Create a morning routine that sets you up for success, a productive day, and a heightened sense of well-being

Over the past year, nearly everyone's morning routines have been turned completely upside down. Between lockdowns, self-isolation, working from home, and family considerations such as childcare, creating productive morning routines in this new world order can feel like an uphill struggle. As we embark on a new year—after one that has felt so stagnant for so many—with a fresh outlook, optimism, and a mile-long list of new year's resolutions on the docket, establishing a morning routine geared towards self-care and well-being, as well as setting ourselves up for success every single day, is going to be vital. Here are 15 expert tips and thought exercises that we've found helpful.

Related: 5 Ways to become a morning person

1. 1. Shift towards a positive mindset

Get a head start on a productive morning routine by shifting yourself towards a positive mindset the night before. "Before going to bed, think about five things you're grateful for every day, doesn't matter how big or small they are—it could be something as simple as having a roof over your head," says professional podcast coach Sabrina Scholkowski. "This helps your brain get into a thankful state of mind and you wake up feeling less negative about things. It also helps you focus more on the simple pleasures in life."

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Hydration first thing in the morning (photo: Getty Images)
Above Hydration first thing in the morning (photo: Getty Images)

2. 2. Pick a wake-up time and stick with it

"The 5 a.m. club is where it's at for the most successful people in the world," says wellness coach Megan Swan. "Get up at the same time everyday and get up early—early enough to have extra time to do your routine without feeling rushed. Feeling rushed is a layer of stress you don't need. It's counterproductive to your morning routine setting you up for success, clear thinking and intentional energy throughout your day."

3. 3. Ditch the traditional alarm

A tip for the brave: consider retiring traditional alarms for something that will help regulate your circadian rhythms in the long run. 

"The first step to creating a perfect morning routine is to ensure your wake-up eases you into the day," says Reiki master Jessie Quinn. "Ditch your phone alarm for a sunrise alarm clock. These types of alarms are created with your natural circadian rhythm in mind and use light to ease you into wake-up mode so that, by the time your alarm goes off, you are feeling ready to get up and take on the day. I love the Hatch Restore Sleep Sound Machine. At nighttime, it provides a reading light, guided meditation, and relaxing sleep sounds. In the morning, it wakes you up with warm glowing sunlight, even if it’s still dark out."

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Consider journaling first thing in the morning (photo: Getty Images)
Above Consider journaling first thing in the morning (photo: Getty Images)

4. 4. Take a moment to just be

"Take a few minutes when you wake to just be," says Caryn Sullivan, founder of PrettyWellness. "Do a few breathing exercises, meditate, pray or take some time to center yourself before the busy begins. Learning how to use these types of mindfulness tools can be helpful for stress reduction and angst throughout the day."

5. 5. Rehydrate

"Drink a glass of water or warm water and lemon before you eat or drink your coffee or tea in the morning," Smith recommends. "The body gets dehydrated through the night and a glass of water or refreshing warm water and lemon helps flush out toxins from the night before and jump starts energy for your day."

6. 6. Set your intentions

Every day can bring a new set of goals and challenges. Consider what you'd like to accomplish and try one of these activities.

"What kind of energy do you want to feel: Calm? Relaxed? Energized? Design your routine with this in mind," Swan says. "Calm: journaling or candle-lit meditation, listening to an inspiring podcast with cup of tea; Relaxed: read the paper with coffee, go for a walk and take a hot shower; Energized: energizing breathing exercises, light stretches, exercise and a cold shower."

7. 7. Prioritize your well-being

If you can, try not to jump straight into your daily tasks, or doing things for others. "Use your morning time to prioritize one activity that improves your well-being," says behavioral change expert Stephanie Harrison, founder of The New Happy. "Whether that's a morning workout, a gentle yoga practice, a healthy breakfast, or a meditation, any well-being practice will help you to start your day on a positive note and set you up for the day ahead."

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Take some time to set your intentions in the morning (photo: Getty Images)
Above Take some time to set your intentions in the morning (photo: Getty Images)

8. 8. Try this three-pronged thought exercise

Life coach Gen Burley, who specializes in liberation and empowerment, recommends clients take a three-step approach to starting their days:

Grounding: "A grounding exercise is anything that allows you to connect with the body; it is how you focus yourself in an intentional and calming way," Burley says. "The choice of exercise is completely dependent on the time that you have available and your preference of activity. It could be as simple as three deep belly breaths with a long exhale or five minutes of meditation. Or perhaps you have time for some yoga or an invigorating run. My favourite is dancing in my PJs as I brush my hair—yes, it looks as bad as it sounds. A focused and positive connection to the body will short-circuit the tendency that the brain has to over-rev when thinking about the day's many tasks. It reminds you that there is a centre that you can return to throughout the day no matter what, and that you carry it with you everywhere—your body."

Connecting: "Then, try connecting with your values. A value is not a goal or task that can be ticked off a list, it is the ongoing direction for your life. It may include things such as supporting others, building genuine relationships or playing sports. Connecting to your values is a powerful guiding force for your day and your life. Why? It is a strong motivator (compare exercising to meet a goal as opposed to supporting your value of health). More importantly, it guides your decisions so that they are better aligned with what is truly important to you, adding richness, vitality and meaning to your life. With your values firmly in mind, you can then go about the day looking for the small ways open to you to honour those values."

Bridging: "You may have an idea of something that you want that you are working towards getting in the future. Something you yearn for, deeply. Why wait? Set an intention to get some of that thing today. Avoid the trap of all or nothing thinking that keeps so many of us in a state of dissatisfaction and perpetually looking to the future. There are two ways you can do this. First, identify the value that underlies your goal. If you want to own your own house, for example, it might be that the value this goal supports is looking after your family. Which you can do today in a number of small ways. Second, you can identify the feeling state you believe that thing will bring you. Perhaps you seek the sense of security that lots of money will provide. Use your imagination to dive into the full sensory experience of feeling solid, stable and secure. Then find ways to access and support that feeling state throughout the day. This third tip is a simple reminder not to postpone living and to use your creativity to bridge the gap between what you want and what is present."

9. 9. Quell negative thoughts and refocus

Dr Greg Hammer is a physician and professor at Stanford University Medical Center. He is the author of Gain Without Pain: The Happiness Handbook for Health CareHe recommends taking a four-step intentional approach to your daily routine.

"Gratitude. Think of three things you are grateful for. Breath in the hopeful, peaceful, loving feelings those thoughts bring.

"Acceptance. Pain is part of life; suffering is optional. Try as we might, we cannot fix everything, heal everyone. We must learn to accept the things we cannot change. Think of one thing you are resisting that is beyond your power to change. Allow yourself to observe it, feel it and accept it.

"Intention. You can choose to direct your energy towards becoming more present. Choose to think about things that are healthy, whole, kind, praiseworthy. Observe when you begin to ruminate on past disappointments or future worries and consciously choose to change your thoughts by returning to the present moment with a deep breath. Set each day with a clear, positive intention. At the end of the day, review and notice how your intention changed the trajectory of your day.

"Non-judgment. Observe your stream of critical thinking. We are continually categorizing and assigning qualities of good or bad, which interferes with our ability to think objectively and see clearly. Consider embracing “benevolent indifference” when you notice your mind engaged in judgment. Start with the first person you encounter each day. At the end of the day, notice how your attitude improved relationships and your own peace of mind."

10. 10. Do something for yourself: an act of self-care

Set yourself up for success by doing something for yourself. "Start the day by doing something for yourself: stretch, meditate, read, recite affirmations," says life coach Linda Mueller. "You can even do something as simple as drinking a hydrating and cleansing glass of lemon water and taking a few deep breaths. Whatever you do will empower you to face the day knowing you matter and are cared for."

11. 11. Try one of these morning rituals

Ariel Upton, author of Today I Did It Right, suggests writing and reading, but not on your phone!

"Put the phone away. Do not let the first thing you do in the morning be consuming the thoughts, ideas, and emotions of the outside world. You've just rested and reset - allow yourself to have at least 15 minutes in the morning to sit in the quiet of your mind without the noise of the outside world.

"Write it out. Start your day with a daily journaling practice. Use journaling prompts or try writing down your intentions for the day. Be a noticer and pay attention to how you feel. Put the pen to paper to start processing how you're going into the day ahead instead of jumping straight in.

"Start a morning reading club. Set aside a few minutes to read a book or article that sparks your curiosity. Read while savoring your first cup of coffee or tea each morning to ground into the day ahead while expanding your mind."

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Sticking to a morning routine isn't always easy, but it can be worth it in the long run (photo: Getty Images)
Above Sticking to a morning routine isn't always easy, but it can be worth it in the long run (photo: Getty Images)

12. 12. Adopt a routine gradually

However you choose to design a new morning routine, ease into it gradually. "We tend to be too ambitious when starting new habits and then give up a week later because we get overwhelmed," says life coach Emily Schickli. "To start a successful morning routine, try committing to waking up just 5 minutes earlier one week and extending it only when that becomes easy for you."

13. 13. Start small

"Extensive scientific research has found that long-term health and well-being is largely a result of our daily habits and behaviors," Harrison says. "However, in our quest to make positive changes, we often bite off too much and design very ambitious and highly structured routines that are hard to maintain in the midst of our other responsibilities. Instead, start by making just one small change to your routine: drink your morning cup of coffee without looking at your phone, stretch right after you get out of bed, or commit to five minutes of meditation. Once you've turned that into a habit, you can add on another small change."

14. 14. Stay flexible

"Have a plan but be flexible," says Juliet Adams, author of Intention Matters: The Science of Creating the Life You Want. "Give your day some shape and form by planning in blocks of activity. Allow time for the unexpected to arise. Treat the plan as a template but not a strait jacket. Keep it big picture–don’t be too detailed or specific and let them unfold in whatever way is best for you in that moment. As you get things done in the day, remember to pause and celebrate success and completion along the way. Doing so creates a sense of achievement and stops us from feeling that we are on an never ending treadmill of things to do."

15. 15. Keep iterating until you find something that works for you

As you continue to refine and evolve your morning routine, certified professional coach and strategic transformation advisor Nicole Hudson recommends always seeking balance.

"Determine how much time you will commit each morning when developing your perfect morning routine. If your routine is too long, it can become a source of stress rather than a productive kick-start to your day," Hudson says. "Don't be afraid to experiment in order to find the morning routine that is best for you. One size does not fit all!  If a piece of your morning routine is not serving you, adjust to find what feels right. Find a balance between steps that calm your mind, empower your day and provide a productive win first thing. For some this may be a combination of making your bed, meditation and journaling. For others this may be affirmations and a workout. Determine your objective and develop a routine that aligns."

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