Morning Rituals

morning ritual

For an update on progress after 60 days read this progress update 

I mentioned in the newsletter last week that I was taking a course on implementing rituals in my life as way to build “good” habits. Today I am going to run through what I learnt and what I am going to do going forward.

Before getting into the course, let me take a step back and explain why.

There are some things I try to do on a daily basis because I believe there are benefits to be gained from them. For example, I do some simple exercises and some planks. This is good for fitness and the planks are actually a physio recommendation for a back problem.

Where I struggle is doing these activities at a set time of the day. So I forget to do them and the have to do them last minute before bed or I suddenly remember at random times of the day.

I also wanted to leverage on the power of doing things in the morning. You can read about this in many places like Hal Elrod’s book “The Miracle Morning” (Amazon affiliate link).

I took a course from Asian Efficiency, a well know productivity site, as I wanted to learn more about looking at it as a ritual and less of a chore so that the activities will become second nature. I like to learn how and why things work before I implement them.

The Course

The course is video based and is well produced – looks good and sounds good. Definitely a professional feel. I know content is more important but it helps if it’s easy to watch and listen to.

There are two distinct sections to the course. The first one takes you through the nuts and bolts of the system and the second is a selection of video discussions talking about different aspects of the system in a real world setting. I’m not going to talk about the discussions but it is an interesting discussion that reinforces what was taught in the system.

The System

The system is itself split into 5 sections:

  1. Why you need rituals
  2. Crafting rituals
  3. Making rituals sticky
  4. Resurrecting lost rituals
  5. Rituals on the road

I’m not going to go through every single detail (that would be just giving away someone else’s paid course) but I will touch on a few things that stood out for me.

Why you need rituals

The principle behind why rituals are good is a formula:

 Small + Smart + Consistent Choices = Big gains over time 

This is a bit like the idea of compounding tiny improvements – get 1% better every day and that’s a 37x improvement in a year. Small changes over time.

Crafting rituals

Crafting or building rituals was an important section for me. This is what I wanted to know – how to build the right system to ensure success.

My key takeaways were:

  • Rituals are made up of 4 components
    • Marker – triggers the start of the ritual
    • Routine – what is it you are going to do
    • Reward – something small to feel good about completing the ritual
    • Tools – what you need to perform the ritual
  • Marker
    • “Stack” markers – use an existing action that you always perform to kickstart the routine. For example brushing your teeth in the morning, immediately once you finish eating your dinner, etc. There are many things you do, almost without thinking every single day. Use that as a base.
    • Use notifications – reminders, calendars, task managers
  • Routine
    • Get it written down. Exactly what you are going to do. I will come back to this later as I share my morning ritual
  • Reward
    • When they first started talking about this I thought I would be buying myself a treat everyday! But it’s not really that. Some small way of acknowledging that you completed what you said you would. Checking it off your goals for the day would work for most people I think.
  • Tools
    • This didn’t add anything breakthrough. Of course you need your tools with you to perform actions. More useful as reminder to consider what you need when you travel as you might not have everything with you (I doubt you take your gym with you so make sure your hotel has a gym or you have an alternative plan).

I thought it was a useful section as it’s the nuts and bolts of building your system.

I will share my thoughts on the other sections and then come back to my personal plan.

Making rituals sticky

Like any new thing that takes a bit of effort to do, it’s not easy to stick to doing it. As there might not be an obvious immediate benefit to taking the actions it’s hard to get consistent. For me, any help in making a ritual “sticky” is going to be very helpful.

The course discusses 4 main areas to address: preparing your environment, creating accountability, engaging your identity and adding time. Some takeaways that stuck with me:

  • Environment
    • Get everything written down – make it clear what you are going to do and, importantly, why you are doing it. Make it easier to do than not do.
    • Use visual reminders of the ritual – post it note on the bathroom mirror, screensaver of your laptop, background picture on your phone, etc.
    • Tell people who it might affect what you are doing so they don’t get in the way and try lose unsupportive people out of your life. That one is harsh but if you are serious about developing and growing you don’t need people holding you back.
  • Accountability
    • Ask someone to check in with you to make sure you are following through.
    • Get penalized when you miss a routine – avoiding having to pay someone money is a good motivator
    • Join a community and check in everyday. I use for habit building and I like the feedback from the community and I love to keep my daily streaks unbroken. It doesn’t take long before it becomes easier to do than not do
  • Engaging your identity
    • Don’t use limiting language. If you talk (out loud or inner voice) about your ritual as a chore then it will be a chore. Talk about it as something you want to do and it will be much easier. You have to trick your brain. Knowing why you are doing this will help here.
    • Ensure your identity is aligned with your ritual. If you identify with being a healthy person (can be an aspirational identity) then it will be easier to follow an action that moves you towards a healthy goal. I think that trying to follow a list of things just because it’s the right thing to do is not going to stick if you are not really wanting to commit to getting the benefit of those actions.
  • Adding time
    • The message here was don’t try to do everything on day one. Start with a few things and then build up over time as the few things become so normal that it would be strange to not do them.
    • I have to admit – now I go back over my notes I had ignored this point when putting together my own ritual. But mostly mine are not new activities, just adding structure so maybe it will be ok!

A good section and some nice takeaways. Not really any eureka moments as all quite logical and nothing new but was helpful to see it in one place.

Resurrecting old rituals

I didn’t really make any notes in this section. I guess I will come back to this if things don’t work out in the way I want them to. Essentially you need to analyze what went wrong and adjust accordingly.

Rituals on the road

I was hoping for a lot from this part. I’m currently traveling more than I used to and living for most of the workweek in hotels. When I’m doing this any routines have always been messed up – Outside of my 9-5, I’m either traveling to and from airports or I’m having to catch up on day to day work. Squeezing in the habits I want to build is difficult enough in a normal day.

Key learning here, again not rocket science, is planning. Get it planned out up front. You know when you need to go to the airport so build the extra time in at home or plan for some of those activities to be things you will do enroute or at the airport.

When away from home, build your plan the night before (even better before you go away) and set calendar reminders and alarms. Make sure your routines are documented and make sense when away from home. Have your tools available or traveling alternatives.

Applying the training

I wanted to focus on mornings. Starting the day right. As I already mentioned I have a few things I am doing, daily or at least frequently during the week. I brainstormed what I want to do and some reasons why:

morning ritual brainstorm

Running through each of them:

Journaling – I like the act of writing and dumping the contents of my brain into my journal app on the iPad (Day One). I feel refreshed after doing it and I really do start to notice ideas forming into bigger things. It’s a cool thing and I would recommend it.

I also like writing at least one thing that you have gratitude for. Even on the worst days it forces you to think of the positives.

Drink water – I’m not drinking enough water when I get up according to everything I read. Moving too quickly to coffee in the morning and sticking with it. So I want to do the right thing for my health and rehydrate properly in the morning.

Affirmation – I have a short motivational affirmation that I read daily. I also read through my success definitions and values and think through how my actions are aligning with them. I will also have a quick read through my quarterly goals to keep them fresh in my mind.

Review goals for the day – Getting prepared for the day ahead. Making sure that what I need to get done and want to get done are realistic. I want to also get more systematic at scheduling my to dos into the calendar and blocking out the time and working to that schedule. I’m diving into firefighting issues and answering emails too soon in the day in my new job. I want to get back to basics.

Exercise – Using some weights and doing some push ups. It might not be a full on routine but it gets the blood flowing and at least doing something every day. I do some running as well but I’m not going to put that into my morning routine. Need to think about that one separately.

Planks – Should be part of exercise but I’m calling it out separately as I did have a back problem and doing planks with some lifting of the legs was recommended by the physio as a way to strengthen my back.

Meditation – I’ve really struggled to get any kind of consistency with meditation. When I do it, I like it. I don’t think I’m experienced enough yet to get any real benefits from it so I want to get consistent. I hear plenty of good things about mediation and use the Headspace guided mediation app.

Next step is to order them, figure out the time required and document. I used excel (I’m a finance guy – I use excel for nearly everything) and this is the output:

morning ritual excel

With the times that’s about 50 minutes of activity in the morning. If I give myself an hour that should be more than enough. I will get up, run through the routine and then shower and dress and get on with my day.

I will implement on Monday this coming week and start getting consistent. I expect that this then becomes second nature and is just something I naturally do in the morning. As it becomes normal I can build on additional things as required.

Do you have a morning ritual? What do you do?

For an update on progress after 60 days read this progress update 
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About Paul Metcalfe

Hello, I'm Paul, the founder of Workweek Zen. When I'm not searching the internet for the best productivity techniques, I'm implementing them. You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter


  1. Susan C. on February 16, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    Great reminder to smart small and build up to creating big, new habits. I always try to implement a whole new system all at once and then get burned out, so it doesn’t stick. Doing one new thing at a time, or doing it for a shorter amount of time (your 5 minutes of exercise example), is really key.

    • Paul Metcalfe on February 16, 2016 at 5:49 pm

      Hi Susan. I’ve been there as well – trying to change the world on day 1. It doesn’t last long!

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