Refining the Morning Routine

Sunday was a failure. My alarm was set for 4:45. I rolled out of bed at 6:30 (this lack of discipline alone is cause for much grievance). I went downstairs and began a later-than-planned morning routine. I meditated for 10 minutes. Then I did some reading. My plan was to read one chapter. Instead I read about 4-5 to finish the book I was reading. My wife, Bethany, woke up at 7:30 followed soon by my son, Alec. Once they were up, I put a stop to my morning routine. No workout. No writing. No creating a plan for the week to come. I could have kept going and finished up. But when they are up on my day off, my concentration goes to them.

Why was this morning a failure? Because the quiet time when the house is asleep is my time to really work on my own personal development. And once I dropped the ball on this morning, I never made the time to pick it back up. The busy-ness of the day took over, and there was no working out, no planning, and certainly no writing. By the time Monday morning came around, I was still trying to create a plan for the week.

Some would think: It is a Sunday morning, why be so hard on yourself? The truth is that I look at a Sunday morning as one of the most important days of the week. It is a day off from my normal work shift. It is a morning for planning and catching up from the previous week. And why am I so hard on myself? Because nobody else is going to accomplish my goals for me.

As Monday progressed, I had an opportunity to speak with my work partner Kia about my viewpoint on Sunday. I probably should start paying Kia as she has become to some degree my personal advisor. Our conversation turned to my morning routine in general and what specifically I am trying to accomplish. I laid out my normal Monday morning for her:

  • Wake up at 3:45
  • Meditate from 4-4:10
  • Read to 4:30
  • Quick workout to 4:50
  • Write until I run out of time before getting ready for work.

She asked me what was the most important thing I wanted to accomplish? I told her to write. Her response: Why are you not writing more? And it wasn’t just writing she was asking about. Am I writing toward a specific goal or am I just writing whatever comes to mind?

You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve. –Marcus Aurelius

I looked back on my routine and had to have second thoughts. Do I need to get up earlier? Do I really need to read in the morning? I read throughout the day. How is an additional 20 minutes (sometimes longer) really helping me to get the writing done? When it comes down to it, am I spreading myself out on so many small things that I am not spending enough time on the really big thing that matters the most?

Only having a short amount of time in the morning, there is no room for wasted time. Every activity has to be qualified. If the activity is not getting me closer to my goals, then it has to be dropped from the morning routine. This refining process makes me stronger and more productive. It turns me from a sad wishy-washy dreamer into a disciplined producer inching ever closer to the destination I seek. The more I produce in those quiet morning times, the happier I become. Happy knowing that I got it done and happy knowing the rest of my time can be spent on other pursuits.

What does your daily routine look like? Are you spending it on the small insignificant things or on the big things that matter? If you are looking to up your current level of productivity, refining your routine is a must. This simple act leads to a more disciplined life, one that is truly happier.

A disciplined mind leads to happiness and an undisciplined mind leads to suffering. –Dalai Lama

Meditation –On Happiness

Meditating is a new practice for me. It is one that I hope I can stick with. Why am I doing it? Am I trying to achieve nirvana? It isn’t my intention, but I am receptive to the possibility. This whole focus on my breathing and trying to find my center, what’s the purpose? Is it to lower my blood pressure or feel better about myself? I am sure those are some nice secondary benefits, but what is the real reason?

In the first few sessions, I found my mind wandering. I was constantly trying to remind myself to focus on my breath. The “path” is one of the concepts I am concentrating on these days and applying it to all aspects my life. To find my path, to know it, and to stay on it. If meditation is like this path, the breathing is helping me to stay on it. It is guiding me back on course. In the bigger picture, I am always trying to correct my course. I am trying to stay on my path. It is the reason why I am meditating. I need to find my center. I need to discover who I really am and where I want to go. The meditation is going to help me get there.

I breathe and I think. I am not happy. I am not where I want to be in life. There are things I want, and I don’t have them. I am trying to get to the place I want to be, but do I have to be unhappy on this journey? Do I have to go on with an iron resolve and a stoic countenance? The stoicism I heard of as a child was related to unhappiness and a stern face. But that is not stoicism, is it? I am not being stoic by being unhappy. I’m being an ass to both myself and those around me.

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions. –Dalai Lama

I am choosing to be unhappy. I am choosing to not be content with the things I have. I am choosing the wrong path. I can choose to be happy. I can be grateful for the things I have and the people in my life. Every morning I have been writing three things I am grateful for. Do I believe it? Am I really grateful, or am I just going through the motions? Why is it that the morning after a rough day, say a day full of pride, I don’t express my gratitude on paper? If I was to fill my soul with happiness, then the gratitude should come gushing out onto the paper. I need to choose to be happy. I need to change my attitude and get on the path.

I had a flashback to my youth. I was walking in line back to the locker room after a tough junior high school football game. I was tired and hurting, but I wanted to maintain my composure. When I passed by a few cheerleaders, one asked me why I always looked so serious. In my mind, I thought I was training to be a warrior and had to look the part. I should have learned my lesson. I should have learned it when so many people over the years have asked a similar question. Why am I so serious? Why do my brows furrow on my face? Why don’t I smile more? I like to tell myself, and others, that I am happy on the inside, and I just forget to show it on the outside. But I think that is just a façade. I am fighting a war within myself. When virtue reigns over my vices, I find myself happy. The opposite is true as well. When I give into my vices (laziness, gluttony, all the other things keeping my from realizing my full potential) I find myself unhappy and my face will surely show it.

What is the happy life? It is peace of mind, and lasting tranquility. This will be yours if you possess greatness of soul; it will be yours if you possess the steadfastness that resolutely clings to a good judgment just reached. How does a man reach this condition? By gaining a complete view of truth, by maintaining, in all that he does, order, measure, fitness, and a will that is inoffensive and kindly, that is intent upon reason and never departs therefrom, that commands at the same time love and admiration. In short, to give you the principle in brief compass, the wise man’s soul ought to be such as would be proper for a god. –Seneca, Letter 92: On the Happy Life