I am admittedly not a morning person, a fact that has plagued me for years because I so deeply want to be. I relish the idea of waking up to an internal alarm clock, tackling the day as the sun rises. It’s no secret that most successful people haul their asses out of bed before 7 am.
You might argue that I don’t necessarily need to get up at the crack of dawn, as I work from home and my commute to the office is a mere 10 steps, with a coffee stop in the kitchen on the way. But that doesn’t address the issue at hand.
See it’s not that I’m physically incapable of getting up early, although I don’t really enjoy it unless I can smell bacon sizzling in a frying pan. The problem is that I’ve been struggling to find time for creative work lately, as other (less fun) projects have taken over my schedule. But the creative stuff is my sweet relief and the lack of it has piled on the anxiety, along with compulsive email checking every morning, setting a crappy tone for the rest of the day.
So I’ve decided it’s time for a new morning ritual, one that really fires up the noggin. Supposedly Beethoven carefully counted out the precise number of coffee beans for his morning cup, but I’m not good with math at any hour of the day let alone the first. Marcel Proust smoked opium upon rising, but that sounds expensive. Plus, Dana accidentally smoked opium once in college and it was a nightmare. She got stuck in a bathtub fully clothed.
In an attempt to awaken and strengthen my creativity muscle, I tested a different morning ritual each day of the past week. Here, I give you the results! Grab your hot water with lemon and let’s get to it.
A few months ago I began reading for an hour every morning before starting to work, until I had to travel and forgot my book which disrupted the whole process. Since I was enjoying it before that, I decided to bring this one back first. I forgot how great it was! I’m constantly wishing I had more time to read, and this builds in seven extra hours a week. Creatively speaking, reading really gets the juices going, however this one can be dangerous if you don’t set a strict time limit. It’s now 12:56 pm and I’m just starting on work because I’ve been reading Sharp Objects and desperately need to know what goes down in Wind Gap. Overall, this may be my favorite way to start the day and I give it a 10 out of 10 for jumpstarting creativity.
Tuesday: Watch a Ted Talk
This was inspired by my recent discovery of Creative Mornings. Once a month, local chapters gather around the world for coffee, a 30 minute talk by a local speaker and a Q&A sessions. I’ve been enjoying these monthly meetups so much and typically feel creatively inclined afterward, so figured I’d try to replicate the morning in my apartment using the Internet. This was great too! I like to mix up the videos each morning, from comical to motivating to thought-provoking. Though the energy is much more dynamic at a public talk, this was a wonderful way to start the day with a cup of coffee.
On Wednesday I managed to make it to an 8:10 am spin class and lived to tell you the results. I can’t believe it either. I felt freaking fantastic having completed a workout before 9 am, and I do think the endorphins contributed to my creativity levels. Plus I couldn’t snooze for an hour without getting slapped with a no-show fee. However, after spin I went to te grocery store because I was fresh out of eggs and then I needed to shower, eat my eggs, etc. and I didn’t sit down to work until three hours after waking up. Long story short? I felt great at first, but then I spent nearly two hours thinking about the work I needed to start on a particularly busy day. Guess this is why some people go to the gym at 5:30 am, which is also the reason I deleted Snapchat after one week. Give me a break with those 5:30 am gym selfies.
Thursday: Start Working
This one confirmed my long time suspicion that email is the ultimate creativity killer. Hands down the worst, in fact only bad, morning of the week, which I assumed would be the case but wanted to throw into the mix for comparison’s sake. Diving right into work has some benefits I guess; maybe an earlier end to the day, and it’s when many people do their best work. But I found I actually got more done and felt more creative when doing other rituals first.
I get the sense that creative people who swear by starting their day with meditation never skip, so on Friday neither did I. I have a somewhat inconsistent relationship with meditation, but when I do take the time it feels good. I’d probably have some major creative breakthroughs if I stuck with it for a solid stretch, as opposed to once every few days as my Headspace app likes to remind me. For this reason, I’d personally rank meditation below other activities in terms of creativity, however there are a bunch of other benefits from a regular practice like reduced anxiety that we should not discard.
I struggled with this one at first because it felt a little like work, which as we discussed, did not bode well. While I love the idea of lighting a candle, throwing on some soft jazz and sitting down to write for an hour, this was tougher than it sounds. This Shakespeare needs time to warm up her quill. And by warm up I mean stare at a blank screen, succumb to YouTube and take a trip to the fridge to see if there’s anything new in there since I checked 20 minutes ago. Meanwhile noon rolled around and while I had not written a single word, I did water all of my plants twice. What is nice though, while on the topic of writing, is taking five minutes to jot down my gratitude list in this journal. I’ve been doing this for a couple years now and still appreciate each morning. I hear Morning Pages works wonders too.
This one comes with a weather permitting clause, but otherwise I found it a reliably delightful way to start the day. To round out my week of rituals, I laced up my sneaks and took Lucy for a 30 minute walk. This was a pleasant change from my usual zombie-like stagger out the door to let her do her thing before heading back inside. I realized I sort of missed walking her every morning before commuting to my office when I lived in New York. BONUS RITUAL: you might consider combining this one with listening to a Ted Talk in podcast form for one extra creative morning. And another thing! Walking counts as exercise so make that a triple whammy.
Ranking from super effective to 100% not helpful, here are the rituals that sparked creativity for me each morning:
- Walk (bonus points: walking with a podcast)
- Watch a Ted Talk
- Start Working
While I hope this is helpful for you, I encourage you to be your own little guinea pig and try a few rituals out for yourself. What works for me may not work for you.
Oh and one huge observation I kept coming back to all week? Leaving my phone on airplane mode until after completing the ritual made all the difference when it comes to creativity. If you’re struggling with the morning stress stuff too, try to avoid checking email, the news, social media and any other distraction that hurtles you into reality before you get a chance to check in with yourself.
Do you already have a morning routine that inspires creativity? Tell me in the comments! Maybe there are some crazy brain crystals or magic potions to get my paws on.