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How a consistently inconsistent morning routine changed my life

You can complete it even if you only have 5 minutes.

How a consistently inconsistent morning routine changed my life
[Photo: Swillklitch/iStock; Ocean Ng/Unsplash]

If every minute of your life was worth a million dollars, how would you spend the next 60 seconds?

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Welcome to the beauty and the logic behind morning routines. When you start your day by intentionally placing a high value on how you spend your time, you avoid going into “time debt” for the rest of the day. It’s a small habit that can drastically alter the direction of your personal and professional life.

But there are three things everyone gets wrong about morning routines. First, you can’t just copy your favorite celebrity’s wake-up-and-go strategy, as tempting as that might sound. You’ve got to make your own because what works for someone else might not work for you. Second, you’re not a failure if you skip a few days while you get the hang of this. Third, you shouldn’t do the same routine every morning. A consistently inconsistent routine should be the goal.

As a cancer survivor and entrepreneur with a rapidly growing company, I’ve felt the power of a consistently inconsistent morning routine. There are some days where the “tuning into myself” portion of my routine means spending 20 minutes doing deep journaling. There are other days when it meant staring out the window, dreaming while I waited for my coffee to brew.

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So how do you know what you need each morning to maximize your day? To get started, here’s a little guideline that I use with my coaching clients.

1. Pick four core categories to focus on

Forget about putting “Be a Better Mom” or “Master Plan to Impress Boss” on the list. These categories aren’t your responsibilities as a husband, wife, mother, son, employee, or friend. Instead, I want you to focus on your personal desires. This means indulging in self-care, sharpening your mind, de-stressing, feeding your soul, loving your body, chasing your passions, or understanding yourself better.

2. Make a list of realistic activities for each category

If “de-stress” is one of your four categories, perhaps you list meditation, yoga poses, painting, or cuddling with your partner as options. Let’s say, like me, one of your categories is loving your body through exercise—but you’ve got three kids, and your time is limited. Think about what you can do at home instead of going to a gym. It might be walking outside, running, stretching, or just incorporating some additional movement on your way to work. You can start with as little as five minutes a day—it doesn’t have to be an hour-long sweat session.

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Consider picking actions that you’ve been thinking about—but have never gotten around to do. Maybe you’ve been meaning to try meditation using the Headspace app or haven’t been able to find the time to figure out what your goals are this year, and you’re way past New Year’s Resolutions. This is the time for the stuff you never have time for.

3. Pick one action from each category

It doesn’t matter which action you pick. The key is to be consistent in showing up for yourself, but you can be inconsistent with the action you take during your morning routine. By switching things up, you avoid getting bored, maintain your enthusiasm for the practice, and listen to what your body needs.

4. Determine how much time you’re going to devote to your practice

We typically want to go the “all or nothing” route, but it’s critical to start small with morning routines. Starting small prevents you from feeling overwhelmed and increases your chances of sticking with your new practice. If your goal is to have an hour to yourself each morning, then start with five minutes. Once you’ve mastered that, add two minutes next month and build from there. By the end of the year, you would have learned how to create almost 30 minutes of space for yourself each morning.

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5. Set yourself up for success

It’s imperative to remove any barriers that will get in your way in the morning. Want to try a new meditation or guided breathwork? Make sure you know which app you’re using or which YouTube video you’ll be watching to do it the night before. Headed out to the gym in the morning? Lay out all your clothes, and prep your coffee and breakfast the night before. If it’s helpful, you can even walk through your routine.

6. Be patient and compassionate with yourself

When I started a morning routine practice almost 10 years ago, the whole routine took me five minutes. I spent two minutes doing breathwork, one minute journaling about how I wanted to feel that day, and then did two minutes of jumping jacks. Now I spend up to half an hour doing something different each day to feed my mind, body, soul, and desires.

Thanks to my routine, I barely feel rushed during the day. Even with hundreds of demands, I react less to my children’s “normal” emotional behavior, I’m present and content with who I’ve become, and I am excited about who I will be in the future. And it’s all because I chose to give myself five minutes in the morning 10 years ago.

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Heather Chauvin is a leadership coach and strategic parenting expert who helps ambitious women become leaders at work and at home. She is the host of the Mom Is In Control podcast.

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