How often do you feel energized, grounded, and excited for the day when you finish your morning routine?
And what is your morning routine?
Are you one of those people who sleep as late as possible, pound some coffee and a processed breakfast, and then rush to get into work on time? (No judgment—I’ve been there! Gas station decaf and pop tarts for the win!)
Or do you leave yourself a cushion of time so you can ease into your day feeling centered and invigorated, through some combination of self-care activities?
In recent years I’ve leaned toward the latter because I know the way I spend my morning sets the tone for the rest of my day.
Admittedly, it’s easier on some days than others. When things are going well, and I feel good about myself and my life, it’s not too hard to do things that are good for me, even if I only have a few minutes.
But it’s when we’re not feeling our best that we need self-care the most. Especially in the morning, when our choices have immense power to shape the twenty-four hours ahead.
For me, the most important choice is to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is essentially non-judgmental present moment awareness. It’s simply being where you are. Grounding yourself in your body and choosing to let thoughts naturally pass instead of getting caught up in them.
It’s a great practice any time of day, but particularly in the morning, since it enables you to create the kind of energy you want to take into the tasks and interactions ahead of you.
There are limitless ways to practice mindfulness, but here are some of my favorites:
1. Mindful check-in
I imagine a lot of us hop out of bed and get into the morning without really checking in with ourselves to see how we’re feeling.
Check in to see how your body feels—if you’re holding tension anywhere or if any part of your body needs a little extra love, whether that means stretching your legs or giving yourself a hand massage.
Check in to see how you feel mentally and emotionally—if you feel anxious about anything that’s coming or you’re holding onto any thoughts or regrets about yesterday and could maybe work through them with a little journaling.
And most importantly, ask yourself: What do I need? It might not be the same as what you needed yesterday. You might need to chug some water, or connect with someone you love, or listen to a song that always makes you smile. None of these things takes that long, but they can all make a huge difference.
2. Mindful morning mantra
Because I want my son to feel excited about his days, and to know that he’s a valuable human being, I’ve gotten into the habit of telling him, right after he wakes up, “Welcome to the day, the day is lucky to have you!” (I probably sound like the teacher from Peanuts right now, cause, you know, he’s one and a half, but in time he’ll understand!)
Recently it occurred to me that I could just easily say this to myself, either looking in the mirror or just in my head when I first open my eyes. So I tell myself this, then take a few deep breaths and let these words marinate in my brain.
It’s a much nicer greeting to the morning than a bright screen in my face. And it’s a way to proactively and mindfully nurture what I want to feel: excited, valued, and confident.
3. Mindful shower
Our morning shower is a perfect opportunity to engage with our senses, clear our mind, and visualize our worries washing away down the drain. This is why I included a free bonus titled How to Make Your Morning Shower Mindful, Blissful, and Rejuvenating in my new Mindfulness Kit. It’s also why I included a lavender shower gel.
Whenever we engage our senses we’re pulled into the present moment, and there’s no sense more powerful than the sense of smell. The part of the brain that processes smells is linked to the part of the brain associated with memory and emotion. Which means the right scent can provide comfort, calm, and healing. And lavender in particular isn’t just relaxing, it’s also scientifically proven to help with anxiety and a number of physical ailments.
You might find a different scent appeals to you. You might prefer hot showers, or cold showers, or a combination. What’s important is that you allow yourself to be fully present with the experience—to feel the water cascading down your back, to tune into the sound of the drops hitting the floor, and to give yourself this time to simply be, in this moment of solitude.
4. Intention-setting practice
Many of us go into our days with lengthy to-do lists, and it can easily create a sense of overwhelm.
I like to set a morning intention based on both something to do and something to be, because this reminds me of what’s truly important, and takes the focus off productivity. And I like to do this while practicing deep breathing and watching the flame dance on my favorite candle (another practice I recommend in my Mindfulness Kit).
For example, you could set the intention to do an act of kindness and be gentle with yourself. Then you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when you complete the act of kindness, and you’ll not only feel good about having done it, you’ll feel good about yourself no matter what else you do, because you’ll be honoring your intention to be gentle with yourself.
5. Mindful breakfast
Particularly in the morning, when we have a lot to do, and perhaps get into quickly, it’s easy to scarf down our food without even really tasting it. And it always occurs to me how silly this is. It’s not like savoring our food takes much time. It literally adds seconds to the experience—a few extra minutes at most.
In my family we joke that we don’t chew our food, we just kind of gulp it down. So this is where I start. I chew more. I fully taste what I’m eating. I close my eyes as if it’s a super decadent chocolate.
Choose to eat without multitasking—no phone or TV on in the background. And give yourself permission to just enjoy eating. Like when you were a kid and finally got an ice cream cone after begging for an hour. You took big, long licks, you let it drip down your hand, maybe you snarled when someone asked if they could try it because you were just that into it.
You could also imagine this is the last time you will ever get to eat this particular meal. I find that always mindful eating far easier!
6. Yoga or stretching
If I could take an hour-long yoga class every morning, I would, because nothing feels as good for my mind and body as yoga. It’s like a mental cleanse and a really good full body yawn-stretch all at once. (Do you that too—yawn-stretch?) It releases tension both in the mind and body and creates a feeling of lightness all over.
If, like me, you don’t have the time for a full class, you could instead do a few energizing poses, while focusing on your breath. Yoga Journal has a great list of recommendations here. Or you could simply stretch in whatever way feels good to you, breathing deeply as you move your body.
7. Gratitude journaling
You probably see this suggestion a lot, and for good reason: identifying our blessings boosts our mood, increases our overall life satisfaction, and makes us feel more optimistic. When you find things to appreciate, even when life feels hard or stressful, it’s like shining a spotlight on all the reasons life is worth living and deemphasizing everything that hurts.
But you don’t need to put pen to paper to reap the benefits. You could write one thing down and put it in a gratitude jar so you can pull a random blessing out any time you need a pick-me-up. You could share a morning blessing on social media, to connect with other people in the process. Or you could try the email approach I recently adopted with my sister…
Though we didn’t keep it going long, for a brief time we emailed each other daily one thing we were grateful for, one thing we were excited about, and one thing we were proud of ourselves for. I found it was a great way to help each other be our best selves and nurture positive emotions.
Let’s face it: Every day is different, and some mornings are harder than others.
Sometimes we wake up wishing yesterday was a dream and hoping today will be over fast.
Sometimes we wake up feeling indifferent about the twenty-four hours ahead because we’re just not excited about our day.
And other times we wake up feeling eager and motivated, thrilled about the upcoming day and ready to make the most of it.
That’s life, for all of us. That’s the full range of human experience, all kinds of days mixed up together like white specks drifting around in a snow globe.
We can’t control that our lives are always in flux, and that we won’t always wake up feeling happy or positive. But we can choose to do something every morning that enables us to be and do our best with what is, whatever it is.
And it all starts with mindfulness. Coming home to our body. Giving ourselves permission to simply be. And then, when we feel a strong sense of stability within us, going out into the world to do. Whatever it is we do. Ready to find the joy in our day and knowing we can handle whatever’s coming.