Thy Whys and How of [My] Morning Ritual

For the last two decades, one of the greatest constants I’ve had as a personal trainer is a 6:00 a.m. start time.  This isn’t when I wake up.  This is when I meet with my first client.  I can almost guarantee you if you were to enter this field, one of the first clients you land would be at six.

What has changed is what I do BEFORE my first client.

Admittedly, when I first entered this field, I didn’t love it.  Why?  Well, frankly, I sucked (or at least I thought I did).  And this made me blue.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m blue, in a funk, or dare I say, depressed, I sleep.  And back when I didn’t enjoy getting up for work, I slept in.

I’d set my alarm for X time.  When it’d go off, I’d hit the snooze button X times.  I’d leave little time for anything more than the 3 Ss (the ones from my days in the military, not these 3 Ss).

So, what’s different?  Well, a lot of things.  More things than I wanna write—at least today.  Although I’m still “becoming”, I’m a far better coach than I was two decades ago.  But what’s also different is how I approach my morning.

I’ve read that a characteristic many successful people share is their affinity for reading.  (Now, some might argue that this is more correlative than causative.  After all, Kanye West is a “proud non-reader of books”.  Wait, maybe I’ve made another argument for reading books?)

In my affinity for reading, I’ve also read that many successful people have a morning ritual or routine.  I searched specifically for successful people who have (or had) morning rituals.  The list includes:

  • Barack Obama
  • Michelle Gass
  • Steve Jobs
  • Tony Robbins
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Tim Ferris
  • Oprah Winfrey

Now, some might argue that this is more correlative than causative.  That was me.  Maybe this is you.  And if it is, I [now] vehemently disagree.  Sorry.

A little more than two years ago I began doing a morning ritual.  It has been nothing short of a work in progress, but I’ve gotta good thing going.

I call my morning ritual my “ups”.

Wake up – This one’s pretty self-explanatory, yeah?  I wake up most weekdays at 4:00 a.m.  Why “most”?  Well, I also know the value of sleep.*  On those rare nights I’m up later than usual, I sometimes set the alarm for a little later.

Clean up – I shower, shave, and brush my teeth.

Dress up – I put on my clothes, including my shoes.

Hop up – I drink coffee.  Some may say I drink a lot of coffee.  After I put on my shoes and before I move on to my next “up”, I pour my first cup.

Look up – This is more of a condition than a direction.  I don’t literally look up.  (Well, sometimes I do.)  It’s more about preparing [the condition of] my heart and mind each morning by spending time reading my bible and praying to the triune God.  I typically journal what I learned and asked for (so I can later look back and see God’s faithfulness).

I’ve no “up” for this next one, so I include it in my Look Up.

Following prayer, I meditate.  For me, I do two main things when I meditate.  I do a mind-body scan (What am I feeling, physically?  What am I feeling, emotionally?  What am I thinking?) and I practice diaphragmatic, abdominal, or belly breathing.

Read up – In addition to my bible, I’ll read something else.  Typically, it’s industry-related, e.g., nutrition, exercise, lifestyle, mindset, etc.

The next three kinda run together (which you’re welcome to call me out on).

Eat up – I eat.**  (This is where you ask, “Adam, what do you typically eat for breakfast.”***)

Giddyup – I drive to the gym.  (I woulda said, “I drive to work”, but what I get to do as a profession doesn’t feel much like work.  #blessed)

Listen up – While driving, I listen primarily to my favorite podcasts.  Occasionally, I’ll listen to motivational and/or inspirational music.

I typically arrive at the gym 10-15 minutes before my six o’clock appointment, which allows me time to prepare for my first session or two.

There you have it.  My “ups”.

Do you have to adopt my system (and by “my” system, I mean a system I learned from the book Organizing Your Day by Sandra Felton, I think)?  Certainly not.  After all, you may work from home, practice intermittent fasting, and hate baby Jesus.  But I wanna encourage you to adopt a system.

And if you don’t wanna come up with your own morning ritual, ask Google or Amazon for ideas.  (I found a system that’s working well for me, so I’ve no other recommendations.)  Or, ask someone you admire what they do for their morning ritual.

I wanna share a few more things about having a morning ritual.

First, if you’re a parent, there will be few times (or, no times) in your day you’ll have to yourself.  Sure, you can stay up late (like many parents do) after putting the kids to bed, but instead of reviewing the day and preparing for the next, you’d likely end up binging Nextflix and junk food.  Am I right or am I right?

Not only has my morning ritual given me more time as a parent, but I’ve also discovered it (and more importantly what I do in it) has made me a better parent (and husband and man).  That’s something.

Second, it helps me be intentional about my day.  I find myself being far less reactive and more proactive.  When I first entered this industry, I trained an athlete who would tell himself and others, when things were getting challenging, to “Get your mind right!”  That has stuck with me to this day.  My morning ritual helps me “get my mind right”.

Third, no matter how intentional or proactive I am about my day, shit happens.  But regardless of how “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad [my] day” is, I know I get to wake up to my morning ritual.  And I look forward to tomorrow.

Steve Jobs is credited with saying, “If today was the last day of my life, would I be happy with what I’m about to do today?”

Regarding the start of my day, because of my morning ritual, I can unequivocally answer “Yes” to this question.  And, with enough practice, I’m hopeful it will begin carrying over into the rest of my “today”.

*The area in my life and coaching where the video doesn’t match the audio is here.  I advocate no less than seven hours of sleep nightly (and getting as many of those hours before midnight as possible), but during the week, I average less than this.

**I coach at ad nauseam the five (actually, it’s now seven) habits of highly effective fat loss.  The first habit is to eat slowly to 80% full.  One way to encourage this is to NOT eat in your car.  Admittedly, I do this some mornings.  (And since I’m making all these confessions, I drive with my knee when I’m eating.)

***Precision Nutrition made an infographic for that.  You can download it here.