By Leo Babauta
Over the years, Iâ€™ve enthusiastically (OK, sometimes with trepidation) started habits in the morning. Dozens, probably.
Sometimes they go well, other times, not so much.
What Iâ€™ve found through my experimentation is that the setup and mindset I use at the start makes a big difference, to a disproportional degree. Meaning, if you put a lot of effort into starting right, youâ€™re going to get a lot of benefits, and raise your chances of getting it to stick.
Letâ€™s talk about some of the things that work in those two areas â€” mindset and setup. Just know that you donâ€™t have to do everything here â€” these are the things Iâ€™ve found useful, but as always, your mileage will vary.
There are a million ways to set up a new habit, but for morning habits, here are some things Iâ€™ve found to help my success:
- Start small. Yes, this is a mantra for Sea Change (and Zen Habits), but people often forget it. Itâ€™s not important that you write (or meditate, or run, or do yoga) for an hour â€” the habit of writing is whatâ€™s important. You want to make it a regular thing you do every morning, and so if you want it to succeed, do it for just 2-5 minutes to start with. If you find yourself faltering, make it even smaller.
- Get plenty of sleep. This might seem obvious, but lots of people wake earlier without sleeping much, and then wonder why they struggle. Itâ€™s hard to change your sleeping habits, but itâ€™s even harder to go without sleep for very long. Your discipline will falter if youâ€™re tired.
- Find good accountability. Many people will ignore the accountability factor, but then theyâ€™re shortchanging their chances for success. Instead, try to get an accountability partner or group. Ask your friends to hold you accountable via email. Join the Good Start open team or a social group on the forum. Report regularly.
- Try to find a quiet space. Iâ€™ve found morning habits to be most enjoyable when I have a nice quiet space to practice in. That means a living room for meditation or reading where there arenâ€™t other people, and I often try to clean it up a bit the night before or right before I start. If I want to write, I wake up before anyone else, get my coffee ready, and enjoy the quiet time for writing. If I canâ€™t find quiet space in my home, Iâ€™ll go outside and take a walk or practice in a park.
- Hydrate, and stretch. I like to drink a glass of water, and stretch a little bit before doing anything. I find it helps my mind wake up in the morning.
- Have a trigger. Donâ€™t just say, â€œIâ€™ll write in the morning.â€ That means you have to find the time to do it. Instead, say, â€œIâ€™ll drink water, start the coffee maker, stretch, pour my coffee, then write.â€ So your trigger, then, is pouring the coffee. Try to always do the writing habit after pouring coffee (substitute your trigger and habit for writing and pouring coffee, of course). Then the habit becomes tied to the trigger.
- Set up lots of reminders. Wherever the trigger happens, have a reminder around there. Multiple reminders. It can be a phone reminder, a note on your laptop, a big sign somewhere in your living room or kitchen, running shoes near your bed, a meditation pillow at the your bedroom door.
Even more important than how you set up the habit is the mindset you approach it with.
Here are some things Iâ€™ve found to work well:
- Approach the habit with curiosity. When we have fixed ideas for how the habit should go, and it doesnâ€™t go the way we thought it would, we can be frustrated and disappointed. Instead of having a fixed idea, approach it with the attitude that you donâ€™t know how it will go. Be curious, and find out! It can be a wonderful time of discovery if you approach it with an open mind.
- Focus on gratitude and joy. Donâ€™t just do the habit to get it over with. Instead, let this be a mini-spa session. Let it be a joyful time. Let yourself find gratitude that youâ€™re able to do it, not resentment that you have to do it.
- Face your resistance. There will be times when you donâ€™t feel like doing the habit, or canâ€™t seem to enjoy it, or feel grumpy because youâ€™re tired. Most people let this resistance stop them from doing the habit. Not you â€” youâ€™re going to turn toward the resistance, and just pause and be with it. Give it space to exist, accept that youâ€™re feeling resistance. We all do. Be curious about how the resistance feels, where it comes from, whether it might go away if you give it a hug.
- Donâ€™t let failure stop you. Yes, youâ€™re going to mess up. Thatâ€™s a learning opportunity, not a reason to quit. If you miss a day or two (or more), get into the mindset that this isnâ€™t the end â€” itâ€™s just the middle. You messed up, now you need to learn from it and step up your game. Ask a friend for accountability, start small, and get yourself back into it!