by Antonella De Giuli
When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to feel joy, to love. (Marcus Aurelius)
As noted previously, the best way to wake up happy and alert is to get enough sleep! To do that, make sure your evening is relaxing and that you reduce the amount of stimuli affecting you as you prepare for bed. That means putting away phones, computers, and turning off the TV. Sleeping should be done in a dark room, without LCD screens, for an adequate number of hours.
But even in the morning there are things we can do to feel better throughout the day. Creating a few simple, smart routines—which soon will become habits—can help anyone face the challenges of daily life.
When we wake in the morning, we typically enter “survival” mode, acting in automatic ways that allow us to get ready without expending too much energy. Perhaps we jump into the shower while still half-asleep, or quickly eat breakfast, always eating the same food every morning. Then we might check email and review the day’s schedule, trying to mentally prepare for upcoming meetings and events.
And this turns into a daily routine, a series of actions that we take without thinking. We rarely stop to consider whether there’s a better way to approach our mornings, possibly because routines are difficult to change, or perhaps because we think changing our routines will make us inefficient. And indeed, it is difficult to change ingrained habits, but mostly because our habits make us feel safe. Having a regular routine helps us to avoid questioning our lives and allows us to feel reassured that everything is foreseeable and under control. That’s why having set routines can sometimes be detrimental—we risk spending our lives “stuck” in the routine, always living and reliving the same experiences without being able to “grow.” This is similar to a train that travels the same track every day, back and forth without any possibility of getting to know other landscapes, people, or destinations.
So, how do we change our habits? How do we become more self-aware? We can begin by realizing there’s no point in completely upending our lives; instead, start with small changes from day to day. As you may have realized, every time we add a new habit to our day, we probably will have to replace an old one.
What would a new morning “awareness” routine look like?
Once we accept that our morning minutes are limited, it makes sense to handle some of our usual morning chores the night before. We can set out clothes and shoes in advance, as well as a briefcase or backpack and any papers that will be needed for work the next day. Just being a bit more ready will reduce morning anxiety and earn some extra time. We can try to wake up a little earlier, just enough to defuse our “automatic pilot” and introduce a new routine of self-awareness. That could include starting the day with a brief moment to meditate, pray, or give thanks. It only takes a few minutes to acknowledge the gift of a new morning and decide how to approach the day.
I like to think about a quote from the Dalai Lama: “Today, I am fortunate to be alive, I have this precious human life, and I do not intend to waste it”. Then, after a simple moment of thanksgiving, we can dedicate a few moments to awakening our bodies by practicing yoga or doing a few stretches (based on personal abilities and health conditions, and with the permission of your doctor).
Breakfast can also be a moment for self-awareness. Try to dedicate some time to the meal, concentrating on the smell and taste of the food. Avoid eating while watching TV or looking at electronic devices. Better yet, don’t turn on any electronics until an hour after waking up, to prevent being bombarded by too much stimuli too early in the day.
If there are other family members waking at the same time, remember the importance starting a new day—try to smile, pay attention, and be kind (even if we have a challenging day ahead!). When it’s time to leave the house, walk on foot for at least part of the trip, taking the opportunity to look around and be curious, as if walking the route for the first time. There may be interesting things to see that weren’t noticeable before.
If possible, choose a route that crosses a park or public garden, or runs along a tree-lined street, or next to a river. Look into the distance to notice mountains or perhaps the ocean. Even just gazing up into the sky will help us make a connection with the world around us. Before starting work or errands, we need to ask ourselves what we truly want from our day and how we can be “intentional” about our efforts.
“Every morning we are born again. What we decide to do today is what really matters” (Buddha)