Mindful Morning Routine
Creating a self-care morning routine to set the tone for your day
by Alicia Butler, August 24, 2022
A mindful morning routine is a great way to get into the right headspace for the day. Your thoughts and actions can influence how you feel, so choosing the right ones can help set the tone.
Will any self-care morning routine change a terrible situation at work or home? Probably not.
And I don’t want to give anyone the illusion that pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and “deciding” to have a good day will somehow erase depression, systemic trauma, or any other major happiness or feel-good deterrent.
But it may help give a little more weight to positive situations than negative ones.
This post may contain affiliate links, so if you buy something after clicking on a link, I might (fingers crossed!) just get a little commission. Good news: I only recommend products that I love! Which means you can feel good about all of my recs.
Self-Care Morning Routine
Creating a self-care morning routine is one way to set the “tone” for your day.
A self-care morning routine is simply another way to describe a mindful morning routine.
I struggle to move through my day with intention. I’m more of a “throw spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks” kind of a gal. A “this isn’t working so let’s burn the whole thing to the ground gal”.
Doing something intentional first thing in the morning helps me remind myself to be intentional later in the day, too.
Sometimes I only have it in me to do one thing from my morning routine before I get up and start my day. And I think that’s okay. Recently, I’ve found doing morning pages, going over my gratitude journal prompts from the night before, and listing my Could/Should/Cans to be the special sauce to help me start my morning, but that might change from day to day.
What’s the point of a mindful morning routine?
3 Reasons to Consider Morning Mindfulness
1. Get into the Right Headspace for the Day
Mindful morning routines can help you slide into the headspace you want for the day.
Truth be told, I usually don’t wake up in a great mood. I don’t know why, I don’t know when this all started. But this is who I am now.
Will I always be the type of person who wakes up thinking, Ugh, this again?! Maybe.
But it doesn’t really matter because even though I wake up grumpy, I get to choose how I’ll feel the rest of the day as well as my attitude.
Morning routines can help you decide how you want to feel and what you need to do to be there.
2. Create Mindful Intentions
If you don’t know what you want to do during any given day, it’s harder to complete these tasks.
Knowing what you want to do (and why you want to do these things) in addition to knowing how you want to feel, will help you feel satisfied at the end of the day — less like you’re throwing spaghetti on the wall to see if it sticks and more like you’re moving through your day with mindful intention.
Your mindful morning routine can help you create these mindful intentions.
3. Remember Your Whys
Sometimes we just do things out of habit without remembering or realizing why we’re doing them.
Maybe we check our emails or play Wordle because we’re so in the habit of doing these things that we just do them automatically. But how do these activities make us feel? Do they make us feel energized or do they drain our already meager resources?
Getting curious about your wants can also help you get to the bottom of them.
Maybe you get the urge to book a European vacation because everyone you follow on Instagram is in Europe right now. But do you actually want to go to Europe?
Maybe you’re getting FOMO because you want to have an adventure. Do you really want a European one? Or can you have a more local adventure? Maybe you want to eat some great food; can you find a French or Italian bakery nearby to satiate that craving?
Maybe you just really, really want to have a photoshoot. There are no wrong answers here.
Getting clear on your why is just information that you can use throughout your day. It doesn’t mean you can’t go to Europe or play hooky instead of going to work. But those things might not actually be fulfilling if you don’t get to the bottom of why you’re doing them in the first place.
Your mindful morning routine should help you uncover why you want what you do.
Mindful Morning Routine Tips: Dos and Don’ts
DON’T get married to your mindful morning routine. Leave some room for flexibility.
Maybe you decide you want to do part of your morning routine when you first wake up and part of it an hour after breakfast or something. That’s okay. There are no die-hard rules for a morning routine.
The whole point of a morning routine is to create a system that will put you in your best mindset for your day. If your routine makes you feel like sh*t or constantly undermines your goals, you may want to consider what’s holding you back — and switch things up a bit.
DO get curious about why you do what you do. If you roll over in bed and check your emails or socials or newsfeeds first thing after the alarm goes off or your eyes pop open, you may want to ask yourself why you do those things.
It’s also not a bad idea to ask yourself if those actions are serving your best interests.
DON’T throw the baby out with the bathwater if you miss a day or your routine isn’t perfect. Just try to find out why it didn’t go the way you planned it to and make adjustments if necessary.
DO document how you feel throughout the day. When researchers want to know how people feel throughout the day, they send them notifications (it used to be by pager, now they use text) to ask them to report how they feel and why.
You can do this too. There are plenty of emotion/feelings tracking apps available. I use EMMO to track my feelings throughout the day. It’s important to include the time, any activities you’ve completed since your last check-in, and notes about how you feel and why.
What the Experts Say About Morning Routines
There are plenty of people out there who bill themselves as self-care morning routine “experts”.
But do these “experts” actually have the know-how to tell you what you should be doing every morning? Look to these mindful morning routines for inspiration — not as a blueprint for your own.
Let’s look at a few popular morning routines to find out if they would work for you.
Billionaire Morning Routine
The Billionaire Morning Routine is the combined advice of several billionaires who say their morning routines helped them succeed in life and business.
From Oprah to Warren Buffet, Elon Musk to Bill Gates, we often look to those who have “succeeded” to optimize our own lives.
But does copying Oprah’s mindful morning routine of walking her dogs, making espresso, and pulling daily affirmations cards also copy her success?
Should you listen to the billionaires’ advice?
I would be a little skeptical, honestly.
Even though there are many “self-made” billionaires out there, many of these people have some “hidden” familial wealth, got help from rich friends, or were able to at least lean on friends and family along the way.
Yes, you might be able to glean some advice from these success stories, but it’s easier to complete a set of morning tasks (even if you’re committed to doing them at 5 a.m.) if someone else is making you breakfast, you’re not working several jobs to get by, or don’t need to take public transportation to get to work.
Also, many of these billionaires are white men. Meaning they have a lot more privilege, are more likely to be able-bodied, and are less likely to forgo a pitch-dark morning run because of safety issues.
Laura Vanderkam, Time Expert
Author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, Laura Vanderkam has been studying schedules for over a decade.
Other books include 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time, and Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done.
What I love about Vanderkam is her mindful morning routine advice focuses more on the quality of time as opposed to using it more productively. Her whole thing is to do less instead of striving to do more.
She also acknowledges that doing less is often a privilege afforded to those who have more money and power.
Vanderkam’s morning routine advice can be summed up in five words: important, but not urgent things.
The most important people focus on nurturing their careers, relationships, bodies, and minds — not on the mundane tasks that must be done by day’s end.
Should you listen to Laura’s advice?
Laura’s advice is pretty sound.
Mostly because she encourages her readers to find out what works for them and why; she also encourages reevaluating and changing mindful morning routines if they’re not working anymore.
When we blow into our days by completing mundane but exhausting tasks, we don’t have the energy for high-level, big-picture activities, like discovering what we want or need to be our best selves throughout the day.
I would even argue that exercising first thing in the morning (while helpful for some) isn’t always the best idea if you can achieve the same results later in the day. Workouts don’t take too much mental energy.
Jim Kwik, Brain Coach
Jim Kwik, “brain coach” and author of Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life (whose clients include Google, Virgin, Nike, Zappos, NYU, GE, Fox Studios, CalTech, Harvard, and Singularity University), created a mindful morning routine to “jumpstart your brain.”
Just some of the items on Kwik’s morning routine include taking supplements, dream journaling, drinking water, and drinking a “brain” smoothie.
Should you listen to Jim’s advice?
If you followed Jim’s advice to the letter, you could probably set yourself up for a pretty decent day.
It’s also important to note that Kwik is not a medical doctor; I also couldn’t find any information on his traditional education.
That being said, I don’t think formal education is at all necessary to be a high-performing person or to be an expert on a subject. Lack of resources, such as time and money, can prevent someone from getting an education — one that shouldn’t be a barrier.
Our educational system is also extremely ableist, and an elitist I try not to be.
But when you give yourself a title like “brain expert”, you should probably clarify if you don’t have any formal knowledge of biology. Not doing so could be intentionally misleading. It’s like publishing a book on nutrition and your byline reading “Dr. So-and-So” when you have a doctorate in a non-medical field.
I would actually consider Kwik more of a habits expert.
Kwik’s morning routine also takes between one to two hours to complete. I don’t know very many people with that much time on their hands in the morning.
Raising kids, taking public transportation, and working more than one job can all reduce the amount of time you have for a morning routine.
I know that a lot of habit specialists recommend making your bed first thing in the morning, but I’ve found that this task doesn’t really do anything for me. If something someone else suggests as a part of their morning routine doesn’t work for you, don’t do it.
A lot of “habit advice” also isn’t necessarily appropriate for those with neurodivergence.
My advice? Use Kwik’s mindful morning routine as inspiration but don’t follow it to the letter.
My Mindful Morning Routine
When creating a self-care morning routine, the why is so important. So don’t just copy anyone else’s morning routine and expect it to work for you, too.
Here’s my self-care morning routine as an example. You don’t need to copy it (nor should you), but it should offer some fun-inspiration for creating your own mindful morning routine.
I’ve noted why I do these things on a daily basis so you can hopefully include your whys in your morning routine, too.
5:30 AM: Start Waking Up
I wake up at 5:30 a.m. regardless of the day. In fact, I wish I could wake up later some days but it’s just not in the cards for me.
Sometimes I can go back to sleep on a weekend or if I don’t want to get up at 5:30 a.m. for whatever reason. But I always still wake up at that time no matter what.
5:45 AM: Get Into the Right Headspace
Instead of hitting the snooze button, I turn on my diffuser. I load the scented oil in the night before. I also turn on nature sounds or a morning playlist to get me in a good mood for the day.
I also look at my gratitude, Little Things, and looking forward lists from the night before.
6:00 AM: Looking Forward to the Day
I start thinking about my day by making my Could, Should, Can, list. If I could do anything in the world — no restrictions — what would I do and why?
I don’t limit myself at all here. I think about all the things I’d love to do if I could do anything at all.
After I write down 5 to 10 items, I note my whys for at least a few of them. Just because I can’t fly to Europe on a whim to eat good cheese doesn’t mean I can’t do something decadent during the day that offers similar benefits.
I then write down my shoulds or have-tos. These are the things I need to get done. Any appointments I need to go to, work commitments, etc. The things I need to do so my life doesn’t fall apart.
Then, I write down my cans. If I can complete these tasks, my life would be even better because of them. These might include moving my body, running errands, phoning friends, and decadent pleasures that remind me of my coulds.
6:15 AM: Biofeedback Breathing/Anxieties
I started doing biofeedback breathing about two years ago after hearing Dr. Leah Lagos on my client’s podcast.
Dr. Lagos has worked with a lot of high-profile clients, including athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, and other celebrities.
Biofeedback breathing is super simple: just inhale for four seconds and exhale for six. Dr. Lagos recommends doing this for 20 minutes, two times a day.
I’m lucky if I manage to do it for 20 minutes once a day, but I’m not really a perfectionist.
Technically, you’re not “supposed” to do anything else while you do biofeedback breathing. But I don’t have all day to do my mindful morning routine, and I find that it’s a good time to make lists of any anxieties I have about the upcoming day.
The biofeedback breathing helps to regulate my physiology while I think about my anxieties or doubts about the day.
Not interested in biofeedback breathing? Any type of breathing or meditation can be helpful in the morning.
6:35 AM: First Breakfast/Coffee/Ice Water
I also do the morning Wordle while eating my first breakfast (I eat two smaller breakfasts in the morning instead of one larger one).
I love ice water. Someone once told me that drinking super-cold water can mess up your hormones, but I don’t care. It makes me really, really happy for some reason so I just do it.
7:00 AM: First Hour of Work
I do my first hour of work (I work for myself from home) at 7:00 a.m.
Sometimes I do parts of my morning routine during a 30-minute break at 8:00 a.m.; oftentimes, I just need to skip certain parts altogether. It’s okay. Again, perfection isn’t what I’m striving for here.
Mindful Morning Routine: PM Routine
My mindful morning routine starts with a good routine the night before.
Instead of scrolling through Instagram or playing a game on my phone, I like to take a few minutes to note:
- 3 of the day’s highs and 2 lows
- 3 things I’m grateful for from the day
- 3 things I’m looking forward to in the next day or week
Making note of my “lows” or “anxieties” helps me just acknowledge them and get them out. I try not to dwell on them but just “thank them for their service” and put a pin in them for the night.
Writing down my gratitude, the day’s highs, and three things I’m looking forward to puts me in a good headspace to relax a little. I take a screenshot of this list so it’s the first thing I see when I look at my phone in the morning.
Creating Your Own Mindful Morning Routine
Ready to create your own mindful morning routine?
Asking yourself these three questions may offer some insight into what you need to do first thing each morning to get yourself in the right headspace to start your day.
How do you want to feel today?
How do you want to feel today? Relaxed? Energized? Happy? Driven? Accomplished?
There are no wrong answers here.
If your goal is to feel relaxed throughout the day, maybe include the following in your morning routine:
- Looking over past savoring lists*
- Relaxing aromatherapy
- Listening to nature sounds
- Journaling your Favorite Things
What do you ‘have’ to do today?
Your have-tos are things like going to work, completing deadline tasks, or picking up your kids from school.
These are your non-negotiables. I find listing these in the morning can help me relax a little and feel better about my day. I can more easily schedule my want-tos when I have a list of my have-tos.
You can also make a plan to stay relaxed throughout the day. Using your previous night’s list of lows, you can WOOP (wish, obstacle, outcome, plan) what you’ll do if your wish (feeling relaxed) gets thwarted by possible obstacles.
*What is savoring? Find out how this tool can boost your mood in minutes!
What do you want to do today?
Make a list of all the things you could do today — the sky’s the limit!
Maybe you’d get extra sleep, go to Paris, karaoke, or go on a shopping spree. Maybe you can swing one of these wishes (I totally condone calling out of work if you can for a mental health day or a day to catch up on sleep).
But maybe you can work modified versions of them into your day. Consider:
- Taking a 30-minute nap at lunch
- Treating yourself to something small or window shopping
- Planning a big trip on a 15-minute break
- Belting out a song in your car
These little things won’t totally replace your could dos, but they can help inject a little extra love into your schedule.