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My question is twofold: What makes a good routine and how do I stick to it?

Things to do in the morning include keep hygiene, have breakfast, pack lunch, and do bodyweight exercises. I find that the only one of these I keep without fail is keeping cleanliness. Often, instead, I get out of bed slowly and aimlessly surf the internet before even taking a shower.

I figure a couple things. First, I need to make a plan, and second, I need to practice this plan, say, during some weekend afternoon a couple times. What are your experiences and suggestions?

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Also might be worth looking at the US military morning routines. They actually design it deliberately to give good habits to soldiers. You'll have to change a lot, but it's a good place for research. – Muz Feb 6 '13 at 2:23
That's a good idea! I'll look into that. – abnry Feb 6 '13 at 5:08
up vote 7 down vote accepted

There's two things I prioritize in the morning: - Preparing for the day's events - Strengthening willpower for the day

To comment on the second bit, willpower is like a muscle. If you don't use it, it degrades. If you use it to small degrees regularly, pushing it to painful levels, it improves over time. But when you use a lot of it, it is difficult to use it again in a short period of time and requires some time to recover.

Just like athletes perform stretches regularly before doing the hard work, you'd want to 'stretch' your willpower every morning before doing whatever you want to do. It keeps you going longer throughout the day.

[Source: Roy F. Baumeister, M. Muraven, D. M. Tice, "Longitudinal Improvement of Self-Regulation Through Practice: Building Self-Control Strength Through Repeated Exercise"]

You'll want to practice a lot of these things into a routine, so that you can do it automatically.


Wake up. Check emails, facebook, whatever it is that you receive your daily news. Try not to spend more than 10-15 minutes on this and don't reply to anything yet. Your brain is a little groggy now, so this is kind of a little incentive to get yourself out of bed.

I'm a forum person, so I normally open threads that I plan to reply to later. You can also leave open emails that need to be written that morning and so on. At this point, you want to acknowledge them.

Willpower stuff

The trick to doing something difficult is in sandwiching it between two things - a cue and a reward. There's usually something difficult that you want to do every morning. IMO, a good willpower 'stretch' is exercise, because everyone could use more and it's something that can be ramped up once it gets too easy. But if needed, you can replace it with something else, like if you need to go to the bank or something.

Start with something light. If you eat cooked breakfast every morning, cook it. If you need to pack lunch or iron your clothes, do it now. I normally brush my teeth and make my bed at this point. This will be your cue to start the difficult part.

Then do the difficult part: exercise. Don't strain yourself, just go for enough to make you sweat and pant. Walks are especially nice - they give you time to think about things, namely those emails and forum posts you've been reading earlier. You'll know which ones aren't worth replying to and which ones you'd still obsess about.

Then do your reward. This is often something like breakfast. I try to give myself a hot cocoa in the morning or something sweet. If I feel like doing a heavier exercise routine (like on weekends), I'd cook something extra nice. Also a good time for Facebook and newspapers.

It takes some time to get used to (maybe a month or so) but it will greatly reduce your resistance to doing the difficult part of the day. The nice part about this is that the difficult part can be swapped as long as you maintain the cue and reward.

Finish off

This is where you do the rest of the things needed right before work. Showering, wearing clothes, deodorant, make up, combing your hair.

Coffee/tea, i.e. some caffeine is also recommended if you're still feeling groggy. Don't take it too late in the day, this is the best time.

Try to build these things into a daily routine. Sort out your clothes and things at the same place every day. Put your toiletries in the same place. If you don't have to search for things or figure where to put them back, you have more mental energy to work with for the rest of the day.

If you have extra time, go ahead and respond to those emails and forum posts or whatever. At this point, you have enough willpower to resist replying to things you don't need to and should be able to identify which are the most important.

Refrain from the fun stuff

Note that your willpower is highest early in the day and lowest at the end of the day. Fun stuff should be a reward for going through the day. Leave it as an evening routine.. daily games, hanging out with friends, etc.

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I'm not sure I agree with your suggestion that the best first thing to do is open emails. This seems like it's feeding internet/media addiction. For myself, I'm thinking that perhaps exercise is the best thing to do first thing. Of course, it's easier for me to say this going into summer... :) – dwjohnston Nov 17 '13 at 7:15
Have learned a lot since I wrote this and you make a good point. Exercise is often not going to work when it's too tiring. In fact, short, extreme sprints for 10 minutes work better than half an hour's walk-run. Getting married can also throw a routine off. As for addiction, you can either go cold turkey or as I've suggested, acknowledge it and decide whether it's worth it. It's usually not. But different approaches for different people. – Muz Nov 17 '13 at 7:38
The morning thing is an issue I'm working with at the moment- which is how I got here. - In terms of exercise - I think we're talking entirely just using exercise to get your blood flowing, and shaking the sleep off, not doing your weekly exercise for health. So I think you're right there - some sprinting would be better than a long run. If you're too tired from previous exercise, presuably, then, sure, coffee and food. – dwjohnston Nov 17 '13 at 7:41

What you need to do is make it so the tasks are easier to start. For instance, if the computer is distracting you, turn it off at night so you owuld have to wait while it reboots in the morning. That will make it easier to do something else instead. Pack the lunch the night before, so all you have to do is take it out of the refrigerator. If you want a good breakfast, buy something easy to fix that takes very little time (like instant oatmeal or cereal) or prep all the ingredients the day before (or make something like a large frittata on Sunday and just heat up a portion each day). To get the workout stared easily, workout in what ever you wear to bed. Plus, tell yourself you will do the exercises while the computer is booting up, once you get started, you will probably finish.

As far as a plan, I wold boot up the computer, exercise while it is booting up (contnuing once you start most days), then make breakfast and eat while surfing the web. Depending on what you make for breakfast, you might be able to get a quick shower in while it is cooking, but I would probably rely on doing that last as it might be trigger you need to get yourself off the Internet and go to work.

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What you really need is a long term goal, not a morning routine.

Days are different; why would you have some sort of a morning "routine" or any routine at all?

If you unite your thoughts under a single goal; then you don't need "morning routines" or similar concepts.

Your mind begins to work in the "now", and each morning you'll know exactly what you need to do because you have that goal working in the back of your subsconscious mind.

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I would say that you need a routine at some point of your day. There are a lot of things that are best done daily - showers/exercise/feeding a pet. Things like facebook/emails, which require maintenance, are best done outside the worktime so that they're not distracting you as you work. A routine ensures that all those things are done and reduces the mental effort required to accomplish them. – Muz Feb 1 '13 at 6:57

I was horrible at my morning routine until I started the Slow Carb diet. One of the challenges of the diet is eating at least 20g of protein within 30 min of waking.

I used to be one of the types that snoozes for an hour then browses for an hour, then gets up. Now I wake up like its my job. I get out of bed, pee, then meander towards the cooktop to warm a pan for my eggs.

I didn't ease myself into this routine, I attacked it. When I started my lifestyle change, my morning routine of: cooking breakfast, eating breakfast weighing,measuring myself, and cleaning up the kitchen used to take me an hour. Now I have it optimized to about 15 minutes.

Based on my experiences, here's how I'd suggest starting your morning change

The evening before you start, make a list of what you'd like to accomplish in the morning. Try and keep it short. You've already listed 4 things, so thats a good goal to start with.

What is going to be the most difficult thing for you to do? Write that down and do that first. Out of your list, exercise would be mine!

Attack the most difficult thing first thing upon waking and bang through it as quick as you can. Move on to the next hardest and repeat.

So with that as your gameplan, the next step is execution. Adding a morning routine sounds like something you need to work yourself up for, but screw that. That just builds anticipation and fear of starting. Start your new plan as soon as possible.

Think of this as a trial evaluation and plan to stick with it for 3 or 4 mornings in a row. Don't fret if you don't accomplish everything on your list the first few times. Try to make better progress than you did yesterday. As long as you're improving daily, you'll be golden.

Hope that helps.

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+1 many good points in your answer; thank you. – Enthusiastic Student Jul 16 '15 at 21:06

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