Success draws attention. Like me, you probably look closely at those who’ve reached the pinnacle of success, perhaps in the hopes that you uncover a hidden truth or secret recipe that will extend your wings and lift you high into the sky.
What is it they do that enables them to achieve so much, you ask yourself. They’ve got two legs, two arms and two eyes. So do we. They regularly head to the toilet to relieve themselves; have relatives who annoy them; get into a bad mood. So do we. What is it?
It’s ingrained in us to seek out the secret sauce of success. It’s a deep-seated human desire.
You look at a prolific inventor or high-flying hedge fund manager and think: were they always that way? Well the answer is NO. They weren’t born the way you see them now, on the cover of Fortune, Wired or Vanity Fair magazine.
They became successful over time.
Success – and failure – is not a singular event. It doesn’t just appear at your doorstep like a pizza delivery. It stems from a series of little steps that occur over a period of time. The little things you do, day in and day out, lead to success or – equally – failure. I recently met Bill Nighy (a great gent). He, like many of his contemporaries (e.g. Judi Dench), spent years training, auditioning and performing to get to where he’s at. It didn’t happen overnight. Similarly, Jeff Bezos spent years working in finance, first, and then cut his teeth as a startup entrepreneur before Amazon became the giant that it is now.
Along the way, these individuals have adopted certain habits and have followed a set of rituals to support their lifestyle. It’s easy to appreciate why they’ve done so. These men and women have tremendously demanding schedules. Their calendars are stuffed with appointments, events, meetings, calls, training sessions and working breakfasts, lunch and dinners. And then there’s their personal affairs, like seeing to family and friends. Consequently, their days are organised in such a way that they’re able to get as much done as possible in the least amount of time. Some of them have jammed schedules 7 days a week, including on holiday because they’re working round the clock, 365 days a week.
[In finance, it’s normal for even junior professionals (e.g. investment bankers) to have full schedules, simply because of the abnormally long hours they work. So it’s not just the high-profile individuals in the sector that are uber busy.]
One of the things that helps individuals manage a very hectic lifestyle and keep them on the path to success is a morning routine. It is the subject of this post. And as you’ll soon learn it often acts as a personal anchor, keeping you focused while also grounded.
And just as no two snowflakes are alike, routines will vary from person to person. Because each of us is unique and we, therefore, have different requirements.
On the importance of routines
High achievers get things done. Period. That’s one of the reasons they’re so successful.
I’ve come to know a number of people most of us would consider extremely successful. What I’ve discovered from spending time with them is that any one day can bring about a whirlwind of activity. And with it, lots of varying emotions. While these special creatures believe strongly that they’re in control of their destiny, they’re fully aware that plans could change from one moment to the next and that obstacles sometimes emerge out of thin air. It is a reality they’ve gotten used to. Yet it doesn’t take away the fact that work, along with its environment, can be very stressful for them. At the level they’re operating at pressures are heightened. The obstacles are larger. The stakes are bigger. Interestingly, these guys and girls thrive on it.
Correspondingly, a morning routine isn’t a feel-good luxury they do for kicks. Don’t mistake it for the Instagram video of a man or woman sitting crossed legged in designer tights with some sitar music playing and a few tea lights burning away, published on social media in order to show one’s alleged spiritual side. More often than not, done to look cool, for lack of a better word. No my friends. The morning routines I speak of are integral to success. They are an absolute must in order for those high achievers to consistently perform at optimum levels.
Discipline, an integral ingredient for success, plays a pivotal part in this. Though I don’t think many of us appreciate it as much as it deserves. Whether you look at a successful financier, business tycoon or entrepreneur, I promise you their discipline will be borderline religious. And the reason, and I alluded to this earlier, is straightforward: it takes time to become a success. It doesn’t happen overnight. A magazine article will tell you that in Month X of Year Y somebody became a global sensation. But it’s never like that.
Discipline also applies to morning routines.
Routines help set the tone for the day and enable you to become significantly more productive over time. When you need to pack more punch into each minute of the day then you need to be in the right frame of mind. A morning routine sets you up for that.
Let’s look at morning routines for some of the world’s most successful people.
Tony and Richard – two great examples
Entrepreneur, best-selling author, philanthropist and life & business strategist.
He needs no introduction and in case you haven’t then check out his book, Money Master Game. It will give you lots to think about.
This man is constantly on the road, speaking to large crowds (at times 10,000+ people) and delivering performances with sustained energy, enthusiasm and impact. What he does each and every morning supports his entire day.
Here’s what he does after he wakes up:
- Depending on where he is in the world and which one of the several homes he owns, he jumps into a cold plunge pool whose temperature is kept cold at 57 degrees Fahrenheit (14 Celsius). He stays underwater for a minute. The shock electrifies him. (When he’s in his home in Sun Valley, Idaho, he jumps into the river, instead)
- Next he does something he refers to as ‘priming’. It takes roughly 10 minutes. It begins with a breathing exercise. Then, he spends time doing a gratitude exercise, where he thinks of things he is very grateful for. He doesn’t just think about it lightly but internalizes it and feels the gratitude. The rationale is that when he’s grateful he doesn’t get angered or fearful – these two things negatively affect people in their personal and professional life, he claims. He will also do a prayer for family and friends and wish them good things. Then, he thinks about 3 things he wants to accomplish
- He does this everyday, even if he’s had two hours of sleep, or none, the previous night
Once that’s done he has breakfast, which usually consists of fish and salad. He has that less for taste but more for function, i.e. fuel. Then it’s carpe diem.
Entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave with no wifi, the name Richard Branson will ring a bell. He is a business icon who continues to inspire people across the globe for his accomplishments and the whacky ways he’s gone about marketing his business. [Funny enough I met him when I was 16 years old. On a Virgin Atlantic flight, no less.]
On to his routine:
- He gets up early. Regardless of where he is in the world – this man travels a great deal (probably helps if you own an airline) – he’s up at 5am. This frees up time for him to exercise (mens sana in corpore sano) and spend time with his family. Doing so, gives him a positive start for the day. Though such an early start cuts into his sleep he believes that passion for what he does gives him an abundance of energy, which more than make up for lost shut-eye
- He exercises and believes it doubles his productivity. Sometimes he runs around his private island
- He catches up on news and replies to e-mail
- Organises his day
- He’s a firm believer that life should be lived to the fullest and therefore the morning should set the course for the day
That’s Tony and Richard’s morning routines. And you’ll find most of their peers have their own.
[I’ll be adding more names here over time.]
Some others routines
If you do some digging you’ll learn that nearly every successful man or woman has a morning routine they take very seriously.
Oprah Winfrey: Up early. Prepares food for lunch – yes, she takes lunch to work. Before sunrise will head to a special room in her home packed with books on spirituality and candles to go along with it. There, for one to twenty minutes, depending on how she feels, Oprah will meditate. She then exercises.
Arianna Huffington: Important part of her morning routine is to NOT check her e-mails when she first wakes up. Instead she begins by taking some deep breaths. She’ll meditate and think gratefulness. Will do yoga or bike depending where she is in the world.
Barack Obama: His day starts at least two hours before his first meeting and usually involve a workout routine. He’ll do a mix of weights and cardio. Then, he has a healthy breakfast and drinks water, juice or green tea – no coffee. He tries to spend this time with family and see his daughters off to school.
Anna Wintour: Her days start at 5:45am and she plays tennis for an hour before heading to work.
Bill Gates: Rises early but makes sure he’s had 7 hours of sleep normally. One of the first things he does is to spend an hour on a treadmill and simultaneously listens to news, an audio book or some sort of learning course.
That’s them. Now on to you.
Crafting your routine
Indeed, the people listed above are successful on an epic scale. Yet it doesn’t mean that they alone need morning routines. Everyone does. If you find their success far too great to relate to then keep in mind that they once had very little to begin with or certainly much less than is the case now. Your morning routine is specifically meant to help you achieve your success.
If there’s one thing you should take away from this post it’s this: come up with your own ritual. Don’t emulate your idol’s regiment. He or she carved his or her own path to become the person they are. You are your own man or woman. It’s okay to take inspiration from the things they do, but ensure your routine is a reflection of you. Customise it. There’s no better designer to do that but you.
Here, I list some considerations that will help you.
Fully appreciate the significance of those early hours
I don’t care what you think but mornings are immeasurably important. It’s the start of a new day. The beginning. The alpha. Think about it philosophically. The sun rising heralds a new chapter and the opportunity to change your life for the better.
When do you think you will feel the most determination? Just as the day starts or when it’s about to end?
When you fully appreciate its importance, you’ll start making mornings work for you.
“But I’m not a morning person!”
Too f@cking bad. Become one. Everyone who thinks this way ought to get slapped by The Rock.
Build up the habit. That’s all it is. A habit.
Work on it until it becomes second nature. Often it’s those first 5 to 10 minutes that are challenging. A few hours later you won’t even think about how early you got up.
Everyone can become a morning person. It’s a mindset.
Start today if you must. Tell yourself, assertively, that you will become a morning person. You need to WANT to change. Repeat to yourself – I’m serious – “I am a morning person.” Say it in front of the mirror with a straight face if you need to. It will manifest itself.
You will reach a point when you just wake up early because it feels right. It takes time but you’ll get there eventually.
Some tips to help you wake up earlier:
- Go to bed earlier. Set a specific time in the evening when you officially start getting ready for bed. When that time comes stop whatever it is you’re doing. Also set a time for when you need to be physically in bed. Yes, in a sense this means you need a nighttime routine, too
- Remember why you want to wake up early (e.g. to be more productive)
[Important: the more you try the more likely you are to become a morning person.]
You cannot shape what you do not know
Know thyself. Unless you know who you are, success, be it personal of professional, is unlikely. Recall the great strategist, Sun Tzu, who professed that knowing is half the battle. So to make effective and long-lasting change begin by practicing self-awareness. That comes from paying attention to yourself and discerning patterns.
Jot down what you normally do when you wake up. This will give you some insight into your existing habits. It’s helpful to have a list (of the things you tend to do after you get out of bed) in front of you. Upon review, you’ll be in a position to tell what things work (or don’t). From there, you can add new actions and remove some. Try it for a week.
A healthy start
I’m not suggesting you start the day by doing deadlifts, squats or lunges. Rather, incorporate healthy activity or elements into your mornings. Two things are a must:
- Intake: it could be as simple as to drink a glass of water
- Exercise: this could be a breathing exercise. Or maybe some pushups or yoga. Or both. Or more. Figure out what feels right for you
Remember, exercise improves your mood. So this way you begin the day with a good feeling. Then the rest of the day you build on it. Don’t you find that when the day starts poorly it becomes an uphill battle to reverse your spirits? Set a positive tone from the start.
When you’re in the right place you perform, create and dream better.
Gratefulness: health and your loved ones
Your health and your loved ones are what matter most. Take away the business deals or work projects and you’ll survive. But your health, family and good friends nothing can replace.
Starting your day by thinking about your loved one and / or spending time with them keeps you level-headed.
Also take a little time to wish them good health and happiness. This promotes ‘giving’.
Avoid e-mail first thing
Put it off because the right or wrong e-mail can seize all your attention and you won’t properly fulfil your morning routine.
Again, LEAVE e-mail alone. The sky is not falling. The world will not end if you check it later.
Once you’ve embarked on your morning routine you need to monitor how it affects you. See, a routine is never fixed. It can and should change to reflect your ever-changing life, ageing process and the circumstances you face.
A routine evolves.
Remember that a routine is like a muscle. The more you develop it, the more powerful it becomes. And this takes time.
Finally, be proud of your routine. Cherish it. It is very special. It will carry you. Protect it and it will protect you.
While it has evolved over time and will very well change again, here’s what my current routine looks like.
As soon as I wake up:
- Drink a large glass of water with a slice of lemon
- Move to quiet room where I take a seat and take 10 deep breaths. Take anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes to think about the things I’m grateful for, namely my health, family and friends. Take another 2 to 5 minutes to wish good things onto those I love. Then I take about 5 minutes to think about who I am and the person I’m becoming
- Stretch. Then do a set of pushups and pull-ups
- Jump in the shower. After I’m finished I look straight into the mirror and say a few motivational words
- No e-mail until I’m dressed and ready for breakfast
Good luck and remember to take your morning routine seriously.
Do you have a your morning routine? If so, what is it?
If not, then consider adopting one. Take inspiration from other routines, and perhaps from some of the things you’ve read above. But remember to make it yours. Who knows, one day all us may read about your routine in Forbes magazine :)