“Well-being is realized by small steps, but is truly no small thing.”
— Zeno of Citium
I used to get hung up on crafting the perfect morning routine.
Inspired by books like Daily Rituals and podcasters like Tim Ferriss, who asks many of his guests how they start their day, I would plan in detail the sequence of pursuits that would take place immediately after I awoke.
Usually, some combination of these (or all of the below at times) featured:
- Wake super early
- Write in a journal
- Take supplements
- Read a book/catch up on news
- Hydrate/drink protein shake
- Lift weights/do press-ups
- Take a cold shower/ice bath
- Eat a healthy breakfast
- Drink tea/coffee/trendy health-boosting elixir
- Perform stretching routine/Yoga
- Take a walk/go for a run
- Complete a mindfulness practice
- Do breathing exercises
- And so on…
I would swap activities in and out periodically and rotate them to try to keep things fresh.
Unsurprisingly, having this packed schedule to cycle through before it was even time to start work for the day meant the routines never stuck.
Looking back, it never stood a chance.
A Threshold to a New World
Now when I find myself going too far down the rabbit hole of productivity and self-optimization, I return to these words by John O’Donohue:
“Part of the difficulty of our times is that we have reduced the magnificent adventure of being a human being to endless, wearisome projects of self-improvement and self-analysis according to the flattest and most boring maps that could be made.
It’d be lovely to hear someone talk about themselves as if they’re standing on a threshold to a new world, & to engage & embrace themselves with the sense of adventure, urgency, danger, & excitement that you would as if you were exploring a completely new kind of territory.”
These days, I fetishize a lot less about crafting morning routines and trying to squeeze out every last drop of efficiency. I’d rather stand each day, as John O’Donohue puts it, on a threshold to a new world.
I still like to regularly get some things (like exercising and reading) done early, but I now take a gentler approach to the morning activities I do every single day.
That’s because I now believe that to be effective, a morning routine must be sustainable.
In other words, to become habitual, your regimen must be flexible enough that it can be performed regardless of external circumstances like time constraints, unavoidable responsibilities, or travel.
Not everyone wakes up with a blank canvas they can fill with an elaborate and time-consuming program. (Though simply waking up earlier can often provide a chunk of free time you wouldn’t otherwise have had.)
So, here is a Stoic morning routine you can complete in just nine minutes. It is composed of exercises whose power lies in their simplicity and that are specific to preparing for the day ahead.
It shouldn’t matter where you are or how many other things you need to get done before the day begins, this routine should always be manageable.
(Note: I deliberately exclude activities from the routine that can be done at later times such as exercising, walking, etc. I include exercises that I think are most effective when done in the morning and that will have a positive mental impact on the day ahead.)
9-Minute Micro Morning Routine
The only prerequisite for this routine is waking early.
If the sound of the alarm clock is a daily difficulty for you, keep this advice from Marcus Aurelius close by:
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.1
Now that you’re awake, let’s get into it.
1. Journal (3 minutes)
Morning journaling is excellent preparation for the day ahead. Think of it as a mental warmup that will clear the early-morning fogginess left over from sleep.
Try 1 minute each on these prompts. It’s obviously a short amount of time, but that will force you to focus on the most meaningful things that come to mind.
Prompt 1. What difficulties am I likely to encounter today?
Prompt 2. What one thing do I most need to get done today?
Prompt 3. What am I grateful for today?
For more detail on these prompts, and for additional afternoon and evening prompts, check out this article:
2. Meditation (4 minutes)
A short meditation gives you the chance to pause and think about what you just journaled about.
You could do this in silence, or you could use this guided meditation that reinforces the themes used in the journal prompts:
If you prefer a longer version of this meditation, you can find it (and the full text) here:
3. Affirmations (2 minutes)
Your final action is to take a couple of minutes to build upon the meditation by running through some short mental rehearsals.
The purpose of these affirmations is to cement your Stoic intentions for the day.
As this turns into a daily habit, your mind will absorb these attitudes more and more, and carry them further into the day.
You can read these to yourself or say them out loud:
- “Today I am grateful I woke up.”
- “Today I will focus only on what’s necessary.”
- “Today I will tolerate, and where possible help, difficult/rude people as I don’t know what battles they are fighting.”
- “Today I will spend no time on what I can’t control.”
- “Today I will not exaggerate problems, I will accept them as challenges.”
- “Today I will be specific about my worries and deal with them one step at a time.”
- “Today I will be present with others, not distracted.”
- “Today I will keep in mind that little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within my way of thinking.”
- “Today I will do a little better than yesterday.”
You can find a full explanation of the meaning behind these affirmations here:
You can of course expand this routine as needed if time permits.
For example, three minutes of journaling might not feel enough for you some days, but going in with the intention of 1 minute per prompt will easily get you started.
Feel free to experiment too.
Maybe after a few days of practice, you’ll feel like changing the affirmations or replacing them with something else like Stoic quotes or other meaningful maxims.
However you proceed, just remember to keep it manageable. A micro morning routine like this will be easier to maintain than something more complex.
Step-by-Stoic-step, with a carefully considered practice and the consistency to keep it going you’ll set yourself up to have a lot of good mornings, and consequently a lot of good days.