I’ve dedicated this month of my Wednesday self-care missives to cultivating morning routines. This is because 1) I love geeking out about morning self-care routines (Listen to my podcast with My Morning Routine creator Benjamin Spall to hear the full geek-out), and 2) I think creating a dynamic morning routine is a great place to start focusing on your self-care.
The good news is that you can do your morning routine super, super imperfectly and still gets a great deal of benefit (Read how my morning routine changed as a mother here). Yet there seems to be common places where we all struggle with our mornings. Over the years of helping my clients with their self-care morning routines, I’ve heard many of the same questions over and over. I’ve decided to compile them into a Morning Routine Troubleshooting FAQ.
A couple of things before I launch into the troubleshooting. First, these are my ideas, opinions and lived experiences (or the lived experiences I’ve noticed my clients having over and over). My philosophies are inspired by a mixture of self-care resources I’ve experienced, particularly the sciences of yoga and Ayurveda. Of course, I see these experiences through the lens of a 30-something Western woman, and thus, my interpretation will be unique. Please begin applying the practices and perspectives that feel inspiring for you, and leave the rest behind.
Second, I’ve learned that practicing authentic self-care isn’t easy or just a matter of pure logic. If it was, we’d all be practicing the self-care we desire for ourselves. Rather, real self-care is challenging, nuanced and cyclical. When applied bravely and compassionately, it will teach you so much about yourself, your culture and the world. My hope is that this advice will help you fine-tune your morning routine so that it feels truly useful for you, and that you feel less alone when you struggle with common self-care blocks.
Please reach out to me if I can answer any other questions for you along the way.
I’m excited for your self-care and all that it will bring!
Morning Routine Troubleshooting FAQ
Why is it important to keep a morning routine?
As human beings, our nervous systems are inclined to follow habits. The more tried and true something is, the safer it feels to our brains and bodies. This is why we have such a hard time letting go of our habits, even when they aren’t serving us! Establishing and practicing a self-care morning routine is a great way to ensure that you get your self-care needs met first thing in the morning, which will benefit you all day. Being authentic in your self-care is a really effective way to show up as the best version of yourself. In turn, your self-care efforts serve the people around you, your community and the world as a whole.
How do I begin to build a morning routine?
Well, chances are that you already have some kind of a morning routine! Sure, it might not feel the healthiest - perhaps involving 30 minutes of Facebook, four cups of coffee and then a mad dash to work - but it’s still a routine. I think an effective way to build a morning routine that gives you energy is to make small changes in the direction of self-care. Can you drink one less cup of coffee or one more glass or water? Can you meditate for a moment before you reach for your phone? The smaller and more realistic the change, the more likely you are to actually do it. Then, once you change something effectively, you’ll begin to build the identity of being someone who is capable of change. Once you have that identity, it gets way easier to change many things in your life.
How do I break the habit of hitting “snooze” over and over?
It’s funny, right? Snoozing gives us the feeling of getting more sleep, while only chopping up our morning rest into odd little pieces that might actually make us feel more tired. I’ve learned that you can begin to break any habit by carefully interrupting it. A fun way to do this is to keep a strong scent - perhaps a eucalyptus or peppermint essential oil - by your alarm. Before you hit the snooze button, take a deep inhalation of the scent. See if this wakes up your brain more naturally and takes away your desire for one more snooze. You can also move your alarm across the room, which might motivate you to snooze less. Finally, see if you can plan an array of enticing morning activities for yourself. If you are excited to get up and work on your watercolors or read a novel for 15 minutes, you might naturally want to snooze less.
I’ve heard I’m supposed to poop every morning, but it never seems to happen. What should I do?
I hear you! For me, it’s always been hard to make sure I eliminate consistently. Ayurveda taught me that in order to poop, I need to cultivate downward energy during my mornings. I do this by drinking a big glass of warm - almost hot - water in the mornings. Drinking enough warm liquid puts a bit of pressure on my colon and seems to help my body release naturally. Sometimes I squeeze lemon in my water - which is said to have a detoxifying effect - but often I go with just plain hot water because it’s easier.
Cultivating this downward energy also means staying relaxed. I try not to think about my to-do list in the morning, and instead focus on the energy of being. I wander around my house, cuddle my people and pets, and basically do my best to feel softly optimistic about the day ahead. On the days when I can’t poop, I try not to worry about it too much and just go about my day. It will come out eventually! Also, taking a little powdered magnesium supplement, like CALM, at night can also help with elimination -- but be careful: you can easily take too much and wake up with the runs the next morning!
What are these “morning pages” that everyone keeps talking about? When is the best time in the morning to write them?
“Morning pages” are one of the tools from The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron’s book about creative recovery, or the theory that everyone has repressed creativity to explore. The instruction is to write three pages of stream of consciousness in the morning so that we can tap into the creative energy that exists underneath our everyday thoughts and anxieties. Personally, I’ve done “morning pages” on and off over the past decade. I do notice that when I do them, my life just seems to flow in my enjoyable ways. Like many practices, there isn’t a right way to do them, but for myself, I enjoy writing them after I’ve gotten out of bed and while enjoying a cup of coffee or tea.
Speaking of coffee, I’m afraid you’re going to tell me to give it up in the name of self-care. Do I need to be caffeine-free in order to practice self-care?
I think each of us is different, and thus, we all have specialized limits around caffeine. If you love the ritual of drinking coffee each morning, please don’t give it up. Happy-making is happy-making, after all! If you’re drinking multiple cups of coffee out of habit, then perhaps you could swap a cup or two for herbal tea, and see if you feel better throughout your day. Like with all self-care, you just have to experiment and see what works best for you.
Keep in mind that your self-care feel-good habits may shift and change. For example, sometimes I feel better coffee-free and sometimes I worship a cup in the morning. Letting my habits be flexible with the shifts in my life helps me uphold my self-care, even during big moments of change and transition.
I’m not a morning person. How do I change this?
Regarding our self-care efforts, I think it’s important to not try to change ourselves. Perhaps you just don’t like being awake in the morning, and that is ok. However, I do wonder if having an established morning routine that you enjoy might help you enjoy your mornings more. Or, perhaps you can just feel groggy and cranky and still half-heartedly do a few self-care acts for yourself in some kind of order each day. My sense is that even 50% effort in your morning routines will still yield so much helpful benefits throughout the day.
Also, mornings are tough when you haven’t had enough sleep. If you don’t sleep well, you could try getting into bed a bit earlier. It’s easier for me to go to bed earlier when I avoid electronics and other forms of stimulation too late in the day. I’ve learned that a dynamic morning routine almost always starts with a solid nighttime routine. Winding down for sleep before 10pm (when possible) isn’t very glamorous, but it yields many benefits that serve me in all parts of my life. For this reason, I make myself turn out the lights earlier than I want to and go to sleep.
Is it really important to eat breakfast? Should I force myself to if I am not hungry?
Again, each of us is really different in our constitutions, and thus, our self-care needs. For this reason, I can’t make a universal statement. I will encourage you to pay attention to how you feel when you eat breakfast and how you feel when you skip breakfast. Do you feel better when you eat a big home-cooked breakfast or when you blend up a smoothie? Whatever you decide, I do think it’s important to follow a general routine. So, if you usually eat breakfast, you’re might feel off if you rush out of the house without it. Try to stay consistent most of the time in the name of your own care.
I used to have a good morning routine and then I fell off the wagon. How do I keep myself from backsliding?
Join the club! I’ve gotten on and fallen off so many wagons when it comes to my self-care habits. When we backslide on our self-care routines, a very mean part of our brains will tell us that we failed. It will tell us that this failure is proof that we are defective and that we are better off not taking care of ourselves so we don’t fail again. To this, we have to gather up all of our inner strength and speak back to that mean voice. We can say: “So, what? I’m allowed to make mistakes. Everyone makes them. I’m still as worthy of self-care as anyone else. I’ll just start again. See? I’m already taking care of myself!” Then pick one tiny habit and start taking care of yourself.
Also, it might be helpful to examine if you were being rather strict and rule-adherent with your last morning routine. If your chosen self-care habits are a killjoy, then the fun-loving part of yourself will naturally rebel. Choose workability and joy over perfection. Aim to do your best 70% of the time and do whatever you want 30% of the time. Also, ask for support when you need it. You don’t have to go it alone.
How can I get more self-care support?
Look around you and notice who in your life seems to have inspiring self-care habits. Ask that person to tea and begin a conversation about self-care, perhaps starting by asking about her morning routine. Chances are that she struggles with her self-care too, and knowing this will make you feel less alone when you struggle. Once you’ve had a few of these conversations, see if you can band together a few of these self-care friends into a little support group. Add more people to it over the months and years and soon you’ll have your own self-care community.
Also, if you’d like to join my self-care community, I would be honored. I am launching The Beautiful Life Collective, my membership program that will support each member to use our own self-care as a way to care for those around us. Registration opens in September - stay tuned to my newsletter and blog to learn more!