Change your morning, change your life
Morning is the best place to start when it comes to making habit changes. "There are two reasons your morning routines matter so much," says Louis. "First, there's decision fatigue. You have the most willpower in the morning, so it's a good time to get yourself to do the workout or the writing you want to do. Second, what you do in the morning sets the tone for the rest of your day. If you start the day feeling like you did something good for yourself and you're feeling healthy and energized, that will carry into the rest of your day.” On top of that, Lousis adds that “it's just logistically easier: You have the least amount of other inputs coming in, so you're less likely to get sidetracked." (Leave the workout until after work, and a late meeting or impromptu happy hour could easily derail you.)
"I started to change my morning because I was tired and exhausted in my nine-to-five job. I realized that every day, I was lethargic and I didn't feel happy. I didn't know where to begin, but I knew I needed to do something to change my outlook and change my energy level,” she says. “I knew I couldn't make huge changes right away: I couldn't start a business just yet, but what I could do was make small changes. People I looked up to like Oprah Winfrey and Tony Robbins swore by a morning routine, having rituals in place to set you up for the day. And I was like, 'I clearly don't have one. So let's start there.'"
Plan an ideal routine
Everyone's morning routines and rituals will look different, depending on what you need the most. The only requirement is these rituals and routines should be about you, not about checking for emails from your boss, for example. For Louis, this meant starting with exercise — she added a brisk walk to her morning, eventually turning that into a run — but other options to consider are adding time for yoga, reading, meditation, gratitude, or writing in a journal. The trick is to find something that’s aligned with what you need. "I found that running in the morning actually gave me the energy that I was lacking through the rest of the day," she recalls. "That made it easier to make changes in the rest of my life."
And start smaller than you think
If you try to go from waking up five minutes before you need to leave for work, rushing out the door half-dressed, and grabbing a donut and coffee on the way to the office, then planning a new, two-hour morning routine that includes going to the gym, meditating, cooking a healthy breakfast and writing in a journal is going to be a hard change to make. To get a habit to stick, Louis recommends starting very, very small — and make it so easy that it's almost impossible to skip. This might mean that five-minute brisk walk or meditation, then the normal morning rush ensues. Once you've stuck to that tiny new habit for a few weeks and it feels completely natural, you can add another habit or lengthen that one to a longer ritual.
Set up for success
This is the fun step: Creating your new environment. To change your habits, especially first thing in the morning, you need to set yourself up for success. If you tend to hit snooze over and over, move your phone or alarm to another room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off, or set your alarm for a more reasonable time. If you tend to scroll your email rather than taking the five minutes to do your meditation routine, use your phone's settings to not allow you to use any app other than your meditation one before 8 a.m. Put out your workout clothes the night before, set your journal out on the table, roll out your yoga mat in the living room, or take out the ingredients you need to make that healthy smoothie. However, the most important habit for your morning starts by going to bed at a reasonable hour. "The morning routine needs to start the night before," Louis says. "You can't just keep getting up earlier and earlier if you're not getting adequate sleep."
Beware of sneaky replacements
If you decide to quit social media in the morning, make sure you replace that habit with something positive, says Louis. "I knew someone who took a social media fast — but halfway through, he realized he was actually spending more time on his phone because he would constantly refresh his email instead. It's an addition — nd he needed to have something better in place of it." So, if you are trying to stop doing something like scrolling Instagram in the morning, make sure you're also adding a positive habit (like reading 10 minutes of a memoir or self-development book on Scribd) instead. That way, you don't fall into a similar and still negative routine.
Have a backup plan
Not everyone wants to wake up at 6 a.m. every morning so don't be so rigid with your morning routines that you miss out on relaxing family time or fun weekend plans, says Louis. "Give yourself wiggle room," she adds. You may need to have a 'weekend routine' that's a version of your standard workday routine that allows for more time making breakfast with the kids, or trades the gym for an outdoor run or hike with your partner. Do keep in the pieces that matter, but don't be so stuck in your routine that you skip out on fun in order to check the boxes.
Life changes. Starting to run in the morning is great — but don't become such a slave to your morning routine that you refuse to tweak it as the rest of your life changes. Louis recently had her first child, and the experience of pregnancy and early motherhood has obviously changed her morning. She still works out, meditates, and reads, but the meditation might only be minutes long, the book is now an audiobook so she can read while feeding her baby, and she's more likely to do yoga or walk with the stroller versus going on her usual run. But that's OK: Your morning routine should complement your life where it is in the moment, and expect it to shift over time.