While many of us like to make New Year’s resolutions, I’m a big believer in gradual, continuous optimization of our habits and lifestyle that lead us to our highest state of being. In this state, we are more resilient, we are more likely to thrive in life, work, relationships and health.
I have previously written about my take on New Year’s resolutions and setting up a path for gradual, long-lasting habit change.
Today, let’s talk about what these optimal habits are, to set you up for your highest level of health and thriving in 2020 and beyond.
From personal experience, and from years of treating patients, as well as measuring stress hormone levels, here is what I’ve learned:
How rested you feel when you wake up in the morning and the routine you create when you get out of bed is associated with how you feel throughout the day, how much energy you have, and how productive you are. This routine also guides the lifestyle habits you choose over the course of the day (e.g., you have likely had the experience of getting 3 hours of sleep and craving sweets and caffeine the next day to try to overcome your sleepiness). The truth is, however, in order to have a routine of a high performer living the highest level of health, a good night of sleep is necessary. Consistently.
Evening and Sleep Routine
Here is the optimal routine that I follow at least 85% of the time. This benefits me and I see it benefiting my patients. Every good daytime routine starts with the previous night, so let’s take it from there:
- Wind down after a day of work (whether work is your job, running a household or being a caregiver or parent). And I don’t mean wind down with a glass of wine. I mean wind down with habits that will prime your body for relaxation and sleepiness. See my video on How to Sleep Your Way to Wellness where I talk about key habits to set you up for restful sleep and how good sleep will benefit you.
- Practice the key habits of good sleep hygiene:
- Don’t eat too close to bedtime. Ideally, finish eating at least 3 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid electronics too close to bedtime. Give yourself a phone, computer and TV curfew and stick to it!
- Avoid exercise too close to bedtime.
- Wind down with a bath, a meditation practice, a yoga practice, a conversation with a loved one, a book…
- Go to bed at the same time, or as close to this as possible every night.
- Aim to wake up at the same time every morning.
- If you wake up very early for work during weekdays, it’s ok to push your wake up time a little bit on the weekends (e.g., from 5am to 7:30am or 8am, but not to noon unless you are fighting an acute illness!).
What you do when you wake up is just as important to set up your day for high performance.
Create a morning ritual that sets you up for a productive day. A day where you are fully engaged, you have energy, you feel creative, vibrant and have clarity on your priorities and goals.
Being the workaholic that I am, I used to start my days by looking at my phone and would start going through emails and responding as soon as I woke up. Eventually I recognized that this was not the pattern which was the most productive, nourishing or sustainable. I wasn’t fully present for my kids in the mornings, I would miss my workouts and delay or miss my meditation, because I had this need to complete my inbox “to do’s”. Although I recognized the unhealthy pattern, it still took me a while to get away from it. If you are like me, trust me, I know how hard this is. It may be helpful to you to disable notifications (I did this) and to leave your phone on airplane mode until you are ready to start your work day. By the time you get to your inbox, you’ll be more energized, you will engage with your tasks with more enthusiasm, clarity and a sense of purpose (this purpose not only being to get things done and checked off, but to get things done WELL!).
Allow yourself to transition from sleep to a fully awake state. Rather than jumping out of bed once you hear your alarm clock, and rushing to get ready for the day, set your alarm to an earlier time, so that you can devote sufficient time to your morning ritual.
Here is what works well for me and many of my patients, colleagues and friends who prioritize their morning routine:
- Make meditation a priority in the morning. In the meditation world, we often use the acronym RPM: rise, pee, meditate. To get a free meditation guide, sign up to join my wellness community. You will receive the meditation guide in your mailbox upon signing up. You may find more of my favorite meditation and mindfulness resources here.
- Most mornings, I do a gratitude practice. This is a very simple practice, that has the potential to have a profound effect on your outlook. You place one or both hands in the area of your heart. Breathe in through your nose to a count of 5, and breathe out through your mouth to a count of 5. Take deep, slow breaths. While breathing, focus on someone you love. This may be your partner, your parent, your child, or your close friend. You may wish them positive wishes, you may send them love and warmth, you may reflect on your gratitude for this person. You may also focus on something else in life that you are grateful for. Reflect on all the great outcomes this opportunity or ability that you are grateful for, has brought you. If you do this for a few minutes, you’ll likely find that your outlook is more positive, and you’ll notice a shift towards a loving attitude and away from negative bias.
- Stretch or do yoga. My best days are ones where I get to take the time to greet the day properly and give my body a chance to transition from sleeping to being fully awake. If you can’t make it to a yoga class, all you need is a yoga mat at home and 5 to 10 minutes. You can find and follow your favorite yoga instructor online, or you can do a few poses and stretches that you feel comfortable with, in the comfort of your own home.
- Breakfast. If you eat breakfast, a nourishing breakfast is important. No matter what diet you follow, having a whole food, plant-rich breakfast is recommended (for example, this may be a smoothie, a salad, healthy leftovers from dinner, an acai bowl or oatmeal with berries). If you practice intermittent fasting, and you skip breakfast, then continue to do so – under the supervision of your qualified healthcare practitioner. There are many conditions that benefit from intermittent fasting including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers and neurologic disorders. Intermittent fasting has also been found to have broader positive effects on health and aging. If you are considering intermittent fasting, talk to your qualified healthcare provider before making any changes to your dietary pattern.
- If you have kids, you know that their routine is extremely important for them, but also for you! If this means doing practices 1.- 3. before they wake up or after they go to school, that is completely fine. Also, be kind to yourself. If you don’t adhere to these practices every day, don’t beat yourself up. Think about how you can adjust your morning to get the most nourishing practices in your day. Do them with patience, love and full presence.
I invite you to try this for 3 weeks. Journal – even if 1 line a day – to note how you feel. I’d love to hear what you observe.
Happy New Year and happy routine reset!