Where to begin with intentional living?
Well, the most tangible thing I can pinpoint as a real turning point in my life was the development of a consistent daily morning routine.
It may sound ridiculously simple, but it was a profound mindset shift and one of the first steps I took towards living with intention. Little did I know that a disciplined set of daily non-negotiables would be the catalyst for so many other positive changes in my life.
If you regularly hit the snooze button more than once before rolling out of bed frazzled and late for work, I probably don’t need to tell you that this isn’t the best start to your day. Or, perhaps you have no problem getting up for work, but find yourself sleeping in at the weekends and wasting your own precious time.
But before you start beating yourself up… Honestly? I used to be this person, so there is zero judgement here! Whilst self-awareness is uncomfortable, it’s also some good rocket fuel for launching your own morning routine.
I don’t want to be prescriptive because you will want to tweak your habits to create the perfect morning routine for YOU. That said, this 5am morning routine checklist would be a good place to start. I’m so excited to share this with you so that you can come up with your own morning routine ideas – let’s get started!
The Benefits of Having a Consistent Morning Routine
A great morning routine is generally a good signifier of a great day ahead! From feeling accomplished to reducing stress levels, there are plenty of reasons why you should bite the bullet and become an early bird ASAP.
It’s a common trait of successful people
What do Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs and Barack Obama have in common?
Yep, if you’re wondering what sets particularly successful people apart, then look no further than the way in which they start their day. To be extraordinary isn’t exactly difficult in theory, but it does require more effort than most ordinary people are willing to put in.
It’s easy to assume that these people are either simply lucky, or else they’re so far removed from us mere mortals that we couldn’t possibly achieve such greatness. But remember, they are only human, just like you and me!
Healthy habits make for productive days, which quickly snowball into compound effects that propel you to the dizzying heights of success. Crack your morning routine to live your best life!
You set the tone for the rest of the day
Morning is an important time of day, because how you spend your morning can often tell you what kind of day you are going to have.
If you start your day flustered and stressed, can you remember a time when you successfully managed to turn this around? I’m guessing the answer is usually a resounding ‘no!’. You may not realise it, but a productive morning has ripple effects on the rest of your day. Start making good decisions early in the morning, and you’re likely to have a more positive outlook in general.
Consistency equals better quality sleep
When you start going to bed and getting up at a consistent time – i.e. prioritising a good 7-8 hour’s sleep – your natural sleep hormones will begin to kick in like clockwork. This means that your sleep quality will improve leaps and bounds.
We live in a culture where busyness and lack of sleep is often exalted as a good thing. If you’re cramming in work and finally crashing at 2am, only to feel groggy and irritable the next day, then it’s time to reframe your point of view so that you prioritise your health.
Sleep is still largely a mystery, but what we do know is that it allows the body to carry out essential repair work, boosts memory and concentration, and generally allows you to function at a much higher level.
An intentional morning helps you to feel in control
A good morning routine helps you to prioritise the things that are important to you, which in turn boosts your self-esteem and self-confidence. Simple acts like writing a to-do list, keeping a gratitude journal, or sitting in quiet meditation for a few minutes, are intentional habits that help to instil a sense of inner peace as you begin your day.
When you own your morning, there is nothing stopping you from seizing the day with both hands.
You reduce decision fatigue
One of the true benefits of a habitual morning routine is that you learn to complete it on autopilot. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t present, but it does mean that you conserve precious brain power when it comes to making more important decisions.
For example, if you batch prepare your breakfast, you know it’s healthy and there are no choices to be made. Plus, if you have a capsule wardrobe and prepare your outfit the night before, you can focus your attention on the things that really matter.
It’s a cornerstone healthy habit
The incredibly simple act of getting up when you say you will is one of those magical launchpads for so many other healthy habits. This one habit is really what got me interested in the power of habits and how you can change your life through a series of very small adjustments (have a read of James Clear’s fascinating book on the subject for more insights).
Eating a healthy breakfast, for instance, will encourage you to make healthier choices with your meals for the rest of your day. And moving your body in the morning breaks down a lot of mental resistance towards exercise and going to the gym.
In short, good habits kickstart other good habits. It’s a positive cycle.
How to Get Up at 5am if You’re Not a Morning Person
I remember when I was at university, I used to be incredibly undisciplined with my time – going to bed at all hours then sleeping in until midday and feeling horrible about it. It didn’t help that I used to think unhelpful thoughts like ‘You’re just not a morning person!’ or ‘It’s harder for me to get up early than other people’ or ‘Maybe tomorrow’. If you’ve ever held yourself to these kinds of self-limiting beliefs, then I’m afraid you’ve got some reprogramming to do!
The good news is that if I can do it, then you definitely can. I promise.
As with all change: change is hard. So don’t kid yourself that this is going to be a seamless transition. However, in my experience, there are a few tips and tricks that will help you to give yourself a much better chance of success.
Know your why
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – everything is a hundred times easier in life when you know your why! If you’re wanting to get up at 5am to be ‘that girl’ or to show off your early morning workout on your Instagram, then… you’re kind of missing the point. And I can guarantee that it won’t be something you stick with for the long haul.
If you can, try to link why you want to make the effort to get up earlier in the morning to your core values. For example, I value my health, so moving my body and eating a healthy breakfast are high on my priority list.
Write down what YOU value and why it makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning. This should help to build your own integrity and keep you more accountable.
Do it gradually
I think we’re all guilty of assuming we have to make massive overnight changes to achieve the perfect morning routine we’ve got in our mind’s eye. But as with suddenly trying to do an hour’s gym session every night of the week from no gym-going whatsoever… you need to set realistic expectations, otherwise you’re just going to burn out and lose motivation quickly.
Or, even worse, it’s just something you talk about a lot but never actually do, because the mental resistance when you’re cosy in bed in the morning is just too strong!
Try moving your wake-up time back by half an hour intervals until you get to your ideal wake-up time. And don’t forget to move your bedtime back accordingly too, as you’ll want to make sure you’re still getting the right amount of sleep.
Get plenty of exercise & sunlight
If you want to get up earlier then you’re going to need to get to sleep earlier – something which many people struggle with. If you want to increase the chances of getting up on your alarm, then try to spend as much time as possible out of doors in natural sunlight, or get at least 30 minutes worth of moderate exercise (if you don’t fancy the gym, walking still works wonders). It’s so much easier to drift off when you’re naturally tired.
Avoid coffee after 2pm
Another reason you may struggle to get to sleep at night – thus ruining your chances of a 5am wake-up – is caffeine-intake. According to research, you should avoid consuming caffeine from around 2pm (or 7 hours before bed), otherwise it can throw off your natural sleep hormones and disrupt your blissful slumber.
Put your phone across the room
This is honestly one of the best hacks if you’re not a morning person! I fairly quickly established that if my phone was reachable from my bed, I was making it far too easy for myself to switch off my alarm and go straight back to sleep.
Whilst you certainly won’t appreciate it first thing in the morning when you have to stumble out of bed in the cold to find your phone, this really is the hardest bit! Once you’re up and on your feet, it engages your brain and you’ll probably think twice about getting back under the covers again.
Have a set bedtime & wind down routine
A great morning routine is all well and good, but a great evening routine will really help you to get in the right mindset for getting up early. When you do the same wind-down routine at the same time every day, your body will come to expect and understand the various cues that signal bedtime is approaching.
It’s worth setting a wind-down reminder alarm on your phone and having a set bedtime. To get up at 5am, I’d recommend turning lights out at 9pm, and definitely no later than 10pm.
3-Step 5am Morning Routine Checklist
Now it’s time for my 3-step morning routine checklist, which I’ve broken down into 3 sections: Cleanse, Consume, Create. Whilst I’ve found that many morning routine suggestions go through the usual self-care practices, the main focus of my morning routine is preparing myself to enter into a creative or ‘flow’ state. Feel free to try out or adjust the following routine to suit your particular needs, and bear in mind that you can change the timings however you see fit – this is simply what I’ve found works best for me.
1. Cleanse: 45 minutes
The cleansing phase is all about small wins that make you feel accomplished before your morning has barely begun – it can’t help but get you into the right mindset for the day ahead.
Prep the night before
As I mentioned earlier, a good morning routine starts with a good evening routine!
For instance, you may want to hack your environmental cues and get your workout clothes ready for the morning – make it so that you can’t fail! I also have a rule that I never go to bed with a dirty sink.
This visual decluttering of my surroundings definitely helps me to get up in the morning. Rather than waking up and feeling immediately stressed by chores I need to complete, I can calmly focus on other things.
It’s also a good idea to write a to-do list with your important tasks, so that you know the expectations for the next day in advance. Getting things out of your head and down on paper is proven to help you sleep better, too!
Get up at the same time – don’t hit snooze!
This is your first easy win for the day! Put your phone or alarm clock across the other side of the room, otherwise you risk either falling back asleep again or scrolling through social media for half an hour whilst lounging around in bed.
Whilst this may seem like an impossibly difficult task, muscle memory definitely makes it easier over time.
Make your bed
How do you wake up every day with a burning desire to make the world a better place without making your bed in the first place?
I get it – I never used to make my bed. Or if I did, it would either be half-hearted or halfway through the morning. However, studies show that there are mental health benefits to making your bed first thing after you wake up.
It’s a small accomplishment that helps you to feel less stressed and more in control. Your bedroom should be a calming sanctuary and an extension of your energy field – I’m a great believer in the little saying ‘tidy house, tidy mind.’ So make sure this is the first thing you do to start your day off on the right foot!
Have some quiet reflection time
Next up, it’s time for some reflective morning activities. Take a few moments to meditate (the morning is a lovely, peaceful time of day to do this), recite some positive affirmations, or jot down a few things to be grateful for. A simple morning ritual is good for the soul, promoting feelings of well-being and positivity.
Move your body
Before you start panicking, I don’t necessarily mean go for a 5K run before breakfast or do a 60-minute HIT routine. Although, if you enjoy vigorous exercise in the morning, then by all means, go for it!
Personally, I prefer slightly more gentle morning exercise. In the winter, I’ll do a few stretches or some yoga to get the blood flowing. And in the lighter summer months, it’s nice to get outside for a quick early-morning stroll.
Prioritising your physical health first thing in the morning gets your body moving and gives you more energy throughout the day. It also helps to release endorphins which put you in a good mood!
Get ready – take pride in your appearance
There is a happy medium when it comes to getting ready. I’m a firm believer in getting out of your pyjamas and taking pride in your appearance. That said, this shouldn’t take hours!
It’s important to shower and get dressed even if you don’t plan on leaving the house, because your subconscious is always listening. As such, you should make the effort to treat yourself like someone you care about.
Do one household chore
Just like making your bed – this is all about quick wins. For me, I always like to spend 5 minutes emptying the dishwasher from the night before. It’s a chore that I regularly used to put off, but this would only mean that dirty pots and pans built up in the sink over the course of the day, making it into an even bigger job when I actually came to sort it out.
Start with one chore, and if this works for you, you may also find it a good time to put on a load of laundry (as long as it won’t wake any other sleeping household members!). Mmm… is there anything better than that fresh laundry scent?!
2. Consume: 15 minutes
Now you’re feeling calm and in control, it’s time to refuel your mind and your body. You can make this stage as long or short as you like – for me, it’s a quick and nutritious pitstop.
Refuel with a healthy breakfast
If you’re intermittent fasting, then it may just be a much-needed black coffee. I personally find that my best morning routine involves making breakfast in advance with meal prep. This is a convenient way to both save time and stay healthy.
I like this zingy overnight oats recipe in the morning with blueberries, lemon and chia seeds, but toast with a side of fruit is a quick and nutritious choice, too! Breakfast is an important meal because it sets the tone for the rest of your dietary choices for the day. So start as you mean to go on!
Learn something new – read, listen to a podcast
Whilst I’m eating breakfast, I also like to fuel my mind with something interesting. This might be reading a chapter of a book, listening to a podcast, or watching a YouTube video.
In particular, setting aside 10-15 minutes to read can be a great way to build a reading habit. It’s something most people say they’d like to do more of but never have the time – so you actually need to create the time. It’s amazing how many books you can get through a year if you just dedicate the smallest amount of time to it each day.
Plus, you’re becoming a more knowledgeable and interesting person in the process. Win-win!
3. Create: 1 hour
There’s a lot more going on in the first two sections, but notice how creativity is given the biggest chunk of time? That’s because I think it’s super-important to prioritise!
Spend time being creative
What do I mean by spending time being creative? Well, basically I suggest that you carve out a significant amount of time each day and dedicate it to whatever makes your soul sing (a good indicator is if time seems to fall away). This might be art or photography, cooking or crochet. It might even be organising your stamp collection.
Whilst it may take a while to build up your ability to focus (definitely put your phone in another room so you don’t get distracted!), you will gradually find that you’re able to immerse yourself in an activity for longer and longer. Try pairing this habit with soothing music or your favourite hot drink to have a cue to enter into a flow state.
This is a time for curiosity, generating new ideas, and doing something purely for you. If you want to learn more about how to build a creativity habit, I’ve written a more in-depth guide on the subject here.
An Intentional Life Starts With an Intentional Morning
Being intentional can seem like the hardest thing in the world, but when we really break it down, it all starts with the present moment and the twenty-four-hour block of time we have directly in front of us. Prioritise the first few hours of your day and watch it change the overall trajectory of your life.
Your ideal morning routine may look slightly different to mine – especially if you have kids, you may want to consider condensing it down a bit. My best advice is to make a start and you’ll soon find out what works best for you.
Remember, perfectionism isn’t the goal! If you get ill, are on the road, or fall off the wagon, just get right back to it again when you can. The main point is that taking this time for yourself is the ultimate act of self-care, which will help you to build trust and confidence in yourself that is independent of the opinion of others.
I hope that this morning routine checklist gives you some inspiration for how to begin your own productive day. And I’d love to hear what your own morning routine looks like!