The Power of Habits: Forming a Morning Routine

Doing the same thing every day is boring. Getting in a “morning routine” exacerbates this boredom, but with good reason.

What makes routines so powerful? Why are habits so important for success? Do you really need to do the same thing everyday to achieve more?

Think about all the stress associated with deciding what to eat for breakfast. If you could avoid that, would you have a more productive day?

Habits

Routines are formed around habits. Habits are specific decisions that you make, which over time become automatic — you no longer decide to do something, it just happens.

Habits are triggered by “cues”, which form “routines” that ultimately deliver a reward.

With that in mind, think about how powerful a concise morning routine can be. One habit in your routine may be to eat the same oatmeal at 6:30am each morning. Your cue for that habit could be the fact that it is 6:30am. You automatically know it is time to eat because the clock says so, that is your cue.

A slight side note… Cues are interesting and important. Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” explains in-depth how to determine what cues trigger your habits. Compelling stuff.

Routines are constructed of habits which are formed by cues. Ultimately, your routine produces some sort of reward.

In our breakfast example your reward could be the fact that you are sticking to your diet, or rather that you do not have to stress about what you are going to eat every morning.

My morning routine

Beyond breakfast, my morning routine has multiple components. I follow this routine for one main reason… to not think. By doing the same thing every morning I avoid stress and accomplish many little tasks before my day really starts. As a result I save my mental capacity for later in the day, when surprises and stress are more frequent.

This is a typical Monday – Friday morning for me.

  • Wake up at 4:15am
  • Eat a similar high protein breakfast at 4:20am
  • Bathroom break…
  • Leave for the gym at 4:50am
  • Arrive at the gym by 5:05am
  • Do my weight or aerobic training (I even have a routine for this)
  • Leave the gym at 6:15am
  • Listen to Mike and Mike until 6:30am
  • Shower and shave completed by 6:50am
  • Respond to emails and browse Hacker News until 7:10am
  • Eat a small snack, read the newspaper and leave for work by 7:30am

In the first three hours of my day I have already completed a ton of small tasks. I eat, I exercise, I read, and I relax.

By the time I leave for work at 7:30am I have accomplished more than I ever did in a whole day a few years ago. This is an amazing feeling.

The scary component of this is that it just happens. All of these habits that make up this routine simply just “occur”. I don’t question it, I embrace it.

What is the reward I get from this? Some people would argue that my routine is more punishment than privilege. I would strongly suggest it is the latter.

Aside from the mental reward I get from being productive in the morning, I get the luxury of not having to stress, not having to worry, and not having to be rushed. I leave my house everyday for work with a positive mindset.

It is on the days where my routine is interrupted that I find myself flustered, unable to concentrate and less productive.

Forming a routine

Routines can occur organically. You probably already have a few that just seem to “happen”. But, thanks to the research of people like Charles Duhigg there are a few techniques you can employ to help form your own strategic routines.

Duhigg, and other professionals suggest planning specific, measurable, reward-able, and track-able (SMART) habits. A relatively recent Washington Post article does a good job outlining how this process works.

In addition to planning SMART habits you can make your routine public information. Sharing with other people your plans reinforces the chance that you stick to them. With goal setting this is a common practice, the same can apply to routines.

James Clear also did a fantastic job outlining the time it takes to form a new habit. I would suggest reading his article to further understand why it takes up to two months for habits to become automatic.

There are plenty of other resources on line that dive deeper into habit-forming. A 2012 Chicago Tribune article helped me understand that my morning routine (albeit strange) is actually a “blessing”. And, a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology (this study is referenced in the James Clear article) helped me better understand how long it takes for routines to become automatic.

Routines are boring, but their benefits far outweigh the taste of eating the same thing for breakfast five days a week.

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Zach Shefska

Entrepreneur, developer, blogger from Washington, DC.

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