Why You Need A Morning Ritual

I’ve been waking up at 4 a.m. for a few months. But, it’s ok, I want to.

For a lot of folks, those two sentences are at odds with each other. While a 4 a.m. wake-up isn’t essential, it certainly makes for a better (read: longer) morning ritual. And regardless of when, everyone should consider having a morning ritual.

What My Mornings Used To Look Like

Previously, my mornings started with four alarms: “Wake up” “Seriously, you need to get up now.” “Are you in the shower?” “Ok, now you are late.” I’d snooze through the first two alarms. Easily. Thanks to sleep inertia, I’d start the morning groggy but I’d also be disappointed with myself for not getting up earlier. And I was stressed. What was I going to wear? What was I going to have for lunch? Run. Scurry. Panic.

Then we threw a kid in the mix.

The Inspiration

Thankfully, I recently heard an NPR article (or maybe it was a TED talk?). Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to bookmark it. The reporter opened with how Maya Angelou, regardless of if she was traveling and staying in a hotel or at her home, would wake up every morning at four in the morning to write. He listed other creative thinkers and well-respected businesspeople who enjoyed getting an early start on the day.

And then he tried it. He woke up and found that it was a difficult task at first, but the stillness of the morning was invigorating and his creative juices were flowing.

I had to try it too.

Measuring Success Because My Type A Self Won’t Be Denied

The first couple of days I would spring out of bed. The anticipation of four in the morning made it difficult to sleep. It was a similar sensation to when I have a plane to catch. Doesn’t matter if it’s a short one-hour flight — the night prior is filled with tossing and turning because I’m so worried that I’ll oversleep.

Being the bullet journal junkie that I am, I actually have some data. I started in July and was successful 45% of the time. August: 54%. September: 40%. But there’s a catch with September. I’ve only woken up 12 times (so far this month since as of this writing it is September 29) at 4 a.m. but I have enjoyed my morning ritual 22 times this month. And so, if I change my metric of success to being that I got up and had a morning ritual, September isn’t too shabby at a 73% success rate. Woot woot!

So, dear Toto, allow me to pull back the curtains and share what makes up my new morning routine.

Morning Ritual Timeline:

4:00 – Alarm goes off. I open one eye to search for the phone. Think about skipping the whole deal. Snooze the alarm.
4:15 – The alarm goes again and I turn on a light. No more hopping out of bed for this gal. The motion can be described as a drag-my-feet-across-the-carpet-in-which-I-make-enough-static-electricity-I-could-taze-someone motion as I walk into the bathroom. Then it’s downstairs to do other essential things. Important things like coffee.
4:30 – Free write.
5:15 – Alarm goes off. This was my normal wake-up alarm. It now serves as a reminder to transition.
5:20 – Yoga for 10 minutes.
5:30 – Meditation for 10 minutes.
5:40 – Read for 5 minutes.

Morning ritual completed. Healthy habits established.

On the days that I don’t wake up at 4 a.m. I still make time to free write, do yoga, meditate, and read. However, the amount of time to write is greatly reduced. So it would behoove me to move my butt out of bed at that early hour.

The Elements Of Littlest Martha’s Morning Ritual

Free Write

silver fountain pen resting on a journal with cursive handwriting
Beautiful fountain pens are encouraged. Baby rabbit statue that your parents saved for you as a child to serve as your paperweight: bonus.

There was a time that I would be terrified to write on a blank sheet of paper. The fear of writing something “not good” prevented me from writing anything at all. Now I crave the weight of the fountain pen. I get excited when the ink bleeds all over the paper and onto my fingers. I especially love it when it gets lodged under my fingernails. It’s the tattoo of a writer.

Prior to my 4 a.m. morning ritual, my writing was very mean. To myself. I’d wait for some muse to come and would often find anger and disappointment at myself for not “being good enough.” (I’m noticing a theme here.)

However, I now flip through the pages of my free write journal and find poetry and prose on whatever is taking space in my mind that morning.

It’s a theory but I’m going with it: perhaps at this early hour the ego, my critical self, is still sleeping and not able to dish out the criticisms.

True or not, now when I’m looking for material to turn into a short story or poem I flip through my blue moleskin journal and have several months of material to draw upon.

Yoga

Siberian husky on a blue yoga mat
This is what happens if you leave the yoga mat unattended. You get squatters.

I sit for 9 to 10 hours a day. And now we know that “sitting is the new smoking” so yoga is my smoke break. I have a series of poses that I have committed to memory and will cycle through those for 10 minutes.

Thanks to the Insight Timer app I have presets that I use every morning. Once the timer is on it activates a Do Not Disturb setting so no email alerts or texts can come through.

If you’re interested in starting your day with some yoga, check out these sun salutations.

Meditation

sunrise over the ocean with inspirational words

I am such a fangirl these days for meditation. However, it couldn’t have been more than a year go when I was introduced to meditation and I said: “Yeah, thanks but not for me. I lack the discipline.”

Again the Insight Timer app came in handy here. When I was brand new to meditation I would enjoy browsing through the guided meditation options. All so lovely. Morning affirmation meditations, Metta meditations (“Metta” is the pali word for lovingkindness), meditations to help you fall asleep, music and much more.

For my morning ritual, I will leverage the presets and meditate for 10 minutes. The thoughts would come rapid-fire like a tennis ball launcher on steroids (and they still do), but before my inclination was to try and chase them down. Exhausting.

As I’ve learned from Tara Brach, the mind excretes thoughts in the same way the body excretes enzymes. So, now I sit on the cushion and acknowledge the thoughts as they go whizzing by and return to the breath. It’s taking some practice but with each meditation, I find the experience is becoming more and more restorative and freeing.

Read

"Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids" book on hardwood floor
One of the books I actually finished reading. And it was pretty darn good. Blog post fodder right here.

My younger self was always reading. Car ride? Reading. On the beach? Reading. On the soccer field (provided I wasn’t playing)? Reading. The appetite to read hasn’t left me but I am not walking around with a book anymore since there are adult things I have to do now.

Enter the Insight Timer app. The third preset in my morning ritual is to read for 5 minutes. Unlike the other presets (as you can customize all presets) this one has no music, only the gong to signal when done.

This portion of my morning ritual has shown the most tangible results. Reading for 5 minutes a day has been really helpful. When I find the material is slow I know I can just read it for a few moments, but when it’s good I find myself sneaking a few more pages … or chapters.

The ultimate goal here is to read a book a month. Younger self, you’d be happy to learn that I’m on my way to finishing my third book.

An Extra Bonus To An Early Wake Up

Bright sunrise over rooftops

By this time the sunrise is peeking through the windows. Experiencing a soft sunrise warm up the sky and light up the room you’ve been sitting in is nothing short of magical. And it’s the perfect opportunity to give thanks.

For me, I use that chance to give thanks for the people in my life, the blessings in each day, that I get to see another day, and for my morning ritual. It’s also at this time that I’ll recite my mantra or the day’s intention.

Your morning ritual doesn’t have to start at 4 in the morning, but I hope that you make enough time for yourself to do the things that bring you joy, peace, and inspire your creativity.

With gratitude,

Martita signature

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Soapbox Rant: Down With Apathy

On August 29, when I started writing this post, the people living in Hokkaido, Japan woke to sirens and messages from the Japanese government to seek shelter from a North Korean missile.

“There’s nothing I can do, so I try not to think about it.”

According to NPR, this was a quote from one of the residents of Hokkaido when asked how she felt about North Korea’s missile launches.

This understandable quote has brought forth my ire and disgust. Not at this woman but at what seems to be a shared response from communities across the world to choose inaction when all around us the world is crying out for help.

I have empathy too. It is easy to fall into the cycle of becoming inundated with so much information, not knowing how to help and then becoming paralyzed with fear and then a last-ditch hope (or maybe it’s more like a wish) that someone else will take care of it.

So, let’s empower ourselves to not become crippled by too much information and seek inaction as our refuge. Down with apathy!

Call To Action Section: Because inaction was never a valid option

Surprisingly, and not, I was tested right from the get-go. At this stage of writing this blog post, I went searching for resources and, instead, was plunged further into that feeling of hopelessness and despair. All search results returned news articles that sounded increasingly dire.

But I stayed with those uncomfortable feelings and ultimately found some examples of things we can do to effect positive change. If you have other suggestions, please share them with me and I’ll update this post.

North Korea

Hurricane Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia

Continue to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey (and Irma, Jose and Katia) but be sure that you don’t fall victim to organizations that would love to scam you out of your good intentions.

Black Lives Matter

Institutional racism is here and it is not going away without our help.

Refugee Crisis

According to NPR, “The number of people forcibly displaced from their homes is the highest since World War II.” And many of the refugees are children.

 Be the best version of yourself

The days feel more somber of late. In these times I’m reminded of a meditation exercise I try to practice regularly*. Try it out with me:

Take a few deep breaths in and out. In an in breath think to yourself: “I’m going to die.” Let whatever thoughts and feelings arise. Exhale. In the following in breath think of the people you love, know, and those you feel neutral to but interacted with throughout the day.  Say to yourself: “You’re going to die.”  Let whatever thoughts and feelings arise. Exhale. In this in breath think to yourself: “And we have just these precious moments.”

If more of us treated each moment as precious, which it is, I believe that we would find pettiness replaced with kindness and compassion.  And then, it would be as Gandhi wished for us —  we would be the change we wish to see in the world.

Consider the following:

That petty thing you wanted to say about your co-worker: don’t say it. To the guy on the highway who you’d rather cut off: let him pass you by. To the person who is speaking to you: turn your whole body in their direction and put your phone down.  To that person you appreciate: tell them. Pick up trash. Drop the need to be right and replace it with the need to be loved and to love others.

Let’s be true to the best version of ourselves. In doing so we will we start to recognize that others, just like ourselves, just want to be happy (free from suffering). And I believe we’ll see more empathy in the world.

With gratitude,

Martita signature

 

(*Source: Exercise by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh and shared through Tara Brach.)