Rituals are routines done with meaning, purpose and ceremony. While routines are just a sequence of actions or behaviors that are regularly followed - rituals have meaning and feel more like a dance than a dry series of steps.
This is why a major part of The Unshakable Man Program is focused on teaching a man to create and take ownership of his morning routine. By turning your morning into a series of rituals that serve you and feel good - you are more likely to maintain them, turn them into integrated habits and to build on them to reach your goals.
Here's our regularly updated list of our best morning ritual tips that we've organized from men in the program as they've gone through our morning ritual challenge.
#1 Allow waking up to FEEL good.
This might seem basic but it's not. A lot a men who want to take ownership of their morning routine - want to change their life in some way. They might want to fix their relationship, do better at work or be more successful. They all seem to be coming from a good place. They want to better themselves, their relationships and their lives. But in the process of making this change they bring an intensity and nervous energy that seems to stem from generating the motivation required to wake up early.
For most people it's hard to wake up earlier. When they make the effort to wake up earlier they have to force themselves to get out of bed and this changes the attitude they have in the morning. It doesn't feel good. This is a problem.
The entire morning experience doesn't feel good. This process puts them in a bad mood or at least clouds what could be a positive experience with a bad attitude. This sucks because it's ruining the experience of the very thing they are trying to do to better themselves.
This is why this is the #1 morning ritual tip. This is super important and core to our philosophy because we know that our brains create habits out of things we WANT TO DO. If something doesn't feel good we won't do it. We will eventually give up when we lose motivation to do it.
Don't ruin your experience and all of your good intentions by allowing the motivation and drive needed to leave your warm bed to overshadow the feeling of joy from experiencing your morning and doing something that is 100% good for you and your loved ones.
When your feet touch the floor, take a deep breath, smile to yourself and celebrate the single positive thing you have done today. You woke up and chose to be ______________ .
#2 When your feet touch the floor, take a deep breath and smile.
Why? Because waking up can be hard and you have a lot to smile and be happy about. You are alive and breathing. This is how you put our #1 tip into action as daily practice. When your feet touch the floor (that is a habit anchor) take a deep mindful breath (micro mediation / tiny habit) and smile (internal celebration).
#3 Say a "to-be" statement to yourself every morning when your feet touch the floor.
Building on tip #2 you can attach a tiny habit of saying a "to-be" statement to yourself to the anchor of getting out of bed.
The tiny habit recipe for this is: After my feet touch the floor (anchor)... I will say a to-be statement (tiny habit)... and celebrate with a smile to myself (celebration/reward).
Language has a major affect on how we experience our setting. The way we speak to ourselves matters. Generative language is language we use to describe our future intentions, aspirations and perspectives of the future.
The act of simply stating to yourself - "Today, I am going to be calm." Is a practice in being intentional rather than reactive to life. You don't need to follow through with being calm for this to be meaningful.
#4 Look forward to something small that you enjoy doing in the morning and allow yourself to enjoy doing it.
To build on this feeling of joy that we are generating and brining awareness to - plan something you love in your morning ritual and get out of bed for it. This can be as simple as a podcast that you love, reading a beautiful poem or eating an orange. My thing is: the slow calm process of making and taking my first sip of coffee and then usually carrying a cup of coffee to Anna (my girlfriend).
If fit this into my ritual by starting the coffee after I finish my to-be statement and before I drink my tall glass of water. Then by the time my micro morning ritual is finished it is ready to enjoy.
#5 Drink a tall glass of water and finish with a genuine smile to yourself every morning.
Now, that you've woken up and chosen to bring joy to your morning experience (no matter your situation you can find peace for a moment) and be mindful for just a moment, let us continue with a tall glass of hydrating water to replenish the fluid lost from respiration during sleeping.
You are literally celebrating your good deed with a giant smile to yourself.
*** Notice how we are out of bed and all the way to the kitchen sink and we have not mentioned work, responsibilities, worries, fears, priorities, phones, facebook or instagram. This might be only 30 seconds but this is meaningful.
#6 After you finish your glass of water and smile - Do one air squat and smile again.
*This is also a tiny habit recipe.
After you drink that glass of water, do one air squat and celebrate with a smile. This is a great way to trigger some movement in your morning and to begin waking up your body with a single slow full body stretch. If you've read about our micro morning ritual or downloaded our morning ritual guide you'll know the background here.
If you do one squat you can easily stop there or simply allow yourself to finish a flow of air-squats, push-ups, sit-ups, and deep breaths. We recommend a general flow of:
#7 After you move your body - Write down the to-be statement you said in your 5 minute journal or notebook.
Write down one sentence to yourself. I prefer to write my to be statement as a sentence on a stick pad note and put it on the wall in my kitchen and then I open my daily planner.
If you've read miracle morning or the artists way you'll know the S.A.V.E.R.S method and the power of free writing. Writing or scribing in a journal have a tone of positive benefits in your life. We suggest creating a tiny habit of writing down one sentence every morning to put yourself in the position to write more.
By writing even one sentence a day you will design your environment. This tiny habit forces you to have a pen and paper around. In time you'll be able to replace that pen and paper with a journal or daily planner the way that I've done. This is how we create a full habit of doing more significant writing tasks. As the automatic nature of writing one sentence a day increases or you begin to wake up earlier (because you actually enjoy your morning and you go to bed earlier see tip # below) you will be in a position to write and capable of doing more complicated writing tasks with little effort.
#8 Make your bed and start learning how to design your environment to align with your habits and goals.
This is both an awareness and action tip. As Admiral William H. McRaven said in his UT Austin 2014 Commencement Address...
"If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.
Making your bed is also the final action that marks the end of your micro morning ritual. The base stage of your 3 part high performance morning ritual is focused on wellness and feeling good. Now you transition the second stage called "build" where you focus on prioritization / plan review. See tip #20 for an overview of the 3 stages of a high performance morning ritual.
Tips 1 - 6 built on the concept of designing your environment. The following series of tips will do this even more intentionally. As you bring awareness to your morning routine and attempt to create a ritual around your morning practices notice how your environment can be designed to make your morning more enjoyable and make whatever is a priority easier to do in tiny ways. We call this "zooming in" on your behavior.
#9 Use a travel alarm clock to wake up.
This is the alarm clock that I use. It's simple and straightforward and best of all it is not my phone. This means I can wake up and finish my ritual and usually start my entire first part of my work day before ever needing to check my phone. That's up to 7 hours of no phone or 5:00 AM and noonish. Plus, because it is a travel clock I can bring it with me camping and on the road.
#10 Carry a Nalgene - Drink 1 liter of water
Building on tip #3... Start using a 1 Liter Nalgene water bottle . Using a Nalgene increased my water intake by 2-3x without any additional effort. Her's a quick analysis: I didn't have my water bottle for a week after leaving it at a friends house. Looking back at my work week I really only drank 3-5 glasses of water a day. But with my Nalgene I would regularly refill it three to five times a day. That is:
#11 Put a journal or daily planner in your kitchen (Design your environment)
Building on tip #3, tip #5 and #6 ... design your environment by keeping a daily planner or journal near where you do your morning movement and hydration. This doesn't have to be your kitchen but this is where I do most of my morning ritual. This will allow you to seamlessly transition to scribing and any prioritization activities you want to include in your morning ritual.
Here's a list of my favorite daily journals.
#12 Put your yoga mat and gym clothing in a special spot. (Design your environment)
I put my yoga mat in the kitchen so I have a semi private space to do movement in the morning. This is also near where I drink my morning water and coffee. The point is to have your stuff in a spot that reduces the need to think or find your things early in the morning. You can waste an amazing amount of energy trying to organize yourself in the morning. The goal is to be able to shuffle over like a zombie and just flow through whatever you do each morning.
#13 Introduce essential oils
Scents and smells can have a major affect on our embodied experience of a situation and even bring back memories. They are especially powerful when we introduce them as part of a ritual or set of movements and practices with additional significance.
Imagine waking up to the smell of coffee. This is the same thing. It's a nice smell that helps generate nice thoughts. This can literally be a sign to you body and mind to wake up and prepare for whatever you regularly do next. My favorite essential oil scent for waking up is Energy from sage wellness.
And finally, our last tip in designing your environment and building on the S.A.V.E.R.S method from Miracle Morning. Attach affirmation to the part of your ritual that you enjoy most. I like the idea of attaching them to something I enjoy doing because then I get used to saying them while I am feeling good. This literally means I say them while I drink a glass of water, smell my essential oil and drink my coffee.
#14 Attach affirmations or meaning to what you enjoy most... Example: making coffee
Building off of tip #3 we start the first few seconds of our morning by stating an affirmation in the form of a to-be statement. Example: Today, I am going to be happy.
I've played with affirmations on and off throughout my life but after learning about Tiny Habits in 2015 I started to integrate them into activities that I enjoyed rather than reading them out loud as a single activity. This helped me integrate them in my life and get more out of the them.
First - I come up with an affirmation based on whatever I am going through or preparing for in my life at that moment.
My affirmation I'm using now is "I am a great public speaking instructor because I believe teaching people how to express themselves is an amazing gift."
After I create an affirmation I link it to activities that I enjoy so I am saying while I am doing something that makes me feel good. Again - I love making and drinking coffee. So, every morning while I prepare the coffee I say my affirmation of the moment.
#15 Create a micro morning ritual flow
If you read through tips #1-15 you'll noticed a theme. Lot's of zoomed in micro stuff behaviors. When you put these together you get what I call a micro morning ritual. I developed this because I went through a hard time in my life and later learned a lot about behavior modification when I got my training in Tiny Habits from BJ Fogg at Stanford University.
This is The Unshakable Man Micro Morning Ritual:
Say a "To-be" Statement - After your feet touch the floor... say a "To-be" Statement and then celebrate with a smile or by doing a self high-5.
Drink a tall glass of water - After step 1 finishes. Drink your glass of water and celebrate with a smile or by doing a self high-5 again.
Do a single deep slow air-squat - After finishing step 2. Do a deep slow air-squat to wake up and stretch out your body. And again, celebrate with a smile or by doing a self high-5 again.
Take one-three deep mindful breaths - After finishing step 3. I do take a deep breath and then flow into at least 2 more allowing myself to pause and celebrate with a smile or by doing a self high-5 again.
Write down one sentence - And finally after I take my deep breath (step 5) I write down one sentence on a sticky pad note. Usually the sentence is simply my to-be statement. And I celebrate one final time with a smile or high-5 again.
This is my micro morning ritual that sticks with me every day. No matter what happens in my life I at least do step 1 100% of the time. I then flow into the rest allowing each stage to happen.
As I've grown this ritual grows with me. See the next series of tips for more advanced morning ritual concepts and ideas that we've worked on with men in the program.
The next series of tips are based on more advanced planning and structuring of your morning ritual.
#16 Strategy tip: Zoom in & grow your micro morning ritual first and focus on making it automatic rather than complicated or hard.
Do not rely on motivation yet. Focus on automaticity first. Be good to yourself. Don't try to wake up earlier yet. Just make these positive behavior automatic and build a strong base of healthy habits that you can fall back on later.
If you remember my strategy about hacking my life:
My strategy is to become deeply aware of what I already do. Then I use proven behavior modification techniques, science and playful learning to tweak and change what I already do into more of what I want to do.
My basic strategy for changing my life from the ground up.
Well, rather than plan for my best days: when I feel great and lots of small things in my life are working out allowing me to wake up at 4:59 AM vibrantly flowing from one stage to the next in my morning ritual and into my prioritized project for the day. This is my goal by the way. Right now my target is for this to be 35% of my days this year. That is a target of 127 days a year like this.
I plan for the reality of life by creating a series of micro morning rituals that stack together, take less than 5 minutes and that integrate into a strong base of my ritual. This allows me to build success momentum and in turn develop the life scaffolding needed to support a more advanced morning ritual when I am on fire in life!
This also means when something goes wrong I don't fall down completely anymore. Please don't move on until you play with creating a micro morning ritual for at least 5 days straight.
#17 Find your compelling reason to get the fuck up
You've done it! You focused on creating a strong base of a micro morning ritual. Now you will be supported through good days and bad and always have a healthy ritual to fall back on. Worst comes to worst fall back to this. But now we want to do more and build on this healthy base of positive attitude and positive behaviors we are developing.
The first thing I want you to find is your compelling reason for getting up earlier.
Answer this question: Why the hell are you going to get up at 4:59AM?
If you can't answer that question - why try?
Once you have an answer - write it down and when you open your eyes in the morning remind yourself why and what you want to achieve. If this is meaningful to you - use that depth of meaning to nicely get yourself up.
#18 Reminder: Waking up earlier is not related to your morning ritual.
In order to move past a micro morning ritual and to achieve higher levels of output we must have more time in our zone of optimum output. There's no way around that. You need to wake up earlier (or at least have have more time in your zone of optimum output) to get more done.
But waking up earlier is not related to your morning ritual. In order to wake up earlier we need to focus on our evening shut down ritual. We simply have to get into bed earlier.
The great thing is the same strategies work to design your environment to help you calm down and get into bed earlier. We will review those later this year.
The point is: If you want to wake up earlier you need to get to bed earlier.
#19 If you don't have 1 hour before starting the day - focus on a micro morning ritual and just feeling good.
This has been a point of argument with a few people I've worked with but here's my reasoning.
At the end of the day feeling good and taking care of your health is the most important thing anyone can do. The fact is achieving more and performing at your best is a PERFORMANCE GOAL.
The first step is being healthy so you can take on higher intensity training. Once you lock in your first 5 min of your day, grow this to 10, 20 or 30 min. We call this the base of your advanced morning ritual.
Now you are ready to add in some prioritization before starting a traditional work day.
#20 Transition your focus to your evening shut down ritual and getting in bed earlier.
Later we will review the three stages of a high performance morning ritual. But for now let's focus on what you need to do to develop the beginning of a two stage morning ritual.
Three stages of a high performance morning ritual
Stage Name - Focus - Time Needed Description 1 - Base - Feeling - 5 min to 1 hour total Mirco Morning Ritual & other wellness 2 - Build - Prioritization - 1 hour total Prioritization, planing or light work 3 - Peak - Creation - 2 to 3 hours total Deep work and zone of optimum performance
In order to have the time to create a 2 stage morning ritual you simply need at least one hour before starting the traditional work day. But, for most people you need to begin waking up earlier. To do this you need to transition your focus to getting to bed earlier. Here are some tips to do that using the same techniques we used to create our mirco morning ritual:
*** We will go much deeper on these in the near future.
Use tiny habits to prepare your sleeping area
Turn down the lights
No screens 1 hour before needing to sleep
Plan partner time and get
#21 Develop a 2 stage high performance morning ritual (Base & Build)
You can download our morning ritual guide to learn more about this.
In general what you need to know is there is a three stage process to creating high performance morning ritual. The first stage is the base stage. The focus here is on wellness and feeling good. If you can't do this properly without rushing their is no point moving onto stage 2.
If you have at least 1 hour to work with you can fit in a 2 stage ritual. The second stage is your build stage. The second stage focuses on reviewing your plan and prioritization of your day. There might be an opportunity to do light work but don't force it. Proper prioritization and reviewing your plan will allow you to focus and not get distracted during your normal work day.
#22 Develop a 3 stage high performance morning ritual (Base, Build, Peak)
And finally your third stage of your high performance morning ritual. You can download our morning ritual guide to learn more about this.
Now that you know there is a three stage process to creating high performance morning ritual. The third stage is 100% focused on getting into your deep work mode.
Because you've prepared your body and mind in Stage 1 and reminded yourself of your priorities and plan in stage 2 you are able to focus and go deep in stage 3.
My personal goal is to be capable of spending 35% of my days/mornings in 2019 in a peak performance state where I am capable of performing at my best and running on all cylinders. That is looking like it's going to be:
January (Base 1)
February (Base 2)
March (Base 3)
April (Building into peak)
May (Building into peak)
June (Peak month 1)
--- JULY (lots of travel)
August (Peak month 2)
--- September (burning man)
October (Peak month 3)
November (Peak month 4)
---- December (Holiday season)
January (Peak month 5)
I use a similar 3 stage build throughout the year.
I am building 1, 1, 2, 1 in terms of one month ON, one month OFF
I have planned down time for vacation/holiday periods.
This is periodization in action
What I love about this level of periodization is I know when to say yes to fun and exciting things and when I can easily say NO to those things so that I can get the peaks and valleys of performance that I need to reach my goals in business and life.
The stage changes also dictate the types of activities I am focusing on in my personal life and professional life as I build The Unshakable Man with Mike.
The next series of tips are general tips that have come up along the way and fun things you can try.
#23 Try the S.A.V.E.R.S method from Miracle Morning
The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod is a great book about creating an effective morning routine. The method aligns well with the micro morning framework.
Keeping things short and simple works because most people don't have the invisible social and emotional scaffolding in place to support a complete 3 part high performance morning ritual without using a giant amount of motivation and willpower to maintain it. They need to grow into it - just like we are.
This is why I highly suggest focusing on creating a 5 minute micro morning ritual and then growing from the ground up as your life and ability align to support a more intense ritual.
The savers method stands for:
Silence (1 min)
Affirmations (1 min)
Visualization (1 min)
Exercise (1 min)
Reading (1 min)
Scribing (1 min)
#24 Try the free writing method from The Artists Way
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron is an amazing book about harnessing and flowing through the creative process. I see scribing, writing, meditation and journaling as similar processes. They are all ways to gain perspective and peel the layers of our mind onion.
Free writing comes in many forms. But my favorite is the most basic and it's described in the the book as "morning pages".
All you do is open a blank sheet of paper and begin writing our your thoughts without editing, judgement, rehearsal or pausing. My favorite way to start doing this is to start by writing... I don't know what I am going to write about today but... (and keep going)
#25 Try the Ivy-Lee Method for Peak Performance
As of April, 2019 and the writing of this article the Ivy-Lee method is the key behavior I am playing with creating in my work day with my business partner Mike.
James clear does a great job of summarizing the Ivy-Lee process here.
First you write down your 6 most important tasks or projects that you want to finish.
Then you prioritize them #1 to #6 (most important first)
The next day you work on the first task until completion
You do this every work day
I'm changing the process a bit by using the 4 hours a day to work on the #1 task until it is completed.
At the end of each work day I send Mike a text message with my list of 6 things. So far I've forgotten completely or sent the list late in the evening. Now, I am adding a little stretch dance to the end of my work day to help me notice the end of my day and make it more meaningful. I'll let you know how it goes in May.
But this brings me to tip #26...
#26 Create a work shut-down ritual
Are we going a little ritual crazy? maybe... I have three core rituals I'm currently focusing on:
Work shut down ritual
Evening shut down ritual
Quarterly review ritual (I lied... that's 4)
One of the hardest parts of being self employed is being forced to manage myself. It's easy for me to do work at home, work at a cafe, work on the road, work at my friends office or clients space or Mike's office. At first this was a good thing but then it started to be a problem because I wasn't resting, taking breaks or reaching periods of high productive activity - my performance started to become bland and general and frankly decreased in general.
So in 2019 the #1 thing I am working on is creating a noticeable separation between work time and me/relationship/friend time. In order to do this I needed to create as Cal-Newport calls it a shut down ritual.
In the near future I'll share more about shut down ritual and how it's developing in my life and work as a habit.
#27 Create an evening shut-down ritual
And finally we have our evening shut down ritual. This was the second ritual I started focusing on when Mike and I started working together on The Unshakable Man and I started analyzing my morning ritual to teach other men how to take ownership of their life the way that I had.
One significant thing that surprised me: Creating and maintaining my evening shut- ritual helped me strengthen my morning ritual and together the two rituals strengthen each other. The best part is, this strengthening seems to come without the need for additional willpower or motivation.
My basic evening shut-down ritual co-insides with my habit to shut off the lights in the house as Anna and I prepare for bed around 9:00 / an hour or two before we will fall asleep.
After I shut off all the lights I will sit on the floor in the kitchen and meditate using headspace for 5 to 15 minutes. Then I usually open my five min journal and either fill it out or prompt myself for the next morning just as a reminder of what's on my schedule. Then I leave my phone plugged into the charger in the kitchen and I head to bed. This means I leave my phone alone and I don't bring it to bed.
#28 Have sex or be intimate with yourself or your partner
And finally we have #28... HAVE SEX. Or be intimate with yourself or your partner. I've been really surprised how little I read about this in the personal development and productivity space.
How can we talk about morning rituals and evening rituals without talking about intimacy and sex? When I say that I mean cuddling, self-car, masturbation, eye contact, taking a nice bath or shower or straight up sex. Sex and intimacy are very important to a healthy lifestyle and should be included in your list of healthy habits and rituals that you want to intentionally design your life around.
For me and my relationship this has become a major light in our life. My idea of what it means to be intimate has expanded far beyond sexual intercourse. For example:
Bringing Anna coffee in the morning and sitting with her and our cat Chesterfield.
Saying nice things to her and asking her about her day.
Turning off netflix and sitting on the ground together stretching or reading
lightly touching her back or giving her a foot or hand massage
Meditating together (more of that please)
These are all forms of intimacy that are super important and should not be overlooking in our daily life.
Thank you so much for reading this far. We hope you got value from this list of 28 morning ritual tips. We update this list on an ongoing basis. Please comment or contact us with ideas or edits.
Interested in creating a morning ritual of your own? You can also download our morning ritual guide here.