If you’ve ever listened to a health and wellbeing podcast – which you probably have, given their surge in popularity since they launched in 2003, and given the variety among the 60,000 plus podcasts that are available – you will know the obsession many podcast people have with the ‘perfect’ morning routine.
Deepak Chopra is up before sunrise to meditate, then heads to yoga, gets in his 10,000 steps and makes sure he takes his probiotics as well as eating prebiotic foods.
Jeff Sanders of the 5am Project podcast drinks one litre of water upon rising, eats bananas while checking his email, exercises, and sets his intentions for the day.
He’s got nothing on Tony Robbins, who starts his day by ‘priming’ (‘if you want a prime life you have to be in a prime state’). This involves jumping in a hot pool and then a cold river (as you do) before doing 10 or so minutes of breath work (‘the mind is the kite, breath is the string – if you want to move the kite, you move the string’) followed by a few minutes practising gratitude, a few minutes focusing on his ‘inner presence’ and a few minutes focusing on three things he wants to make happen that day (his ‘three to thrive’).
Tim Ferris has a similar attitude about the importance of a good morning routine.
“If you win the morning, you win the day,” he says.
He makes his bed (it accomplishes one tiny task and at the end of the day, means you get to return to something you have accomplished), he meditates (for 20 minutes, which he says results in 30-50 percent more productivity with less stress because it’s the ‘warm-up’ to avoid distraction), then he ‘hangs’ from a bar to decompress his spine, makes a cup of tea (loose leaf, don’t let the water get to boiling point and burn the leaves) and does five minutes of journaling. All in all it takes about 60 minutes he says.
Sixty minutes is nothing compared to one morning routine detailed on a recent podcast where the earnest interviewee revealed he spends about three hours upon waking on his ritual, which involves making love, meditating, tongue scraping, swimming in the ocean and enemas.
Lucky for some (the luxury of three hours, not the enemas).
If, like many others, your ‘morning routine’ consists of checking your phone upon waking before dragging yourself into the shower, don’t let all the ‘primers’ out there make you feel bad.
The perfect morning routine is just an attempt to create control in the midst of uncertainty. At least that’s how Zen Habits’ Leo Babauta sees it.
It’s not to say there’s anything wrong with morning routines and starting the day doing something that makes us feel good and feel healthy, but thinking there is a ‘perfect’ one is misguided.
“You can put your morning routine into the perfect order, but it won’t solve your problems. Why not? Because it doesn’t address your root problem. It’s only a surface solution,” says Babauta in a new post.
“The root problem is uncertainty.”
His argument is that we try to deal with uncertainty, chaos or feeling overwhelmed by looking for perfect ‘systems’ like our morning routine. Unfortunately, this cannot create the certainty in life we crave.
“It might seem like it at first, so you feel some temporary relief. But in the end, the uncertainty comes back, because you still don’t know what the hell you’re doing. The fear arises. You search some more,” he says.
So we keep distracting ourselves, procrastinating and trying to control our lives (or at least our mornings).
Babauta argues there is only one way to deal with root problem: face it and learn to be OK with it so you don’t become rigid in your routines and thus controlled by the uncontrollable.
His advice (in his words):
- Notice when you are looking for certainty from a system, a course, a book, and so on. Notice when you’re procrastinating or running to distraction because of uncertainty.
- Acknowledge that you are feeling uncertainty. That you are trying to find certainty.
- Say to yourself, “Certainty is the enemy of awesome. Uncertainty is the fuel for an amazing life.” Repeat it until you believe it. Say it with gusto, zest and verve! Yell it out loud until your neighbours look up from their phones in dismay!
- Resolve yourself to not run from uncertainty like a coward, but to face it like a warrior, like a goddess, like a Jedi Ninja Pirate Demigod.
- Stay with the feeling of fear and uncertainty. It is uncomfortable. You laugh at the discomfort in derision, laugh at its pathetic attempts at making you flee.
- Push further into uncertainty and fear by doing whatever you are afraid of. Feel the fear. Feel the uncertainty. Feel it transforming you into a powerful being, trembling with the discomfort of being amazing and delicious. Cry out from the pain of it all, the pain of being beautiful and alive, the pain of joining with the likes of Odysseus and Genghis Khan and Joan of Arc, the anguish of your divinity, the pangs and torment of becoming a celestial deity.
- Repeat until whatever you’re doing becomes comfortable. Then push into new uncertain territory, feeling the groundlessness of growth and learning and fearlessness.
A tad dramatic, sure, but interesting food for thought. In his latest blog, he tackles the idea of letting go of our need for perfection and control (AKA fear) from a different angle, one I think is more clear.
“Fear is a worry about the future, which doesn’t exist. Noticing that, we can turn back to the present moment: what’s here in front of us. We can be grateful for what’s in front of us. We can smile at it, and take action,” he says.
“This takes practice. Try it now. Practice it every day: go toward whatever scares you, repeatedly. Lean into the fear. Be courageous, pushing through the wall of fear into the freedom of openness.”
And that may or may not mean getting up earlier to prime yourself in a way that works for you or practice presence, but it definitely means letting go of the idea that a ‘perfect’ morning routine exists and if we just get it ‘right’ then life will slot smoothly into place.