How to Create a Healthy Morning Routine That Actually Works
A couple years ago, Mark Wahlberg posted full details of his very intense, very involved morning routine that starts at 2:30 a.m. Elon Musk has shared how he plans his days in five-minute increments. And Richard Branson powers through his emails “before most of the world logs on.” Just reading through the morning routines of some celebs and power players can leave you feeling exhausted and defeated before you’ve had your first sip of coffee. Yet, a healthy morning routine can set the tone for the day and can get you off to a great start.
So, it’s worth creating a morning routine checklist that works for you and that you can actually stick to.
In today’s healthy morning routine, we will discuss the following:
- What is a Morning Routine?
- Some Morning Routine Keys to Success
- Creating a Healthy Morning Routine that Works for You
- Personalizing Your Healthy Morning Routine
- 23 Healthy Morning Habits That Make a Huge Impact
If you haven’t come across the morning routines of various stars or success gurus, you may wonder what the heck a morning routine is. Isn’t it just as simple as getting out of bed, grabbing some coffee and grub, and brushing your teeth before you leave the house? I already do that.
Well, yes, that is one type of morning routine: It’s simply the actions you typically perform in the morning before you head off to your everyday activities like work or school. Yet, most of us can admit that we could up the ante for a better start by creating more meaningful, healthy morning routines.
Because the way the day starts tends to set the tone for the rest of the day, why not start the day off right with some simple wins? As a bonus, those wins can boost dopamine, which leads to decreased depression, increased focus and motor control, increased motivation, and increased pleasure and satisfaction.
And by creating new automatic morning habits and deciding how your day will unfold ahead of time, you’ll also find your mind is more free to focus on what really matters to you. Ultimately, the right morning routine for you is said to increase happiness, boost productivity, reduce stress, and help you get and stay grounded.
Instead of starting with a search on the internet to follow your favorite celeb or guru’s routine, consider taking the time to decide what’s really important to you and why, and from there, build your own personalized morning routine. In other words, morning routines should be personalized to your goals, your personality, and what you’ll actually do. Choose meaningful habits that excite and energize you. Add the “why” because if you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you’re much more likely to stick with it.
Don’t be afraid to start with just one addition to your current morning routine (you know, on top of brushing your teeth). After all, change can be hard. So, start small as you create new habits and make it really easy. Then focus on being consistent before growing your healthy morning routine.
Once the routine becomes habit (i.e., something you just do), you can decide if you’re happy where you are, if you want to tweak any part of it, or if you want to add to the routine.
While your morning routine will be different from mine, from your best friend’s or partner’s, and even from your co-workers’, there are some habits that have been proven to be helpful for just about everyone. For example:
- Prepare the night before. Set your morning up for success by creating a morning routine checklist, so you can put your mind at ease and enjoy a great night’s sleep.
- Wake up at a consistent time. You don’t have to use an alarm. You can just have a general idea that you get up between, say, 6:00 and 6:20 a.m.
- Greet the day. Before you even set your feet on the ground as you roll out of bed, set your intentions for the day. It can be as simple as just saying, “Today is going to be an awesome day!” (If you know it’s a tough one, you can always add “somehow” to the end of the sentence.) Or, just simply say, “Thank you for today!”
- Get some sun/natural light. If possible, during the first hour or so of waking up, expose yourself to some natural light (ideally to sunshine) either by going outside or standing by a sunny window. If that’s not possible (e.g., it’s still dark when you arise), then turn on some bright daytime lights to support your circadian rhythm and arouse the brain. 1 As a bonus, according to research, people who bask in sunlight within the first couple of hours of waking up were found to be thinner and found weight management easier. 2
- Start with gratitude. You can write it down, say it out loud, or just think about what you have to be grateful for. I personally do this step while standing in the sun as my coffee is brewing. Find at least three things that you’re grateful for to get your day started well.
- Drink water. The body has gone all night without any hydration, and you actually lose a lot of water as you sleep. Starting the day off with a glass of water is a clear step toward a healthy morning routine. (Feel free to add lemon, if you prefer, for extra energy and flavor.)
- Move your body. You don’t have to have your full-on workout in the morning but take a few minutes to get the blood flowing with some light morning movement (e.g., yoga), stretching (such as a gentle sun salutation, child’s pose, or just reaching for the sky), or a brief walk. Or, go ahead and get your workout in and done for the day if that’s what works for you! As a bonus, exercise lifts moods and clears the mind as it strengthens the heart, lungs, and muscles. Exercising in the morning has also been shown to help people sleep better at night.
- Brain dump. Instead of spending tons of brain power trying to remember all you have to do today, list all of the things you want to do, which will help provide clarity on where you want to spend your time throughout the day.
- Manage your list. Once you have your list, order your tasks by importance (choosing your top three “must do’s”) as well as how long each task takes. Be realistic as well as precise.
- Be flexible. Feel free to play with your morning routine to find what works best for you. Do you find it impossible to sit and meditate before exercise? Do you find that your exercise performance is better later in the day? Play with your schedule and tasks and be willing to alter them as needed as you discover what works best for you. Do, however, try to stick with the plan for at least a few days.
All of the above can be done in around 10 to 20 minutes, leaving you plenty of time to personalize your own morning routine. What’s important is to get your day in motion as action breeds motivation and not the other way around. Start doing and you’ll have the energy to do even more. But first, you have to take those first steps.
Now it’s time to add in practices that work well for you. Do you have to have your coffee? Do you like to work out in the morning? Are you learning a new skill? Do you want to start meditating?
The goal is to be deliberate in your healthy morning routine. Many people grab some coffee, pick up their smartphone, and before they know it, the morning has evaporated as they zone out and “doom scroll” through social media until it’s time to rush out the door.
Of course, you can’t control every day, and sometimes you’ll be thrown a curveball (e.g., an early morning meeting, dentist appointment, emergency call, etc.), but by leaving your phone or computer closed for just a little longer, you can start creating the day you want intentionally rather than reacting to whatever’s thrown your way.
A few notes on creating a routine that works.
- Wake up early—give yourself time to roll into the day instead of rushing out the door, so you can start your day calmly and thoughtfully. Early will mean different things to different people, but many of us do best by committing to at least an hour for a full, complete morning routine. (And yes, that does include time to brush your teeth.) And for parents, that usually means waking up before your kids start demanding your time and attention.
- Exercise has been shown to stimulate the brain for learning. So, if you want to learn something new (e.g., an instrument, subject, or another language), schedule that right after your exercise session, if possible.
- Intermittent fasting works well for a lot of people but not everyone. Experiment with eating breakfast vs. holding off and eating your first meal later (e.g., lunch time) and see which one leaves you feeling more energized and productive.
- No matter what time you break your fast, you’ll want to skip the refined carbs and go for a combination of foods that provide protein, fiber, and healthy fats to help you power through your morning. For example, try a couple of eggs, sliced avocado, and some berries, plain Greek yogurt with fresh sliced fruit and some nuts or seeds (e.g., chia seeds), or a healthy breakfast smoothie.
- Showers are optional. While many of us bathe daily, that can really dry out the scalp and skin and actually lead to oily skin and hair. Depending on your skin and how much you sweat, you may actually only need to shower once or twice a week. If you take a shower to wake up, you can just consider rinsing off rather than lathering up every day. For even better results, turn that water so it’s cold, as cold exposure can help increase stress resilience, clear brain fog, and even boost metabolism. 3
- Work with your natural circadian rhythm and hormones. For example, many of us rush to our first cup of coffee. Yet, you may get more out of your morning espresso if you wait until between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. 4 Consider starting your morning with a glass of water and then having your first dose of caffeine (via coffee or tea) an hour after you get out of bed.
- Start your morning routine the night before. You can enjoy a smoother, more calm morning by preparing the night before. For example, you could:
- Set out your gym and work clothes
- Plan and prep breakfast
- Make and pack your lunch
- Set out your supplements
- Reflect on your day’s successes
- Set your priorities for tomorrow
- Turn off digital devices at least an hour before bed
- Go to bed earlier and set up a consistent sleep schedule, so you can get a full seven to nine hours of quality sleep at night. That may mean hitting the sack 30 minutes or an hour earlier to set yourself up for a successful morning routine.
To help stimulate some ideas on how to create a healthy morning routine that works for you, here are 23 ideas to get you started:
- Remember your dreams—some of the biggest breakthroughs in history came from the dream state, as the subconscious mind helps process ideas and solutions. Keep a notepad by your bed and write down your dream as soon as you wake up.
- Make your bed, so you start off with order and an easy win every day.
- Brush your teeth. Everyone (we hope) already does this one. So, to help really stimulate your brain, brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand or at least brush mindfully.
- Add mindfulness to your morning skincare routine, taking time to appreciate your skin as you cleanse, moisturize, and massage it.
- Journal, starting with forgiveness and gratitude, preferably by hand rather than on a computer. Or, start your day by writing Morning Pages (i.e., from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way) or by doing a spiritual study.
- Try deep breathing such as breath of fire, “the bellows breath,” box breathing, or alpha breathing. Or, just take a few minutes to simply breathe.
- Meditate (or, if you prefer, pray, visualize your perfect day, or even listen to some uplifting music while relaxing your thoughts). Start with just one minute and build up to 10 to 20 minutes.
- Read for 20 to 30 minutes or simply read a chapter.
- Listen to an interesting podcast or take in a Ted Talk. The goal is to learn something new or see the world through a different perspective to open your mind. To help solidify your new learning, keep a journal and list three things you discovered from listening.
- Get creative and give your brain a workout with some artistic creativity (e.g., drawing, singing, playing an instrument, or writing) or problem solving.
- Do a crossword or sudoku puzzle.
- Choose something fun or silly to do. Do video games bring you joy? Then play for a few minutes before diving into “adulting.” You can also choose to bounce around your living room to your favorite music, grab a Frisbee for some fun with your dog, sing silly songs to your children, or work on a creative craft project.
- Care for your plants and/or pets.
- Hug or cuddle with a loved one.
- Ground yourself by standing outside with your bare feet directly on the earth or simply spend some time in nature.
- Write down 10 new ideas to explore (e.g., 10 things I want to learn this year, 10 actions I can take to get better at ‘x’, 10 places I want to visit).
- Spend at least 10 minutes working on your favorite hobby.
- Read good, positive news. (The usual daily headlines can wait!)
- Choose an act of kindness and then act on it (e.g., pick up any trash you see on your morning walk, reach out to a friend you haven’t heard from, let someone more easily merge during your morning commute, tell someone they’ve done a great job on a project, etc.).
- Process your email and clear the slate before you start your workday.
- Declutter your personal space (or just unload the dishwasher mindfully).
- Appreciate someone or something in your home. When was the last time you really enjoyed artwork you’ve purchased, the way the light flows in the kitchen window, how soft your cat’s fur is, or how your child learns something new?
- Create a to-do list, a to-be list, and a to-feel list for the day. Choose tasks that will have the greatest impact on your day/life, and start with the most difficult or the highest priority; decide how you want to feel (e.g., loved, curious, connected, grateful); and decide what type of person you want to be (e.g., kind, a loving partner or parent, confident, relaxed)
Keep it simple, choose just one (or, no more than two) of these ideas, and give it a try for at least a few days or a full week. Experiment to see if it makes your morning (and day) better, or if you think your time would be better spent skipping that activity to try something else. Once you have a good healthy morning routine that works for you, continue practicing it for at least 30 to 90 days, so it sticks.
As you are working on your new practice, provide reminders for yourself of your routine. Even something like a simple sticky note on the bathroom mirror, refrigerator, or computer screen; an app on your phone; or setting your Google assistant or Alexa for your morning routine can help keep your new practice at the front of your mind until it becomes a habit.
Integrating your new activities into what you’re already doing (for example, after I brush my teeth, I will stretch for five minutes) can also help solidify the new practice. You want the routine to become a habit, not something you have to reinvent every morning.
A Healthy Morning Routine
The goal of a healthy morning routine is to start your day off right, so you can be the most productive and joyful person you can be. For most people, the first hour of the day is the most important and the one you have the greatest control over. And while successful people can start their days out very differently, it’s very common for them to commit to a healthy morning routine that allows them to remain focused, productive, and even inspired throughout the day. This is why we also included a downloadable healthy morning routine checklist you can access to help get you on your way.
We can’t tell you the perfect morning routine for you. We’re all very different—with different preferences, rhythms, and productivity styles. So, you’ll need to experiment to discover what works for you personally.
Fortunately, taking the time to deliberately design your morning pays dividends the rest of the day. Why not take a few minutes right now to start to create a healthy morning routine that works for you? (Just remember, especially if a morning routine is new to you, less is more. Start with just one activity, or at most, two.)