I’ve never been one of those people who jumps out of bed in the morning eager to start the day. In fact, no matter how much sleep I’ve gotten the night before, I’ve always been a snooze button addict, which means constantly rushing, missing breakfast and showing up late to work meetings or brunch dates with friends.
Because I’m constantly striving for self-improvement, I decided I needed to change this bad habit once and for all. Contrary to the popular belief that it takes 21 days to form a habit, studies show that it takes 66 days to form a habit—which was pretty daunting for me. I decided to make my morning routine as streamlined and stress-free as possible; that way I’d be setting myself up to for success, and just maybe I could become a morning person. Here’s how I did it.
First, I started meditating—but probably not in the way you’d expect.
For me, the problem (and the bonus) of meditation is that it relaxes me to the point of sleepiness, which is why I don’t normally attempt it in the morning. A personal trainer friend of mine told me how she likes to “meditate in motion,” which is a type of meditation that runners enjoy, too. Meditation requires intense focus to clear your mind, and exercise is a great time to work on it.
I started getting up an hour earlier than usual to hit up local parks and trails with my pups. I ditched my usual headphones so that I could enjoy the peaceful sounds of nature, like the birds chirping and water running along creeks. Not only did this experience happily wear my dogs out, but I found myself starting my day with a big smile on my face and a strong sense of gratitude.
Second, I made breakfast—and all my meals—a priority.
I hate spending money (and calories) on quick-fix hunger solutions from a vending machine that add nothing in the way of fiber, protein or vitamins. That’s why I took the huge step of meal-prepping breakfast and lunch meals for the week on Sundays. It took a lot of work, scouring food blogs for recipes that weren’t too complicated for my novice cooking skills and that I’d actually want to eat for a week in a row. Having the appropriate containers was also something I hadn’t thought about, and I will admit that in that first week, my meal presentation was much more “creative use of tin-foil” than Martha Stewart!
None of the meals I prepared—from egg muffins loaded with veggies to warm quinoa with berries and just a little bit of maple syrup for breakfast—were very complicated, but they were delicious and healthy. It was the same for my lunchtime turkey taco bowls and Greek chicken with veggies. With a large workload and heavy deadlines at work, moving deadlines, it was a relief to not only have a plan for this area of my life but to know I was also taking care of myself health-wise and financially.
Third, I ditched my morning news shows.
I like to be informed about current events, and my job requires me to be able to carry on conversations with people from all walks of life, so I had always started my day flipping between morning news shows. That can be really depressing though—I found that the excess of bad news left me feeling very unmotivated.
If you are a TV news junkie like I was, try switching to a print or digital subscription of an outlet you enjoy, and limit yourself to reading it only on your lunch break. Without the scrolling banner of tragedy, menacing music and “breaking news” graphics you may be able to achieve a little bit more balance—seeing the good in the world, the things we can celebrate, and the areas where we need to improve. For a more positive morning routine, I switched to listening to my favorite music (I dare you to listen to Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing” and still have the morning grumpies). Use that newfound free time to call a loved one or write a letter- pen and paper, old school style- to a friend. Whatever you decide, just think about starting your day in a way that reminds you of what makes you happy.
Lastly, before bed each night, I minimized clutter and any other potential distractions.
I used to be easily side-tracked in the morning. Dishes in the sink? “Sure, I can spare 10 minutes to load the dishwasher.” Dusty bookshelf? “Might as well do it now,” I’d say.
I always underestimated how long these tasks and decisions would take me, and so they contributed to me running late and starting my day very flustered. Now, before I go to bed, I do a quick sweep of my apartment, folding up blankets on the couch, wiping off kitchen counters and even making sure there is a bag in the trash can. I also pick out my outfit for the next day—and, not to brag, but sometimes I do it for the whole week! This has saved so much time and even provided me with a confidence boost about my appearance when I head to work. After this Zen experiment, I may still not be a morning person, but I enjoy my de-stressed mornings more than ever.
How do you create your perfect zen in the morning?
Danielle Hegedus is an Atlanta-based writer. She is a regular contributor to Modernize, as well as a variety of lifestyle and home design websites. Danielle recently finished her first cookbook, in collaboration with Chef, Kamal Grant for Atlanta’s beloved, Sublime Doughnuts.