Morning rituals done right can dramatically change your life. That is probably why the topic has been written about so much. However, many of us struggle with these routines because we don't always know the science behind the practices being recommended.
Why you should follow a morning routine
Daily routines are designed to anchor our goals and values to our thoughts and actions. When our behavior doesn't align with the values we have for our careers, relationships, health and wealth, we usually feel out of sorts. For example, you may value treating your kids, spouse or employees with the utmost respect. But if you find you have been impatient around them lately and have repeatedly lost your temper, you may be becoming reactive to your environment and letting it pull you away from what you truly value in life.
The reason we get out of line from our values and continuously miss our goals is because we've picked up counter-productive habits from our past that don't support us. Morning routines are designed to interrupt past programming and current social paradigms, and propel us forward with new patterns of action.
The science behind the ritual
Neuroscientist Joe Dispenza has a gift for simplifying the process of what goes on in the brain. He breaks down life in general, saying that the end result of any experience we have is an emotion.
Negative experiences from our past which are more emotionally intense and/or repetitive are remembered the best. Our brain uses this information to create our beliefs and perceptions of the world as we grow older. Any disempowering beliefs create the negative habits that we are trying to eliminate.
Dispenza explains how our brains form these beliefs. He explains that, "Every time we learn something new, we make new circuits in the brain. Learning is making a new connection in the brain. Memory is maintaining or sustaining those connections -- keeping them alive. And the only way that we maintain and sustain connections in the brain is by repetition."
So, we are left with three questions: How can we create a new and positive experience that will produce new circuits in the brain? How can we make it emotional so our brain remembers it? And how can we repeat it so that those circuits become the sustainable memories which our brain references going forward? If we can accomplish these three things, we will be able to override old patterns and install new ones focused on what we truly want.
The physiological aspect
Tony Robbins, the master of creating immediate change in any human, has developed one of the most effective morning rituals, called the Hour of Power. This strategy incorporates scientific findings similar to those Dispenza discussed. What is so fascinating with Robbins' practice is his focus on generating a person's desired emotion from the movement of his or her body.
"Every emotion you ever feel has specific physiology linked to it," Robbins says: "Posture, breathing, patterns of movement, facial expressions." He goes on to say that, "Once you learn how you use your body when in certain emotional states, you can return to those states, or avoid them, simply by changing your physiology."
This is why, Robbins says, he uses incantations with his morning routines instead of affirmations. An affirmation is a phrase you repeat to yourself, such as "I'm confident." However, it doesn't matter how uplifting the phrase is, Robbins says. If it doesn't change your physiology or your emotional state, it won't do much.
You can repeat "I'm confident" 100 times every day, but it won't sink in if you are feeling anxious or frustrated during the process. In contrast, an incantation incorporates body movement and engages your physiology to trigger the right emotions while you repeat the phrase of your choice.
Simplifying your routine
I'm a performance strategist. When I first begin working with clients, I find that most are having difficulty because they are trying to do too much. They try to incorporate everything into their morning routines, from meditation, visualization, goal setting and affirmations, to incantations, exercise, stretching and expressions of gratitude. With all that to contend with, my clients' brains have become overloaded, trying to memorize the phrases, images and emotions they want to focus on. It's too much!
The key is to simplify your ritual first and give your brain the tools it needs to automate the process, until it's strong enough to do the task on its own. So, with that in mind, incorporate the following six steps.
1. Temporarily simplify your ritual.
For the first week only, choose one practice -- of being grateful, repeating an incantation or visualizing a goal. To simplify things further, choose only one idea to focus on. So if you choose to be grateful, just focus on being thankful for your family. Or if you are visualizing a goal, focus only on that new job you want.
2. Feed your brain an image.
Give your brain the image you are trying to imagine. Going back to the example of your family, find a photo that stirs up an emotional feeling or brings back memories the minute you see it. If you're looking for a new job, find an enticing image of a businessperson celebrating a win or sitting in a beautiful office overlooking the city.
3. Feed your brain thoughts.
Instead of memorizing what you want to say and focus on, print it out on paper. Your phrase should be written as though you have already achieved it (even if you haven't) and should always be followed up with a why: "I am grateful for my family because they make me feel loved and secure no matter what is going on in my life." or "I was accepted in my new role as a senior manager because I work hard, lead by example and am passionate about making a difference" or "I am making $100,000 this year because it gives me the freedom to travel and brings me the joy of spending more time with my kids."
4. Ensure that what you see is what you get.
Put the photo and the written phrase on your desk or mirror, or up on the wall so you will see it and perform your morning routine.
5. Get moving.
As Tony Robbins says, you need to engage your physiology in order to truly impact your emotional state. So, when you wake up, do something to get your body and nervous system fired up. That can mean turning the shower from hot to cold a few times; dancing to music; performing jumping jacks, pushups, ab exercises or shadow boxing; or just taking a walk. Whatever! Just get in motion for a few minutes!
6. Put it all together.
After waking up and moving around, hop in front of your image and look at it for a few seconds. Feel the emotions it brings to you, let yourself settle into what you are about to focus on. Start seeing your family in your mind or seeing yourself with that new job. Then begin reciting your phrase five times while you feel the resulting feeling. Move your arms, smile, get excited and make sure you're determined that nothing will get in the way of achieving your goals!
7) Make a growth schedule.
Repeat this ritual every morning for a week or two, or until you able to easily feel the emotions and recite your lines. When you're ready, you can begin to incorporate another practice or other things you want to focus on, one each week and one week at a time.
By repatterning your brain, you'll be creating new, more dominant memories that your brain can reference going forward. Over time, those older, negative beliefs will dissipate and your behavior will begin to consistently support every area of your life.