With the new academic year almost upon us, it’s time to think about ways to make your mornings run as smoothly and effeciently as possible. Even if that’s a long shot for you (same), this quick morning ritual can set you up for success.
We’ve looked through the latest research to find out what works when it comes to prepping the body and mind for a demanding day at school, on the job, or both. For this list, we stuck to strict criteria: Everything here is backed up by scientific research and simple enough to fit into a morning ritual of under 30 total minutes.
5 Steps to Add to Your Morning Ritual for a Better Day
Here are five steps for an energizing morning ritual to help you or your loved ones have a productive day of working, learning, or some combination of both.
Step 1: Choose your outfit the night before
Why it works: You might have heard about President Obama intentionally limiting his wardrobe to save his brainpower for more important things. He did this to reduce decision fatigue — a significant dip in mental stamina and quality of thinking that comes from making several decisions over the course of a day.
Even when exhaustion strikes right before bed, make this last decision about what to wear tomorrow. Think of it as a gift to tomorrow you, who could use that brainpower on more important stuff.
Try it: Add this step to the bedtime routine you already use. You’ll thank yourself the next morning when you have a matching (and clean) outfit ready to go.
Step 2: Wake up to natural light (0-5 minutes)
Why it works: A gradual transition from dim to bright light kicks off a synchronized hormonal dance involving cortisol and melatonin that keeps you alert for hours. This morning dose of bright light also helps regulate your metabolism, suggests research.
Scientists have done lots of research on circadian rhythms, and the takeaway is simple: Let your body sync up with morning light as naturally as possible.
Try it: Sleep with the windows open if you can. Doing so is the closest any of us will get to a natural waking process, with sunlight gradually stirring us from sleep.
Or, if you happen to be a city dweller without a sunny bedroom window, try a wake-up light.
Step 3: Get a quick burst of exercise (5-10 minutes)
Why it works: Researchers have uncovered a long list of benefits of exercise to cognitive function — from its effects on blood glucose to the improvements in processing and reaction times.
Here’s the short version: Exercise, in any amount, charges up both your body and your brain. It’s a great way to kick off a busy and productive day in the classroom or at the office. And one of the best things to add to your morning ritual.
Try it: Choose your favorite basic bodyweight exercise — squats, pushups, lunges, or planks are all good options. If you pick moves you like, you’ll enjoy the energizing boost instead of dread it. Sweat it out and then jump straight into a refreshing shower.
Whether a full workout is on the agenda for later or not, you’ve already moved your body and got your blood flowing to start the day.
Step 4: Stick to a consistent breakfast (5-7 minutes)
Why it works: Much like choosing your outfit the night before, having the same breakfast each day eliminates another decision from your time-crunched morning. In short, it saves you brainpower so you can use it later. Even if you’re half-asleep, you can still fix yourself a solid morning meal once it becomes an automatic part of your routine.
Try it: Keep a stocked supply of whichever breakfast foods suit your tastes and dietary needs, leaning toward items that don’t involve a lot of preparation or clean-up. Try to incorporate some sources of fat, protein, and fiber. Think oatmeal with fruit and nut butter or Greek yogurt with almonds and berries.
You don’t need to say goodbye to variety forever — it’s just that your morning ritual is a better match for something quick, simple, and reliable.
Step 5: Calm your mind with loving-kindness meditation (2-10 minutes)
Why it works: Even a time-crunched morning ritual should leave time for mental wellness. Enter loving-kindness meditation, which can promote positive emotions and bolster mental resources that you can draw from throughout the day, suggests research.
Try it: Commit the last 5-10 minutes before you head out the door to calming your mind. We recommend a simple loving-kindness meditation that directs positive feelings toward yourself and others through simple mantras such as, “May you be happy, healthy, and strong”.
If that doesn’t work with your timeline, try meditating as soon as you get up to ease into your day with less stress.
To sum it all up…
We hope these ideas help you come up with a morning ritual that fits your unique needs this school year. As always, feel free to mix, match, or tweak these steps to better work for you.
Your turn: What does your morning ritual look like? Tell us all about it in the comments.
Want even better mornings? Check out our productive morning routine.
Author: Scott Trimble
Scott researched human motivation at The University of Texas at Austin. He spends most of his time traveling, reading, teaching, and writing.