For most of my life, my alarm has been set for 5-something am. During a rough patch at WeSpire, it even moved to 4am. I am a morning person, but I am also an avid student of habit formation and behavior change.
Behavior experts are consistent across the board: how you start your day matters. From there, opinions diverge. The One Thing school of thought encourages blocking to do your “one things” tied to each personal goal. Atomic Habits writer James Clear advocates for doing your high energy tasks first and no email until noon. The 5am Club preaches a 20/20/20 “power hour” of fitness, planning, and learning and no digital devices. Until March of this year, my morning ritual tended to include 15 minutes of planning, then some sort of work project that required deeper thinking, a workout, and then breakfast with the kids before school.
Then the pandemic hit. I turned off my alarm. My wake up time now started at 6-something and a new ritual emerged. Start with 30 minutes of physical therapy for my finicky hip. Make a cup of tea. Then read everything I could to try to make sense of what was happening and how I needed to respond. I devoured COVID and shutdown-related content from global, national, and local news sources, esoteric health journals, and blogs from fellow CEOs.
Reading that much news, especially given the current state of the world, is a terrible way to start your day. I don’t advocate avoiding news—far from it. I have made better decisions as a CEO and a parent by being well-informed. I had no pollyannic view that this was ending in a month and made business decisions accordingly. I had enough toilet paper. But I started each day with content that provokes anxiety and stress, heartache for the pain and suffering of so many, and simmering anger at the incompetence and arrogance on display by many in positions of leadership.
Several weeks ago, I knew I needed to rethink how I started each day. The fitness part was fine. What was missing were two other critical ingredients for wellbeing and impact: intention and creativity.
If you have taken a yoga class, you have probably heard about setting your intention. At first, I interpreted intention as my goal for the class. Then one of my instructors stopped to explain. A goal is what you want to do. An intention is who and how you want to be in that moment. They can work hand in hand. Intentions give you purpose and keep you focused on the quality of the journey, not only the destination. A good analogy is that intention is the personal trainer for your goals. I brought 15 minutes of intention setting and planning back to the start.
Creativity, for me, involves learning, designing, and story-telling. In addition to enhancing problem solving skills, creativity reduces stress and improves wellbeing. I decided after fitness and planning, I would make time for creativity. I write. I design presentations. I spend time sketching plans for a possible remodel of our garage.
The news is now relegated back to where it should be, as the transition from my morning routine to the beginning of the workday. I can attest that each day is brighter and better as a result. Each day is also starting a little earlier, likely because I look forward to how it starts. As I turned over this morning to get up, I looked over at my clock (still no alarm) and smiled. I am back in the 5am club.
Quote of the Week: I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.”F. Scott Fitzgerald