I love Mondays. And New Years Day. And the first day of school. I’d like to say I feel the same about mornings, but that’s more of a love/hate relationship. What I love are Beginnings. I love pregnancy and birth. I love newly opened camellias, and puppies, and boarding the plane for a welcome journey, and snow that’s still pristinely still. What I love is the possibility inherent in newness. What can I create this year, or this day? Who might this baby grow up to be? What do I hope happens? How can I help it happen?
I’ve learned to honor this trait in myself. I’m great at starting things, but finishing takes more focus and discipline. That’s why I like to begin with as much intention and clarity as I can, because when my energy lags, as it inevitably does, the Plan is already right there; I just need to keep following it. This is true whether I’m making a meal or working toward godhood.
I’m terribly inconsistent with the discipline of planning, but I’ve learned a few things over the years. Firsts are important. The first day of the year, the first day of school (which often falls on my birthday — double creative energy), the first day of the week (Mondays, in my mind.) At the beginning of each year, I generally go on a solo retreat for 2-3 days and sit and think and pray and plan. My family expects this; they know I’ll be gone for a few days in early January every year. This time is sacred to me, and I believe it’s just as valuable for my family as it is for me, because it so restores and centers me. I come home with a holistic plan for the year, a clearer idea of my Big Picture, a “theme” and/or affirmations, and a doable list of projects, goals and habits. I come home with renewed energy and commitment to the life I am trying to create, the person I am trying to become. I focus a lot of attention on the systems and habits that I intend to continue or introduce, knowing that it’s our daily habits that create who we are and what we achieve. I think about all the areas of my life: spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, creative, work, family, social life, contributions I want to make to the world. I discuss it all with God. I write it all down.
And then — because by the end of summer, some things have inevitably slipped — I retreat and review it all again in depth in early September. I revise the plan, I renew my commitment, I recharge my energy. Retreat, review, revise, renew, recharge.
I use Sundays the same way. I find an hour or so to retreat and review the Plan, to schedule the daily habits and weekly activities that will keep things moving toward my goals. Every week is different, depending on the priorities of the week. But my view is always on the Big Picture.
I mess up every week. I often get lazy, or succumb to depression or irritability or any number of other mortal challenges. Rarely, some real emergency occurs. (Most “emergencies” are not real.) Which is why I love Mondays. It’s do-over day. Monday’s slate is completely clean, free of last week’s errors and disappointments. It’s a blank page, except for that word HOPE emblazoned across the top. I’ve used the day before to retreat, review, revise and renew and I am recharged to go at it again.
Mornings are just as important. The beginning of the day. In my experience, these beginnings are hardest to manage, because so many things can interfere with the plan, the intended flow of the day. Early-rising kids. Last minute “emergencies”. Pure exhaustion. Every stage of life brings different morning challenges. If you’re lucky enough to be a “morning person”, this may not affect you as much. For many of us, though, it has to be an intentional, constant effort. But the benefits are enormous — well worth the effort.
Here’s a little list of tips to help you manage mornings, because if you can get control of your mornings, you’ve got a much greater chance of having peaceful, productive days — one after the other.
1) Get enough sleep. Most of us don’t. Go to bed earlier, because you’re unlikely to find that extra hour of sleep in the morning. This is vital.
2) Do NOT look at your phone, computer, tablet, TV or newspaper within the first hour of being awake. Trust me; this one practice will change everything.
3) Begin the day with water — a couple of glasses full.
4) Next, move your body. Stretch. Do some yoga or Pilates. Go running. It doesn’t have to be your workout of the day (though if you can fit that in now, it’s a great way to maintain your exercise routine.) Just move, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
5) Meditate. More and more evidence is coming out about the many benefits of daily meditation. And it’s most effective in the morning. Meditation is similar to, but different from prayer. There are tons of resources. Here’s just one: https://chopracentermeditation.com
6) Set an intention for the day. It can be one word. JOY! PATIENCE! PRAY! Or you could use affirmations or mantras or just a centering thought to remember throughout the day.
7) Pray. Communing with God at the beginning of the day will do more to move your life forward than anything else. It’s hard to know how long to schedule for prayer. It would be great if we could always schedule a whole sweet hour of prayer. Whatever works for you, don’t forget to pray.
8) Read or listen to something inspirational. Again, a little goes a long way, if all you can spare for now is a little morning time.
9) Strategize your day. I actually like to do this each night, but if you haven’t done it the night before, it’s imperative that you take time to plan your day. What are your priorities today? Use your weekly plan to create your daily plan. Make a list. Do the hard things first. This applies whether you are CEO of a company or a family.
You can do all this in just an hour each morning. When I had a house full of young children, I would get up at 5:00 a.m. so I could have that one peaceful hour of renewal and centering. (OK, I did that for ONE year of my young-kid years. But in retrospect, that was my happiest year.) Now I have just one teenager at home, and my morning routine is built around the early morning seminary drive to the chapel and then the drive to school. During seminary, I walk the dog (and me) for 2 miles and do some stretching. I’ve already had my 2 glasses of water and strategized my day. While walking, I often converse with God, or use affirmations to set the tone of my day, or listen to scriptures or conference talks. I get home by 7:45, which typically gives me time for yoga, meditation, reading, prayer, maybe some writing, even a shower and breakfast before the day’s appointments and tasks begin. I am amazed at what a difference it makes when I stick to these habits and routines. I do not like to get up early. But I use the current “have-to” in my life (get my daughter to seminary) as a trigger for all the habits I want to incorporate into my mornings. And once I’m up, that early morning magic takes over (which sometimes involves ignoring the grumpy teen) and I am so GLAD to be alive and awake and present to the gifts of the new day.
Do you like Mondays? Mornings? What habits have you found to be most helpful in creating a purposeful, productive life?