For many years, I had tried building a consistent morning routine. Although there have been some periods where I stuck to a routine, I would ultimately fail after a few weeks. In the past year however, I have been able to build a consistent morning routine that I have stuck to for many months now.
Here are the lessons that I have learned.
In my previous attempts to build a new morning routine, I would always do it inside in my living room. However, I found that this environment had a lot of cues for other habits. As a result, I often got distracted from completing my morning routines.
This changed when I developed the habit of going outside every morning to get sunlight in my eyes. This put me in a new environment where I was less likely to get distracted, and gave me a good opportunity to stack new habits on top of the first habit, since I was going to be outside anyways.
It is better to build a new routine in a new environment, rather than trying to build a new routine in the same environment where you already have previously established routines.
A big roadblock that I always faced was waking up early enough to give myself time to complete my morning routine. Initially, I would succeed in forcing myself to wake up early. But inevitably, I would fail after a few weeks and revert back to my previous routine - going straight to work after waking up.
A turning point occurred when I developed the habit of going outside every morning to get at least 10 minutes of sunlight in my eyes within 30 minutes of waking up - an easy habit to build. Not only did this put me in a new environment to build habits (as I mentioned above), but it is also a powerful protocol for regulating your circadian rhythm. After a few weeks of sticking to this habit, I naturally began waking up earlier without needing an alarm clock or having to exercise significant willpower.
Depending on willpower is not sustainable. When building a new habit, aim to remove as many roadblocks to the habit as you can, and look for ways to avoid having to utilize significant willpower. Break down your habit into smaller habits that are extremely easy to do, and focus on that first.
Sidenote: I consider getting outdoor morning sunlight in your eyes a crucial and underrated keystone habit that is perfect for a morning routine. I would start here if you are trying to build a morning routine.
In the past, following a morning routine always felt like something I had to do because it would be beneficial for me in the long term. The problem was that in the moment, it never felt truly satisfying. It felt like a chore that I would almost dread doing every morning. I didn’t feel any craving or immediate reward from the habits, so they never stuck.
This time however, I focused on immediately associating my morning routine with feeling refreshed and alert afterwards. For example, getting outside and seeing the sun in the morning, drinking a big glass of cold water, and stretching were all activities that made me feel good immediately afterwards. This all helped to reinforce the belief that these habits were healthy for me on the long term. I started developing a craving for this morning routine as soon as I woke up, and would feel irritated if I missed a day.
The most important characteristic of a habit is the craving that you feel just prior to doing the habit, and the feeling of reward you get after doing the habit. A good indicator that a habit has developed is the feeling of irritation if the habit is not done once a craving is felt. This is the difference between a repeated behaviour and a habit. Focus on immediate rewards to develop a craving.