As I enter the clinical years of medical school, time will be limited due to the hectic schedule (up to 80 hours per week), and time will often be out of my control. I expect this to drain my willpower. How do I ensure I continue to take care of my health, relationships, and personal goals?
The solution is to create consistent routines that turn activities like exercise and organization into habits.
I developed my morning routine over the past 4 months while finishing up my PhD thesis. The routine is intended to build momentum for the day and make me focused and relaxed. It already kept me sane while preparing manuscripts for publication, presenting at national conferences, and writing that 210 page dissertation.
Time to share it.
Staples of my morning routine
These habits survived a dozen rounds of experimentation. They will be the core of my morning routine for a long time.
1) Clean up and de-grog: When I first get out of bed, I'm groggy. I used to dislike cleaning up my home, because it is mindless. It got cluttered quickly. Solution? Clean up when I'm groggy- just one section of the condo. This takes no mental energy, but gets me active and wakes me up. When fully conscious, I look around and get both joy and focus from the uncluttered living space. The small win, so early in the morning, brings easy motivation.
Lesson: look at problems in your own life, and pick habits that help you solve them.
2) Speech warm-up: I used to stutter and not articulate my words properly. A regular routine of practicing speech (I use alliterative poems) gave me the confidence for the next step: a lot of public speaking. This mostly fixed the problem, but I still do the habit to warm-up for the day, and to remind myself of my continuing goal to become an articulate and clear speaker.
Lesson: use morning routines to remind yourself of personal goals and warm up for the day.
|Decide ahead of time exactly what the routine entails|
3) 7 minute bodyweight workout: short, super-intense workouts are highly effective. NYTimes posted one anyone can do, but I found a far more intense version on Fitocracy (BURPEES). Don't be fooled by the short time interval- I'm dying by the end of it. For a challenge, just go faster. By this method, I can truly work out every day, no matter how busy I am.
Lesson: well-designed habits dispel the excuse "I don't have time."
I also listen to motivational videos while working out. Serves as a timer, motivates me, and reminds me of principles that help me solve life problems. Here's one of my favorites that teaches the power of habit.
A morning routine is endlessly adaptable to meet one’s changing life needs, so I continue to experiment with it.
1) Make my bed. Never did this before, but I easily tacked this on to my established cleanup routine.
Lesson: use habits as triggers for other habits
2) Write for 30 minutes. Where do you think this article came from? Consistency.
Lesson: morning routines make side projects possible on a busy schedule
3) Meditate. I’m using meditation to train the ability to re-direct my attention at will. Unproductive rumination about something that makes me angry, sad, etc. severely hampers my effectiveness and happiness. Re-focusing my attention should prove invaluable in any tough situation. I use the Headspace app.
How to experiment:
Last time, I wrote about a dangerous trap when trying new things. Don’t simply collect a list of useful-sounding habits and string them together into a morning routine. You must prioritize taking concrete action on them, and see for yourself if they are useful to you.
But how you do choose a habit to take action on?
Pick 2-4 habits. Try them all once, immediately.
The ones you like, commit to them everyday for 7-10 days. Discard the others.
The ones you still like, commit to them everyday for 1 month. Discard the others.
After 25-50 days, it’s a habit (exact time depends on the habit)
At any point in this process, use your experience (what worked, what didn’t, and why) as feedback to identify other potential habits to try (again, try them as soon as you find them).
Warning: for the 1-month commitment, note that internal resistance occurs around 7-14 days, making you want to give up. During this period, motivation disappears (motivation is an emotion, and emotions are always temporary), and the habit is not yet ingrained. Your brain will come up with excuses like “I don’t have time” and “maybe what I'm doing doesn't matter.” Don’t give in at this point- otherwise you’ll never deliberately build any habits at all.
More than just the habit
Bonus!!! Because of my speech warm-up, I find myself subconsciously working on my articulation throughout the day. This reminds me to pay more attention to others, and I feel a frequent impulse to smile, make eye contact, and listen to others. My morning workout reminds me to use occasional free time to go cycling or hit the gym. After a small morning clean-up for 4 months, I felt ready for a major overhaul: I gave away 60% of my possessions, and adopted a new organizing strategy that is both easy and beautiful.
You are what you do frequently. By doing things everyday, you change how you view your own identity. You no longer feel constrained by your current situation, personality, and weaknesses. Thus, the mental benefits far exceed the direct effects of daily action.
In summary, a morning routine allows you to:
- Feel in control of your day
- Target specific problems in your life
- Remind yourself of personal goals
- Warm up for the day
- String habits together as progressive triggers
- Dispel the excuse “I don’t have time.”
- Gain confidence to make bigger changes in your life
All this, by expending minimal time and willpower. What are you waiting for?