Build Your Starting Block

My dad was a competitive sprinter, meaning that the majority of his running success was predicated on races that lasted less than a minute. When the race is that short and that intense, one of the things that separate the victor from those in second, third and even last place, is the start. Runners crouch down at the starting line, place their heels against the starting block and wait for the gun to go off. And when it does, they come off of that block with tremendous focus and intensity and give the next seconds everything they’ve got. They will end the race gasping for air.

Any sprinter will tell you that how they come off the starting block can decide the race.

To give your day everything you’ve got, you need your own starting block. A way to brace and focus yourself so that you can launch into the day’s race with everything you’ve got.

You need a morning routine.

Now before we talk about what it should be, let’s talk about what it shouldn’t be.

Your morning shouldn’t begin with you hitting the snooze bar five times. It shouldn’t start with you rolling over, picking up your phone and scrolling Facebook, Instagram or email. It shouldn’t include a glazed donut, glass of sweet tea or bottle of Coke. Whenever possible, it should start before your kids wake up.

Your morning routine should be a series of steps you take each morning to prepare you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually for the day to come. It doesn’t need to be complicated and it doesn’t have to take long -- 15 minutes will be good and 30 minutes will be better.

Each person’s perfect morning routine is going to look a little bit different and it will likely change and evolve over time as you discover what works for you.

Here’s the first morning routine I developed three years ago, which I stayed with for about year.

  • Pour a glass of water, which I drink and refill once or twice

  • Pour a cup of coffee, which I drink as well (the coffee pot is set the night before and on a timer, and the smell of coffee brewing helps me propel me out of bed)

  • Make an entry in my gratitude journal (I use a simple gratitude app)

  • Exercise just a little to get the blood going and wake up my central nervous system (10 easy squats, a 30-second plank, a couple of stretches)

  • Journal for five minutes, which always felt really awkward and forced -- I’m not one for journaling.

Over time, my morning routine has become incredibly precious. It has grown to 45 minutes and I cherish every second of it. Here’s what my morning routine looks like now:

  • Pour water and coffee which I drink and refill as I go

  • Make an entry in my gratitude journal

  • Stretch my calves, hips and lower back (these are the three spots that I need to stretch every day)

  • Mediate for 10-minutes

  • Read five pages of a book that inspires me or teaches me something, take notes as I read

  • Review my goals for the month or the year, depending on the day

  • Write for five minutes. I still struggle with this, right now I’m trying to write each day with a specific prompt inspired by Richard Wiseman’s book 59 Seconds:

    • Monday: 3 things I’m grateful for

    • Tuesday: Reflect on a good experience I’ve had

    • Wednesday: Describe an element of a fantastic future

    • Thursday: Write a note of thanks or appreciation to someone (I don’t usually send them)

    • Friday: List three things that went well this week

    • Saturday/Sunday: Write an intention for the day or weekend

  • Finally, I identify, and write down, the single most important and valuable thing I can do that day.

I keep this all organized on the inside the front cover of my morning notebook. When I get to the end of the notebook and have to rewrite it, I take a bit of time to consider what’s working in my morning routine and what I might want to change for the next few months.

This is my starting block. These are the things I do every day that enable me to launch into the day and give it everything I’ve got and I don’t think there is one single thing I do in my life that is more essential to my success than this.

If you do not have a morning routine -- a true morning routine that you practice pretty much every day -- today is the day you create one.

Get a fresh notebook. Write down the five elements of your first morning routine on the front cover. Perhaps write down this year’s goals or this month’s goals on the front page. Set up your coffee pot, or place the tea bag beside your favorite mug before you go to bed tonight. Set your alarm. Launch yourself out of bed when it rings. Place your heel in your starting block.