Building morning routines - Glimpse into 3 months of cold showers and making the bed.

Many of my friends still ask me: "So do you still wake up at 4:30am?"

I disappoint them by saying "No, that had risen from a need but I no longer have to."

I didn't realize it at the time but there seems to be something extremely novel about the idea of waking up at 4:30am. A famous upholder of this morning routine is ex-navy seal, Jocko Wilink. His Instagram is literally just pictures of his watch as he wakes up at 4-4:30am everyday. 

Back when I was an investor in Calgary, I woke up at 5:30am but since moving back to Toronto I've chosen to wake up at 6am. It's never on the dot. Sometimes I'll be up at 4:30am, 5:45am or 6:30am. It's a continuous battle to normalize the wake-up time to suit the lifestyle I have. 

A difficulty I always faced in the morning was my ability to be effective. Waking up at 4:30am or 5:30 or even 7 is worthless if you waste those hours not being effective. That's the purpose of waking up early right? It's to create time to increase your own effectiveness. 

It's a "healthy" addiction.

It really is. Every person has their poison but I wanted to focus on "what else could I do in the morning to optimize my whole day?"

Three months ago I decided I'd do a trifecta of meditation, cold showers and morning exercise. 

Meditation isn't some magic potion. 

Meditation had been both a night and morning routine for me in the past and I had logged upwards of 2000+ minutes on Headspace. I ended up meditating for 10 minutes everyday in the morning. But after the first month, these morning meditations didn't stick. I've found it to be highly effective at night to calm my "monkey mind" and help me fall asleep when my mind is racing with exciting thoughts; however, it hasn't made a material difference in regards to helping with morning effectiveness.

Meditation is that word that's been beaten around so much by every billionaire as being the most important thing and now it's becoming more wildly adopted. Some may think it's heresy, especially with meditation reaching "fad" levels among the populace as the ultimate cure, but I don't think it's the ultimate secret weapon for success. While I did find some use cases for it I did not find including it as part of my morning routine was particularly eye-opening. If the focus of meditating is to cultivate empty space, there are many other ways to do that. I feel like I'm meditating when I'm actually training at the gym. If done right, there is no easier way to fully feel your body and all its muscle fibers than go toss 400lbs around. Now, I just use basic breathing techniques to relax and listen to white noise to fall asleep. Both through Kevin Rose's Oak meditation app. This isn't me shutting the door on morning meditations. Like a good book, I may come back to it in the future and discover a completely new insight. 

Ice, Ice Baby. 

Unlike meditation, cold showers have become a staple in my life. It might be a personality thing but I always took great pride in my ability to suffer. I mean, I used to be that imbecile that prided in working 100+ hour weeks so. 

There is something intuitively attractive about doing cold showers. I picture the "bad-ass" image of soldiers training half-naked in the snow and it gets me excited to beat something that is considered "difficult". However, biologically, there are also benefits to cold showers. Things like improving your body's ability to recover from hard training, burn fat, improve muscle growth and improve psychological well-being and mood. 

So I started every morning with a 30-60 second cold shower for the first month. The first mental block is when you have to force yourself to turn the knob. When you have to let go of that warm water. It's that weird relationship of being the one responsible for inflicting the pain of the ice cold water on yourself. 

I'd like to say it get's easier over time. Well.... actually it does get slightly easier. It's been 90 days and it's gotten close to being instinctive but I still catch myself pausing to get my mind ready for the cold water before I turn the knob. 

But it's funny how you begin to adapt to something that is routine. Even if it is painful. There were times when I forgot to do the cold bit and gingerly went back into the shower. It's just become more habitual than anything now. There also is this pang of guilt of feeling like I knowingly cheated, which also helps me get myself back in for the cold shower.

Now, I do cold showers in the morning and night for at least 1 - 2 mins. Night showers give the same benefits as the morning ones but the additional benefit is that it helps induce deep sleep as well. 

Admiral William McRaven said "Make your bed". 

He literally wrote a book titled "Make your bed." It seems like a very small thing. But like how there are many successful people who speak about waking up early in the morning and meditating, making the bed tends to be part of that conversation too. 

There is something akin to discipline when you start off the morning by making your bed. You wake up, then you make the bed. Now, I don't make them like they do in hotels. It's just spreading out my sheets and putting the pillows at the head of the bed is all. But there is definitely a psychological effect of starting the day having completed a task related to "cleaning up after yourself". 

It may be the result of having listened to hours of Jordan Peterson lectures but I firmly believe that you can't hope to be of value to anyone without having control over your own self. I see making the bed as the start to that. It's actually why I think morning routines are so important and widely spoken about by many successful individuals. 

It's about starting your day off with things that are meant to take care of you and give yourself a mental edge.

Also, if you make your bed I find you are less likely to want to go back to bed. This has been a favourable "environment construction" in taking away temptation. It's honestly been a big stopper from going back into bed. Another thing that helps is that I keep my alarm in the living room so I run out to turn it off. After which I make my bed and my morning fate is sealed. 

It's a way to prime the morning. Completing things within your control and doing what you can to take care of yourself.

What does the morning routine look like now?

It starts as follows:

  • Make the bed

  • Aerobic exercise for 10 minutes

  • Cold shower

  • Read

  • Journal

Foundation to build off of.

Journaling has been part of morning routine for close to 3 years now. It's benefits are insurmountable and there are plenty of articles that speak of it's benefits so I won't bore you with its details here. But... if there is popular demand for it I may write a full article just on journaling. It's just such an effective habit for self-awareness. 

Reading is another cornerstone habit for me. I've probably read at least 40 books over the past 3 years. It's not an impressive number but unless reading is a habit I don't think you'd be able to achieve that. This is actually a new thing for me to read in the morning however. I love reading and generally, I had to fight myself from trying to read during the day because I had scheduled it as a wind-down activity for night time. Though what I've learned is that reading tends to get my mind really active so it's actually been more favourable to have it as a morning habit to help my mind wake up rather than have it energize my mind at night when it should be getting ready to sleep. 

Morning cardio?

This a new one. It's actually the hardest. I'm still on my first month of doing it but it's actually harder than the cold showers. I've decided to do morning aerobic exercises as a way to prime my mind by getting the blood pumping to the brain. There are also additional benefits to assisting with deep sleep when you perform at least 10 minutes of aerobic activity in the morning. Another benefit, I believe, is aiding the fat burning process when you are in a fasted state, which is the state I am in when I'm doing my morning cardio. 

This is me.

This is my routine. It works for me. It's not the routine that will work for you. It may work for you. Depends on what your life system looks like. My morning routine has continued to iterate over the years and this article is just meant to show you a 3 month process of how I iterate my system for the morning. This system has to work in conjunction with the various other systems I use for my health, my career etc.... 

The caveat is that this system may not be the system I have in the morning of 2019 or 2020. It'll depend. If I'm living a life worth living then I should not be the same person I am right now in 2019 or 2020. If that is not the case, then I'd say I would've failed miserably. Growth is essential and through constant growth, I of 2019 and 2020 would be different. For a person in a different state, a different system that is more suited for that state would be required. The system must continuously evolve through experimentation and documentation of it's effectiveness. 

I hate reading those "5 steps to xxx, 7 skills to xxxx". It's never as concrete and matter of fact. Everyone is completely different and the you of today won't be the you of next month either. People continuously evolve. This means even morning routines will continuously evolve to match your life. The focus of the morning routine is to allow you to be as effective a human being as possible and I think constant experimentation is required to help you identify the system that works for you. 

So, does my system work? 

Yeah, for now. 

It's not an instant "ah-ha" moment. It's subtle. It slowly creeps up on you. 

But so far it seems to be working. What will your system be?