– and sustain it.
If resolutions are not sustainable, then what IS sustainable?
Changing your daily HABITS is a sustainable way to make lifelong differences. That is because you are working with what you are already doing every single day – making decisions.
Every single habit we have is the result of making decisions. From the moment we wake up, we make decisions all day long. By the end of the day, we have made hundreds. And most of those decisions are subconscious habits we engage in without even thinking – but it still involves making a choice. A choice of our behavior. We may not give it a second thought, but those choices define us and determine the course of our lives.
By deciding to change our behaviores, including habits, we eventually change ourselves. It is a long game, unlike the quick fix that accompanies many New Year’s resolutions.
Little habits add up to big results
Habits may seem like they are too small to make a difference, but think of them like microtransactions. Every day, our habits are like little microtransactions that we engage in from when we wake up to when we go to sleep. If you have ever downloaded an app or played a video game, you probably engaged in microtransactions, which are very small transactions that enable better features. Even though they may not be for large amounts, the developers make billions of dollars in revenue from these microtransactions. Or think of upgrading your Hulu or Youtube account to avoid ads. Another set of microtransactions that makes these companies billions! By accumulating minor upgrades and changes in habits, you could also make blockbuster gains in your path to fitness.
Part I of Habits Series – the morning
This post will start a 3-part series on habits. In this issue, we will focus on the morning. The next issue, we will focus on the period between your morning and your end of day (i.e., the work day). Part III will look at your nightly habits.
This is deliberate. The thing about changing habits is that you have to start slow and make the changes cumulative. The other big red flag about fitness resolutions is that they are often radical, not realistic – you can’t change everything at once. Expecting to go from netflix binges and pizza to being a vegan cross fit beast isn’t realistic. On the other hand, incorporating some pushups and ab moves while you stream is a habit you can totally integrate into your routine.
The morning is like your blank slate every day. How you start it will determine the narrative of your entire day. We are conditioned to prioritize time management. Every morning we wake up to the sound of a starting pistol. The word is GO GO GO and we are racing to beat the clock.
Instead of focusing on time, focus on energy. Having a more energetic morning means making healthier choices, being more proactive, and practicing mindfulness. By changing just a few of your morning habits, you will have made significant progress toward jumpstarting your fitness goals, no matter what they are.
Morning habits and how you can change them for the better
The habits for the morning are two main types: those related to how you care for your mind, and those related to how you care for your body. For each section we will review the set of old habits, why we should ditch them, and new habits to change your morning, have more energy, and be catapulted onto your path to fitness.
Mind- related habits
- Reach for your phone and check email
- Reach for your phone and start scrolling through social media and blogs
- Listen to the news or read the newspaper
- Lie in bed and let your mind race
Why you should ditch them:
- ·What you introduce to your brain when you first wake up makes the biggest imprint on your mind all day. Looking at your phone is going to suck you into emails and social media that robs you of your peaceful space and floods it with stuff that is important to other people.
- The typical source of news is mostly negative information. Consuming negative information from news or social media activates the sympathetic nervous system, which causes your body to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Your cortisol is already higher in the morning as part of your natural circadian rhythm. In small amounts, this is good to keep you alert and awake. But spiking it up with what you listen to and read right when you wake up will elevate those levels to an unhealthy high amount. And why is that bad? In a nutshell, too much cortisol activates increases insulin resistance, which leads to weight gain, problems sleeping and a compromised immune system. In this period of Omicron, we need all the immune system help we can get! If you want to learn more about how to control the negative effects of cortisol, read my post here.
- Social media in the morning is like drinking diet soda for your mind – not that good for you anyway, and a terrible idea first thing in the morning. I was on a plane this morning and I could see the Instagram of the person sitting in front of me (yes, this makes me nosy, but it is research!). It was a picture of a dog spinning in circles using Boomerang followed by baby pictures and someone’s vacation. Do you really want to start your Tuesday morning with a picture of someone else having drinks on the beach in Bora Bora? Not unless you are there! It’s not in the here or now. The goal in the morning is to get grounded in the present so you can knock out the rest of your day. So stay away from all these distractions! You can always see your cousin’s cat in a cute outfit later.
- ·Our tendency when we feel anxious is to either try to escape the situation or constantly spin our wheels inside our head to control it. You might not be actually doing anything, but if you let your mind run amuck with endless to-do lists and stressing over that project when you wake up, you will be in a net energy deficit before you even get out of bed. That is why it is so important to be proactive when it comes to managing your mind when you wake up.
Start with something positive in the morning. Here are some suggestions!
- Read a spiritual passage or inspirational quote. My favorite kinds are the one that have a passage for each day of the year (this is also a good way to know what date it is). I like the book by Emmet Fox, Around the Year, which has a spiritual passage and connects it to a quote from scripture. For a non-secular option there is 365 Best Inspirational Quotes: Daily Motivation For Your Best Year Ever, by KE Kruse. There are numerous versions of the “365” day calendar quotes, so feel free to shop around. (these also make great birthday gifts).
- Focus on positive and grounding meditations. Try the Honest Guys’ waking up positive affirmations (it’s only 3 minutes). You can also listen to an uplifting Ted talk, like one of these10 TedX talks from this positive thinking playlist. If you have a lot of anxiety, either when you wake up that day or just generally, try meditations to relieve stress and anxiety, which are available in most meditation apps. I review a list of the best apps and talk more about meditation in my post HERE.
- Journal. You can use journals to keep track of your goals, vent worrying thoughts, or express gratitude. Any or all of these will “clear the deck” in your mind and set a positive tone. Writing down anxious thoughts usually diminishes their importance. And writing a gratitude list is like an instant attitude changer. The 5-minute journal combines these with a daily entry of 3 things you are grateful for, affirmations, and what would make the day great.
- Snooze alarm 20 times with blinds drawn while it’s still dark outside
- ·Stumble over to your coffee or espresso machine and get your morning fix ASAP
- Stay in PJs or sweats indefinitely
- Walk over to your laptop and sit down in front of it within 10 minutes of waking
- ·Eat a bowl of cereal, piece of fruit, a bagel, or muffin while you work
- Skip breakfast all together then break down and have some M&Ms at 11am
Why you should ditch them
- ·Snoozing is like throwing time in the trash. The sleep you get “snoozing” is not restorative for your body. So you are basically just wasting time – up to 30, 40, or even 60 minutes – not getting up and not getting real rest. Think of all the time you could get back from not snoozing.
- Drinking caffeine too early is counterproductive to your energy, again for the cortisol reason. Since your cortisol levels are already rising after you wake up, drinking coffee on top of that will make it less effective. That’s because you are already saturated with cortisol rising and drinking coffee on top of that is like standing in the rain after a while – you can only get so wet. Also, coffee is a diuretic – meaning it is dehydrating. You are already waking up dehydrated (just look at how yellow your first pee is). So drinking coffee you are just dehydrating yourself more.· If your commute consists of walking from your bed to wherever your laptop is set up, it is very tempting to try to save time and just plop down and start your workday. You can hide behind the camera on Zoom or just throw on a decent shirt and use the blurred background and photo enhancing features.
- Sitting is the new smoking, and doing that from 7 in the morning until 7 at night will deplete you of your energy and make your metabolism come to a screeching halt. The icing on this one is that every bone in your body will hurt at the end of the day from being in an unnatural position and then the next day, the cycle repeats itself.
- Avoid snoozing at all costs. If you go to bed late for some reason, or were awakened in the middle of the night, set the alarm for when you actually intend to get up. This article has some additional tips on how to avoid the snooze. Some more tips follow below.
- Keep your phone in a different room when you sleep at night, and keep a “traditional” alarm clock in a different part of the room to where you have to get up and walk. Using your phone as an alarm clock is not great for your mindset in the morning for two reasons. One, you will get distracted by all of the notifications and then fall back into the habit of scrolling down rabbit holes first thing. Two, if you have an Apple watch, you can use that to snooze or silence the alarm. Believe it or not, real alarm clocks exist and you can get one of the recommended alarm clocks from Wirecutter here (great minds think alike, the New York Times also recognizes keeping your phone in a different room is a good idea).
- Introduce LIGHT. If the sun is not up yet when you wake up, replicate it as best as you can. You can buy an alarm clock that emanates light that is similar to the sun, or you can buy a bright light to turn on like one from Miroco.
You can combine light therapy, meditation, and a non-phone alarm by purchasing this device from Hatch. It combines a sound machine, sunrise alarm, smart light, meditation app, and an alarm clock into one smart sleep assistant.
- Drink a liter of water, ASAP – Drink a liter of water before you do anything else. Water is the best way to “detox” your body, and a large dose of hydration will keep you from getting headaches and getting dehydrated later in the day. The best way to entice your taste buds to drink water is to brush your teeth or rinse with mouthwash immediately. You won’t want anything else with that newly fresh breath and it will taste really good and minty going down. A lot of sites tout the benefits of lemon water or hot water with lemon. If you actually think you can make that a recurring habit, go for it – I however prefer to make sure I get some room temperature water in my system ASAP so I don’t have to wait until the hot water cools down. In order to make this easy to follow, pre-fill your water bottle at night and keep it on your nightstand next to your alarm.
- Defer, don’t ditch your caffeine intake. Experts agree that the ideal time to drink your caffeinated drink is about an hour after you wake up. The cold shower and the water will already wake you up, so you can definitely wait that long. Drink green tea instead of coffee. Why? 1) Your teeth will stain less; 2) You won’t erode your stomach lining with acid drinking on an empty stomach; 3) Your skin will be extra grateful because you are pumping it with antioxidants and age-reversing polyphenols. You can buy ground matcha in individual tubes from the Trader Joe’s, Umatcha, or Rishi brands – all available on Amazon. My MO is that I buy bottled almond milk (like the kind from Califia farms), empty the contents in the blender, mix in about 10 packets of matcha with some monk fruit sweetener, then pour it back in the container. When I wake up, I shake it up and pour in a large mug and nuke (or you can also have it iced in the summer).
- Follow a “no screen rule” for the first hour you are awake. That means no computer, no phone, no TV. Per the new habits below, you will spend this time on self-care and moving your body instead, so you don’t need any of these devices.
- New rule: Get out of PJs within 5 minutes of waking up and take a 30 second cold shower. If a morning shower is already part of your routine, start and end with a cool blast. This forces you to ditch the PJs or sweats that you slept in and change into something – work clothes, athleisure, or workout clothes. It also invigorates and energizes you. This seems unfathomable in the winter, but the BLAH feeling of staying not showered and in your PJs will make you feel a whole lot worse. Think about it this way in terms of getting on Zoom calls – would you invite that person in your house dressed the way you are? You should show up to those virtual meetings exactly the way you would if your boss was going to be coming into our house.
- Even if you are going to be working out, a quick rush of cool water to get rid of the accumulated bacteria from the night before is a good idea before you start sweating and mixing that with the dead skin that you are not washing off beforehand.
- A couple of things motivated me on the shower thing – invest in some really fluffy huge Turkish towels like this set from Bed Bath, a towel robe or dress from a site like the Company store, and a highly absorbent moisturizer that lets you get dressed ASAP. This one from COOLA is really good because it also has a mineral sunscreen, doesn’t have that sunscreen smell, and will NOT leave white streaks! Sunscreen is important to wear all year around even if you are walking around covered in layers of clothes.Think of these like “shower rewards”.
- *If you are not allergic* Try a drop of peppermint oil and/or Eucalyptus oil at your temples and t-zone area, being careful to not let it get into your eyes. It is a super quick jolt pick me and there are studies that have found that peppermint essential oil improves focus and concentration, as well as ameliorating the effects of burnout. For some, just the mere opening and sniffing from the bottle works!
- Don’t sit down and start looking and responding to emails until you are ready to start your workday. Turn your machine off the night before so you don’t get tempted by any pings or notifications. This article from Forbes magazine does an awesome job of explaining why: when you check and start to respond to emails, you are in react mode, not pro-act mode. Someone else’s priorities will start dictating your actions and before you know it all the good intentions to focus on your health will have been flushed down a rabbit hole of stuff that could definitely wait for an hour. Plus, even just checking your email for a preview of what you will have to deal with later creates a double time suck – you are going to end up re-reading those same emails again. You should only check when you can take action. For more on email and task management, consult the DAO of getting things done.
- Plan a workout class in the morning or a session with a trainer to force you to be somewhere at a specific time. If you have 10 minutes or less, you can still move in one of the following ways
- Get outside. Walk your dog, walk to get a cup of coffee, or go on a walk or short jog. 10 minutes of getting your heart rate up will energize you for the rest of the day.
- Stretch or do yoga: Even if you are not a yogi, you can do side stretches and other simple movements, like twisting from side to side, straddling your legs and stretching out your inner thighs, and forward fold (folding over your legs and relaxing your head neck and shoulders). If you do yoga, try doing 5 rounds of sun A rapidly and close with half pigeon, happy baby, and seated Savasana.
· Eat a breakfast with P,F,C. That is protein, carbs and fat. Research shows that eating breakfast prevents weight gain by kickstarting your metabolism and preventing overeating later. You will not need as much coffee, because you will feel more energized from food. Eating within an hour of waking up kick starts your metabolism and keeps you from overeating later. If you skip breakfast because you are rushed or don’t feel hungry in the morning, try just a handful of berries and some nuts, or a piece of toast with a light spread of nut butter. This same strategy applies if you plan on working out in the morning – a light breakfast will help you burn more calories and get serious energy. Your body will seriously thank you and you will be amazed at your acuity ahead! For more about pre-workout nutrition, read my post here. Examples of 5 minute breakfasts with PFC:
- Nut butter and half banana with whole wheat wrap;
- Instant protein oatmeal (like from Think thin) with berries
- 2 hard-boiled eggs and a blood orange
- Piece of Ezekiel bread toasted with feta cheese, walnuts, and honey (had to plug the Persian breakfast!)
If you skip breakfast because you are intermittent fasting, you do you. If you are looking to try IF as a way to get fit, think about it carefully. The impulse to do that is probably more from jumping on a fad diet bandwagon. Read my post on IF here before you commit (because it IS a huge commitment with a lot of conflicting research on its benefits!).
I promise you, you will feel SO much better. And be SO much more productive.
How do I implement all these new habits?
First of all – don’t try to do them all at once. Start wth changing ONE habit a week. And then just build up from there.
The easiest way to make sure to stick to these habits until they become routine is to make a checklist. Try to do everything in the same order at first, which is a better way to make it a routine. You can type up a daily checklist on paper and make copies, or you can use an app like Todoist, any.do, or Microsoft to-do in order to make a recurring daily list. A sample of one may look like this:
- Rise and hydrate
- Cold shower
- Meditate and Journal
I hope that this article has shown you that “D” in DAO – Decision – is the better way to start a real fitness revolution than latching onto and then throwing away meaningless resolutions. Next issue, we will focus on the “middle” habits for the time you are starting your workday until dinnertime. Please feel free to reach out and share your ideas!
- Decision (DaoFitLife)
- Meditation for people who don’t have time to meditate (DaoFitLife)
- Why cortisol can mess with you and how to stop it (DAOFitLife)
- Unlocking the mystery behind intermittent fasting (DAOFitLife)
- The DAO of pre and post workout nutrition (DAOFitLife)
- Microtransactions (Intelligent Economist)
- Why You Shouldn’t Drink Coffee on An Empty Stomach First (Pure Wow!)
- Around the Year with Emmet Fox (Amazon)
- 365 Best Inspirational Quotes (Amazon)
- 10 Days of Positive Thinking (Ted)
- Guided Morning Meditation Honest Guys (Youtube)
- Why You Should Drink Water First Thing Every Day (USA Today)
- Eat Breakfast After You Wake Up (Edison Institute of Nutrition)