The most inspiring way to start the day

The most inspiring way to start the day

“The way you start your day can affect your whole day.”
(sorry, but couldn’t find where this quote come from).

It took me a while to realize this, but now I am glad that I give great importance to my morning routine.

You know, I used to be that guy who would push the snooze button several times until I didn’t have a choice and had to wake up. The first hours of my day would be frequently terrible. Always in a hurry, running against the time.

Quite frequently I wouldn’t have a proper breakfast and showering wasn’t a pleasurable and relaxing moment as it should be. My thoughts would be only focused on when I would finally open my computer and start working.

Four months ago I decided to change this and started implementing a few good habits while cutting the bad ones. When studying about habits, I stumbled upon the idea of “keystone habits”. Duhigg, who wrote “The Power of Habits”, explains it as the soil from which other habits grow. It’s like an habit that once integrated into your life makes it much easier to build or change other habits.

In my case, the keystone habit that is helping me to start the day on the right note is a combination of 2: Sleeping well and  waking up early.

Having at least 7 hours of good sleep provides me with the energy I need to get most things done. Managing to wake up early, gives me the necessary time to prepare my body and mind for the day, and make an effective plan to work towards my goals.

Ok, so let me go into more details about how I managed to build this keystone habit, how I prepare my body and mind for the day, and the kind of things I focus on when writing my effective plan:

1. Have at least 7 hours of sleep and Start Early

There’s no magic about this. If you want to sleep for a minimum of 7 hours and wake up early in the morning you will have to go to bed in a decent time.

In the beginning, just force yourself to wake up early and in the end of the day you will be begging for your bed. Turn this into an habit, and in less then a week you will get used to sleep between 11pm and 12am and start your day at 6:30 am / 7 am.

One important trick here is to wake up with the first alarm, avoiding using the snooze button. Easy to say, right? Ok, so let me explain how I dealt with this:

First thing, put your phone far away from your bed. It has to be far enough that you cannot reach it without standing up, but not so far that you can’t hear it (yes, I guess this is important).

Second point, remember to leave a bottle of water besides it. Water fires up your metabolism, hydrates you, helps your body flush out toxins and gives your brain fuel [1]. So as soon as your turn off the alarm, drink at least 500 ml of water. This will give you an energy that will motivate you to stay awake.

Third and last point, turn off the snooze option. This will create you some problems in the morning to sort out how to turn it on again. Hopefully, enough problems that will lead you to give up from sleeping another 10 minutes. Every phone should have the option to turn it off. Just search for it.

Like every habit, things will get better with time.

2. Take care of your body

Now that you managed to wake up early, it’s time to have some proper breakfast.

Breakfast provides the body and brain with fuel after an overnight fast – That’s actually where the name comes from: Breaking the fast. Researchers believe that breakfast may help to stabilise blood sugar levels, which regulate appetite and energy [2].

You can start to see now why waking up early is part of my keystone habit? I used to ignore breakfast most of the time because “I didn’t have time for it”.

Once done with breakfast, it’s time for some exercises. If you are an intellectual and think that exercises won’t make any difference in your life, did you know that exercises have a fundamental role in learning? Physical exercises increase the number of neurons being born and surviving [3]. So work your ass off and do at least 10-15 minutes of exercise. It can be 2-3 series of push-ups or abs. Just do something.

Lastly, don’t forget to keep drinking water every half an hour. As we saw before, water fires up your metabolism, hydrates you, helps your body flush out toxins and gives your brain fuel. So I guess we have enough reasons to drink a lot of water during the day.

3. Take care of your mind

This is one of the most important parts of my day. Your mind will guide you through hundred decisions throughout the day, some more important and some other less. So preparing your mind for this should be a crucial step in your morning routine.

I start with meditation. I could write another 10 paragraphs just about meditation. But just to give you a taste, here are a few benefits you can expect from meditating every day:

  • Improve your focus: A study from the Psychological Science shows that intensive meditation can help people focus their attention and sustain it [4].
  • Less anxiety: We often experience anxiety because we fixate on the past or on the  future. However, when you’re meditating, you’re  intentionally focused on the here and now [5].
  • Better memory: A Study from Massachusetts General Hospital showed that regular meditation causes the brain’s cerebral cortex to thicken. The cortex is responsible for higher mental functions like memory [6].

Beta waves activities before and after meditation [7].

Meditation is not an overrated practice. It is as good as it sounds.

However, meditation won’t be easy at the beginning. So start with just 1 minute and try to add 15-30 seconds every day. The easier way to build habits is to start small and consistently practice the routine. If you are too busy in a certain day, just meditate for a minute or so and that’s fine. What matters is to no break the chain.

When I am done with meditation I go to spend 5 to 10 minutes on gratitude.  Gratitude means being thankful for the things you have, rather than being bitter about what you don’t have.  Gratitude can help you become more positive about life, more generous and even lower your blood pressure [8]. So it’s worth taking a few minutes to speak you mind about all the things you are grateful for. You don’t need to believe in God to do this. Just remind yourself about all the great things you have in your life and be grateful for it.

I then conclude my “spiritual” session working on what I call “my higher-self”. This is actually an experiment I have been working on for a while. Basically, I created a mindmap with my name in the centre, and linked it to 4 words that I want to be the keystones of my life. From these 4 words, I drew lines to what it would be needed to achieve these 4 words. One example is the word “Explorer”, which I linked to “Try new hobbies”, “Engage with people you don’t know”, “Experiment new foods”, “Travel to places you haven’t been before”, “Constantly stretch your comfort zone”, etc.

I think you grasped the idea. The objective is to focus on what kind of person I want to become in order to live the kind of life that I want to live. By going through it every day, I not only remember myself about who I want to be, but also make a self-assessment to see if I am truly making progress towards my “higher self”.

The next 30 minutes I spend on learning something.

I don’t think there’s much to say about that. Learning is so important to keep developing your mind and knowledge, that you should never stop doing it. My only suggestion here is that before learning anything, you should learn how to learn. This means that you should understand how working memory and long term memory works, and how to bring new concepts from the former to the later, how recall, deliberate practising, interleaving, spaced repetition and teaching can boost your learn, and also learn a few useful techniques like the Pomodoro technique [9] to avoid procrastination, Einstellung [10] and illusions of competence. And you thought you knew everything about learn how to learn, huh?

4. Plan your day

First thing to bear in mind: Plan an effective day, not an efficient one.

Efficient people are always busy. But when you ask them what they have accomplished during their day, they don’t have much to say.

That’s why I like to start by putting down in a paper my priority list. I try to not write more than 5 points, and when I am done I ask myself: If I manage to accomplish all these 5 things, will I get closer to achieve my goals? If I hesitate with any of them, I cut it from the list. If you end up with just 1 priority you should probably review your goals.

The second part of my daily plan is focused on my email.

Most people lose all their morning dragged in emails that doesn’t add anything to their goals. The problem with email is that 90% of it is about other people’s agenda. Your inbox is flooded with emails from people who need your help to achieve their objective, not yours.

So write down on the paper “email” and divide it in “Awaiting response” and “To Reach out”.

In the awaiting side, just list the people who owe you a response for something related to your goals. If it’s not related to your goals, it doesn’t matter. In the other side you should do the same, but this time focusing on who you need to contact to help you achieve your objectives.

Ignore all other emails. Ignore all of them. Not even open them for now. Even better, send them to a folder named “answer when possible” or “later” and just deal with it once a week. Most people will find a way of solving their problems without your help, and you will realize that they will give more value to your time.

I then pass to my daily activities. Beware: Activities are a bit different from tasks. Activities are more like “Learning X”, “Promoting my Business”, Exercise”, “Reading a Book”, “Email”, etc. The idea is to divide my day in chunks so I can concentrate 25 to 50 minutes in each activity, take breaks and balance my focus between activities which needs a high level of concentration and more relaxing activities, so I can also let my diffuse mode [11] step in.

One psychology trick I like to use is to put in big capital letters the “QUITTING TIME”. This helps me to keep concentrated on getting things done and actually work on most activities listed. It’s obvious that you have to take your quitting time seriously to make it work. If you decide that 18:00 is your quitting time, then stop working when you reach this time. Maybe take an appointment with someone at that time so you don’t have an excuse to keep working.

It usually takes 2 hours or more to go through all these routines. That’s also why it’s important to wake up early. People are obsessed about time management. I am more interested in energy management. If you sleep less than 7 hours, it’s going to be difficult to manage your energy. So sleep well and wake up around 6 / 7 am.

Hope these ideas can inspire some of you to become more effective and achieve your goals.


[1] Killer morning habit: Drink 16oz of water, right after you wake up – A Life of Productivity

[2] Breakfast is ‘most important meal’

[3] Neurogenesis – Effects of Exercise:…

[4] Losing focus? Studies say meditation may help:…

[5] How Meditation Helps Anxiety

[6] Meditation and Memory – Research Proves the Link

[7] Picture originally posted on a Lifehacker blog post:…

[8] Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude

[9] Pomodoro Technique

[10] Einstellung effect

[11] How Pinball Helps Explain Ways We Think and Learn