“25,000 times you get to open your eyes, face the day, and decide what to do next. I don’t know about you, but I’ve let a lot of those mornings slip by.”James Clear, Author.
Just over 5 years ago I stopped drinking alcohol. I am not going to get into why or how with this post, I may never actually get into it publicly to be honest, but what I will say is, if you feel alcohol or other mind-altering substances are causing you problems in your life and don’t know who to talk to, reach out to me. My very limited time is always available for those who need it and I will do my best to point you in the direction of help.
Something which became apparent very quickly for me when I stopped drinking was how important it was for me to have routine in my life. Routine keeps me grounded, keeps me disciplined, gives me a feeling of security and helps me be in a state where I can be at my best. Daily/weekly routine is very important, but a solid morning routine is crucial. For me, the morning is the most important part of my day.
Look, anything I know, anything I say, I have stolen it off somebody else. I am not a philosophical guru who believes he is extremely wise. I have just read or listened to people who are probably worth listening to, tried some of what I have heard and if it worked for me, started doing it regularly. Dan John said something like, “If I say something you said once I have copied it from you, if I say it twice, I have now made it mine”. It’s called learning from each other. I used the word stolen but really I haven’t stolen anything, I have learnt from them. Learning from others is something we as humans are programmed to do, but choosing who to learn from can sometimes be the hardest part.
Around 5ish years ago I began praying. I’m not here to tell you what to believe. I think one of the most beautiful things in life is we all have the choice to believe in whatever we want, or not if you don’t want. Organised religion to some degree does a really bad job of getting that across, or at least the people in it do. But I believe in God. I didn’t for most of my life, then I began to and honestly it wasn’t the God I believe in now. Through connecting and building a relationship with a God that I understand, my faith has evolved and is still evolving. Anyway the first thing I started doing in the morning was praying. It was pointed out to me that much better men than me prayed daily, so why should I think that it wasn’t for me when I had never tried it. Pretty early into this I had what I will call a spiritual experience, which lead me to think that there may be something in this praying business. I will not talk about this here, but if you want to know more just ask. I have since had many more, but this was the first I ever recognised and starting my day with prayer became the first part of my morning routine.
My prayers start with gratitude. I’ve found that starting the day grateful frees me of any negative thoughts and feelings I may wake up with and believe me… I wake up with plenty of those! I am not somebody who bounces out of bed ready to contribute greatness to the World that day. I have to use my morning routine to work on that and it’s very much an on-going process. However my prayers didn’t initially start in this way, they started with the only prayer I knew and felt comfortable saying, something called ‘The Serenity Prayer’.
I then got into reading a page out of a daily reading book in the morning. This book was given to me by a friend who said it helped him to understand God and The Bible better. Again this is not religious, but I believe these ancient books have great messages in them, once you know how to read them. I was never taught how to read them properly as a child, although I was never very religious then anyway, however I haven’t met many who were either, despite being brought up in strict religious households. The book is called ‘Around the Year with Emmet Fox’ by Emmet Fox. He speaks a spiritual language I understand. He has a great gift in simplifying things for somebody like me. I have read this book daily for years now. He wrote another book called ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ and at the back he breaks down ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and what it really means; a prayer which many of us have said daily for years in Primary School, yet never actually felt. It was once I read this break down at the back of his book that I began to use that prayer in my morning routine as well. Once I understood what the prayer is asking for, it made a lot of sense to me.
Then I started to explore meditation. People, who meditate, always tell other people they should meditate. The problem is that meditating is hard. Don’t worry if you think you cannot quiet your mind for even a few minutes and get distracted too easily. That is normal. And not everybody is able to meditate the same, nor should they. I am very wary of people who say they meditate for an hour every morning. Maybe they do. Maybe they are amazingly spiritual. But for me to do that, I would have to get up at 4am. Some of these people who promote this stuff don’t work. They don’t do much to be honest. Someone I know told me they meditated for 6 hours once. They received a lot of compliments from others around the table. I said, “So what else have you actually done today then?” I had taken my mum shopping, been to the gym, saw my girlfriend and probably done a couple of other things as well. They had sat in a room with others, believing they are more spiritually evolved than others, and essentially done a whole load of nothing. Judgmental I know, I guess I need to meditate more!
But I knew meditation would have some benefit in my life. I just needed to find what was right for me. I was listening to podcasts at this time, Tim Ferriss’ to be exact. I am not a huge fan of his anymore, but at this time in my life he had interviewed some pretty exceptional people and I enjoyed listening to them speak more than him. Tim is a bit obsessed with morning routines but funnily enough the majority of his guests, who were all highly successful, like… obscenely successful, all had their own morning routine they had been following for years. One of these people was Tony Robbins and he spoke about his, which involved something he calls “Priming”. He said he doesn’t have the time to meditate for hours, nor does he have the concentration span for that, but he does have at least 10 minutes in the morning to get his mind in the right place. “If you don’t have 10 minutes for yourself, you don’t have a life!” That comment has stuck with me since the first time I heard it, and will stay with me forever. Tony is a very successful, very rich, life mentor to the very successful and very rich. I’m not saying I agree with everything he says or does, so if he has said something terrible at some point I don’t know about please don’t presume I am his biggest fan. I just liked this bit that he did say and have adopted it as my own.
He said he does 3 rounds of a Yoga breathing technique called ‘Pranyama Kapalabhati’. Now if you Google or YouTube this you will find that it is not recommended for novices and beginners who have no experience of Yoga or breathing exercises. I don’t know about you, but I learn through doing. How can you ever expect to learn something if you don’t give it a go! Often getting it wrong is part of the process. The word practise means the actual application or use of an idea, belief or method, as opposed to theories relating to it. Practising something is how you get better at it. You want to know how to do something, do it!
Basically ‘Pranyama Kapalabhati’ is using your nose only, to breath in softly and out harshly, sucking your stomach in as your exhale. You then relax your stomach once fully exhaled and by doing that you should naturally breathe in again. The focus is on the exhale not the inhale. Tony did 3 rounds of this, 30 reps then a few seconds rest, then repeat, twice. This spoke my language! He then does a few minutes of visualising things, I won’t go into great detail here as I’m only going to mention what works for me but I did a bit of that for a while too. However what I have found is that by starting on my knees, in good posture, doing those 3 rounds of breathing (that’s what I call it, simple) I am able to go into my prayer in a much more focused and calm state. Not only does it wake me up a bit but it centres my mind to connect with God. Something which I often struggled with as half way through praying I would think about something completely irrelevant. I know a little bit about praying now.
Praying is simply connecting with God, to whom you are building a relationship with. You can only connect to God by giving him your full undivided attention. By thinking of a problem you amplify the problem. You must instead turn to the solution, and that solution is God. By letting him into my life, I have received wonderful blessings. It didn’t work over-night and it took months of daily PRACTISE before I even remotely saw any of it working in my life but best believe it was. When I let him in, he was free to do his amazing work in my life and the lives of those around me. I don’t have all the answers. I can’t tell you why good people die young, why people that we love get sick and why life seems very unfair a lot of the time. What I can tell you is by praying daily, I gained a lot, but more importantly I lost a lot too. I lost selfishness, I lost short-temperedness, I lost aggression, I lost hate, I lost fear and I lost what can be described as “stinking thinking”. But I only lost them for that day, sometimes that moment. That is why this must be a daily practice for me, without it I will have all of those things back and more, but with it I have a chance at being better. One day at a time.
Meditation (my version of it) and prayer are the keystones to my morning routine. They are my “Morning Meds”. Ironically the only thing I have that could actually be classed as a “med” is caffeine.
I love a black coffee in the morning. I’m a bit of a coffee snob, and that’s absolutely OK! I buy nice, ground coffee, I’ve played about with different brewing methods and I’m currently using an Aeropress which is the smoothest brew I’ve ever had (the guy who gave me the book mentioned above also put me onto the Aeropress, he’s a good man). The whole process of making it in the morning, the smell when I open the jar, the boiling the water and letting it cool, the measuring the coffee into the press and pouring the water in slowly, the time taken to get that perfect brew and then pressing it through the filter into my mug is very therapeutic for me. I do that first, then I go into the front room, put it down, get on my knees and begin my breathing. I then pray, sit down and read my readings. Then I sit there for a few minutes in a very peaceful state. I spend about 10 minutes here sat in absolute bliss. No reason to rush, no reason to panic, just enjoying being up early and starting my day.
I get up fairly early to get all of this in, but honestly it doesn’t take long. Remember, it only need take 10 minutes. More however, can only be better. But by starting my day in a slow, peaceful way, not rushing, I find I am at my best and get the best out of my twenty-four hours. I have since added a few extras to my “Morning Meds”, so I do a few press ups after I have had my coffee, anything from 25 minimum to 40/50 in one go depending on how sore I am from other training. A bit of exercise like that in the morning, although hardly anything, gets the blood flowing and the lungs working. You feel awake and alive.
When working I start my day as soon as I step out of bed with a shower. At the end of my shower I turn it as cold as possible and stand under it for 15-30 seconds. It’s a great shock to the body. At first it’s horrible but the more you do it you start to love it. It really freshens my head up. It’s also meant to be good for recovery from training. Try it! Head first, then all over the body focusing on the upper and lower back.
Here is my full routine taken as if it was a normal working day. If it’s the weekend or I’m away or off work sometimes things change slightly but at least some of the principals of my morning routine are always achieved.
RJ’s Morning Meds:
- Wake up
- Make bed (very important)
- Shower (finish off COLD!)
- Get dressed
- Go downstairs and make coffee
- Whilst coffee is brewing sort out food bag for the day
- Go into front room and put coffee down
- Get onto my knees and do 3 sets of 30 rep breaths
- Sit down in a chair and read todays readings
- Sit in peace and drink coffee (sometimes reply to messages or emails but only if I feel in the right place to do so)
- Get up and do some press ups
- Finish everything else I need to do (toilet, tie hair up, brush teeth, put watch/shoes on)
- Leave for work
Since lockdown I have tried to add a couple of days a week where I either run or walk first. I obviously skip the shower as that comes after but I make a coffee, do my breathing and prayer and then hit the road. I have to get up at 5am to get this in so doing it every day isn’t always sustainable. If I’m doing that I will try and be going to sleep by 9:30/10pm at the latest. A morning routine is not a magical potion, without a good night’s sleep it’ll have minimal results. But a little walk in the morning through some trees and across some fields is amazing and I want to have it in at least twice a week (one of those days being a weekend).
If you find you are always rushing in the morning, always late, never feel like you start your day in a way which enables you to get the best out of it, try to build your own morning routine. What you have in yours may differ completely from mine, I am not trying to sell you mine (it’s free anyway), I am just telling you what I do and that it really, really works for me. Find your “Morning Meds”, then let me know in case I need to learn something from you!