking with the silty water analogy (let’s put it in a bottle this time), there are three things you need to do to reduce the sediment and purify the water:

  1. Shake it up 
  2. Let it settle 
  3. Initiate Order

Theory into practice

  1. Shake it up – It’s natural to have your thoughts running all over the place first thing in the morning. Afterall, the brain has been active most of the night, and likely didn’t shut down properly before bed (fully letting go of yesterday’s dramas). Rather than sit down at your desk and force your unruly mind to focus, I’ve found the best thing to do is to create further motion. This is done physically with exercise, or my Morning Mobilization Routine.
  2. Let it settle – Next, after having freed up stagnant chemicals in the body and activity in the brain, it’s time to sit quietly. 5~15 minutes of mindfulness meditation is sufficient for allowing the dust to settle.
  3. Initiate Order – Now that particles have been jostled free, mobilized, displaced and newly settled, you now have the capacity to act as the creator. Rather than allow yesterday’s thoughts to determine today’s perception and resulting actions, you now have the ability to create order out of chaos by influencing the shape and form that your thoughts and feelings take on. This I do through the process I call: S.H.I.F.T.

Shaping How I Feel Today or S.H.I.F.T.

is a simple journaling process aimed at facilitating a gradual shift in consciousness (perspective), resulting in physiological change (mood, outlook, inflammation, symptoms & recoverability). While many active mood changing methods tend to require some degree of force (NLP, self-hypnosis), this method is the opposite. Rather than force yourself into a different physical state and hope your outlook and emotions follow, you gently acknowledge your emotions, remind yourself of your freedom to choose (by laying out other options for yourself), and out of utmost love for yourself (not frustration) choose to immerse yourself back in the visions, thoughts and emotions that naturally bring about positive feelings (those that are more advantageous).
It requires only a few minutes in the morning. The important thing to bear in mind is that what matters, is direction. Not giant leaps or drastic changes. Everything in the known universe is trending either toward order or chaos; function or dysfunction; health or disease. It’s really the little things we do that shift our course and ultimately deliver us to where we need and want to be.
So, here’s how it goes. First, copy this basic template to a blank page of notebook, leaving a few lines for writing between each of the following:
  • Gratitude (G)
  • Vision (V)
  • Doubt or Fear (D/F)
  • Affirmation (AF)
I do this directly after meditation, sometimes I just make a cup of tea which I sip while doing this:  
  1. Preparation: Take a few slow centering breaths with your pen and paper in front of you.
  2. Dreams: If you have any dreams that you recall from the night before, write them on the left hand page (This is to let old events and memories out of your head so you can start the day anew! – That is the idea here, to start each day anew – not attached to what happened the day, week, month or years before)
  3. Gratitude: Next, turn your attention to the present and write down anything that comes to mind that you are, or could be grateful for (if nothing comes to mind, focus on things in your field of vision, e.g. I’m at a wood table, as I look at grains of the wood, it looks fascinatingly intricate, beautiful, etc – so, I’m grateful for nature)
  4. Vision: Here you will describe in as many or as few words as you like, a scene in which you’d like to see yourself in the future.
  5. Doubts & Fears: Often times when we allow ourselves to envision scenarios that may seem like a stretch from where we are, doubts & fears about whether we can actually get there may arise. If this dose not happen, great! leave this section blank. Otherwise put it into words as succinctly as possible.
  6. Affirmation: In this part you basically want to write down the opposite of whatever doubt or fear you may have had. Anything to negate that thought and reaffirm your ability to actualize your vision.
  7. Lastly, once you’ve finished say your affirmation to yourself, tilt your head upward, make a fist with your right hand, and put a smile on your face (even if its a fake smile – still works) to shift your physiology. Your feelings, thoughts and body will follow.

Here’s an example:

History isn’t formed by causes & effects, but by challenges & responses.

Remember that in everything bad, there is something good. In everything good, there is something less advantageous. Our role in this life, as alchemists, is to learn to separate what is beneficial, from what is not. And ultimately to avoid the latter. SHIFT is a conscious practice aimed at strengthening the ability to discern what is helpful from what is harmful, and directing away from the latter.

Starting the day in this way, empowers you to make it what YOU want. All else follows from there.

A good life is a collection of good days ― Denis Waitley

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