In 2015 I have committed myself to the theme of living slower. This involves me spending time thinking about what that means, putting it into practice and sharing my learnings. This is the first update in that theme.
The first hour of the day sets the tone for each that follows it. In seeking to live slowly, the way we approach the moments after we wake are among the most important.
For many of us, our days start with a jarring introduction of the infinite. The moment after our eyes open, they turn to a glowing screen that waited patiently for us while we slept. We begin to catch up – reading emails, text messages and social updates, before we’ve gotten out of bed, and as such we dive into the day’s issues like a plunge into icy water.
It is hard to find peace in the morning once you’ve welcomed with open arms the problems and challenges the day had in store for you.
Why We Check
Nonetheless, that urge to instantly wire in is real. It isn’t isolated or unique. According to a recent study, nearly 80% of smartphone owners check their phones within the first 15 minutes of waking up.
I suspect that for some, and I know it is true for myself, often this urge has roots in our ego. It strokes our pride to think that we are important enough that our attention is needed as soon as possible.
Perhaps for others the desire grows out of a fear of the unknown. The lack of control felt by not knowing that there is nothing important outweighs the comfort of not knowing either way.
But for all of us, part of that early morning attraction comes from the mere fact that there is something there. We have become accustomed to an overconsumption of information. We wake up craving the empty calories of scrolling pixels.
A Good Morning
My favorite mornings are camping mornings. Though at home I am normally a late riser, when I’m camping I am always the first up. My morning ritual involves trying to get the fire started using only the heat from the buried embers of the previous nights fire as the sun slowly rises above peaks and trees. As the morning progresses I am usually slowly greeted by a few other early risers. We sit calmly, not talking much, watching the fire start back up again. Eventually other rise and the majority of the group is up, the fire now in full force is ready to heat breakfast.
Those mornings are slow and those morning aren’t very much like my normal mornings.
Warming Up for a Race
The reason athletes warm up before a competition is to prepare their body for the intense performance they are about to demand of it by slowly introducing it. This helps prevent injury and increase performance. It isn’t unique to one sport – runners, football players and dancers alike all have a warm up routine – though each is specific to their activity.
On race day, as a runner, I start with a light jog. As my blood begins flowing and my muscles wake up I pick up the pace a bit. Once I’ve hit a decent pace, I then pause and take time to stretch, focusing on areas that are tight and listening to the signals my body is putting out. I then finish with a few race effort bursts and technique drills. Once I finish that, my body is prepared to compete.
That routine has been reliable for me in all of my races over the past 15 years. On the rare days where I have been rushed and didn’t have time to properly warm up, I found I wasn’t able to achieve the performance I wanted to. But when I properly prepare, I help prevent injury and ensure success.
Warming Up for the Day
Why should we not approach the day with the same intentionality? If we would not dive right into the strain of a race with cold, unprepared muscles why should we dive right into the strain of a day with a cold, unprepared mind/body/soul?
Each day presents challenges of its own. We face tough decisions, unexpected circumstances and trying interpersonal interactions. We need to enter the day prepared for those challenges. We need to prepare our mind, body & soul.
It isn’t even that the information we consume on a smartphone early in the morning is harmful. It just isn’t helpful. It isn’t the best way we can spend the first hour of the day in order to prepare for the challenges that face us.
How Should We Then Wake?
This month I am working on better spending the first hour of my day. I invite you to join me.
Rather than rushing headlong into a stream of updates and news – information I can certainly wait for and probably do without – I am going to use my mornings to better prepare myself for the day.
I’ve found the best mornings start with an early night. When we’re not fighting the clock there is much more time to focus on the task at hand.
I’ve also found it helpful to charge my phone in the living room so it isn’t right next to me when I wake up. That means I have to rely on an old school alarm clock. (By which I mean my 10 month old son)
Recently I’ve been enjoying trying to stretch out the time between when I wake up and when I leave the bed. This is only possible if you aren’t a high risk case for falling back asleep, but it makes for a nice slow progression from awake, to thinking, to moving.
Another practice I’m building better habits around is reading things that realign my soul with my core beliefs. For me this is a devotional and some scripture. It refocuses me on the beliefs that are most important to me and sets the tone for the rest of the day. For you that might be different but it should be personal. If you’ve been able to identify the core values and driving principles in your life, then it should be things that focus you to those. If you haven’t, then it could be things that help you to identify what those are for you.
Finally, I want to take time to listen to how I’m feeling and when necessary, modify my day based on those signals. Before a race I pay attention to my muscles and how they feel – if one is tight or sore, I might work on stretching it – if it is bad enough I might decide not to race.
Similarly, if I wake up overtired and short tempered, I need to take some time to correct my attitude so that I don’t unknowingly take it out on anyone else. And if the problem is big enough, the right call might be to skip the day. PTO isn’t only for head colds. If I’m nearing burnout, wrestling with heavy personal issues or otherwise unable to be productive – the best thing to do for everyone might be to take the morning or day off, properly address those issues and only then return to my normal workload.
These are some of the practices I am putting in place to better spend the first hour of my day. My goal is to use that time more intentionally to prepare for the remainder of the day. To set the tone that I do not need to be rushed. That true effectiveness comes from a properly-running machine heading in the right direction – even if it gets started slowly. That speed can not compensate for a misguided course or broken engine.