The other day I was listening to a podcast, in which a fitness coach and business guru was outlining his morning routine.
Now, I love this kind of advice, especially when it comes from people who seem to have their lives pretty squared away. Or at least who appear to have their lives squared away (because honestly, he could have been broadcasting from a rusty old camper parked in someone’s side yard, on “borrowed” WiFi, right?).
Anyway, I’m always on the lookout for new things that work for other people, on the chance I can use it for myself. Plus, it’s fun to hear about, in a slightly voyeuristic way.
As I was listening to this guy talk about his routine, I did some calculations, and I was like, “WHAT?”
He couldn’t actually be doing the routine he was outlining, could he? Because as far as I could figure, getting through his entire morning routine would take at least an hour, maybe two.
An Hour-Long Morning Routine?
Who has that kind of time? I mean seriously, how did he manage to get all this stuff done before he started his day? Here are some of the items he was outlining:
- Cold water plunges
- A yoga/stretching routine
- Drinking some specially brewed tea
- Setting intentions
- Performing affirmations
I mean, really. How did he do it all?
And then it hit me. Sorry. I don’t mean to be sexist, but just bear with me for a sec.
He is a dude.
And then I got a double-whammy hit. Nearly every one of the morning routines I had failed at trying to replicate over the years had come from a dude.
Dudes who don’t have to worry about the state of their hair, or their makeup, before leaving the house.
Dudes whose jobs don’t entail getting to work before 7 a.m.
And not only that, but dudes who have a support staff (or a wife) to handle the little nagging details of life. (You know, like keeping the bathroom and kitchen clean.)
Women, Can You Relate?
The guy on this podcast has three kids. I’m sure he’s wonderful, caring, giving, kind, and more. But do you think his wife has an hour-long personal-care morning routine? (Rhetorical.)
I mean, I don’t have any kids and can barely get out the door within 90 minutes of my wakeup. I do have a dog that needs walking, and (TMI) I take medication first thing that requires me to wait an hour till I eat breakfast, so there’s that.
But still, I always feel slightly rushed, like I barely have time to brush my teeth, much less my hair.
And that’s usually because I make a daily swipe at only ONE of the recurring items on all those morning routines I’d failed at over the years: writing morning pages (a post about them is coming up soon, because they’re kind of magical).
As I was fretting over this morning routine problem, I had an a-ha moment.
What if I flipped the script on these morning routines, and focused on the routine that was actually the most important?
And one that was actually doable?
The Evening Routine
Yes, the key to an awesome start to your day actually originates the day before, with what you do before you go to bed.
Every time I’ve made serious progress on my goals, I’ve always paid special attention to my routine before I go to bed. Here are just a few examples of times my evening routine powered me through:
- When I went from rookie newspaper reporter to sweeping the awards at a journalism event, I spent some time each night organizing for the next day.
- When I prepared for my figure competitions, my nighttime routine was a must-do in my pre-show process.
- When I wrote my book, I woke up each day with a clear plan that I’d charted the night before.
There are loads more examples, but you get the gist, right?
Hit the Ground Running (or Sip the Coffee Productively)
Basically, when I followed my evening routine, I woke up each morning with all the bothersome little details of getting my day started taken care of. My marching orders were in place.
And that stopped me from wasting time trying to figure out what to focus on. Because God knows when I don’t have a plan, I’m kind of all over the place in the morning. I flit from one activity to the next.
The fact I am all about this routine is beyond weird, because I actually hate routines. Like a lot of creative people, I naturally shy away from them.
Are Routines Creativity Crushers?
The truth is, a lot of good comes from the calm of having a basic structure (yes, a routine) in place. Because once the structure is there, you can free-range around it.
This is actually a pretty big debate among creative people – does routine promote or kill creativity? (1)
As much as I hate to admit it, Aristotle was right. A routine helps.
My Bare-Bones Evening Routine
This is my current (and very unglamorous) routine:
- Make a prioritized to-do list for the next day – appointments, projects, errands, etc. (NOTE: Because I hover toward the characteristics of a “Type A” personality, my list is always too long, so it never gets done. I have accepted that. But beware the too-long to-do list … in fact, limiting it to 3 to 5 things is awesome.)
- Quick-clean my home (Kitchen sink empty!).
- Get tomorrow’s meals ready to roll, or at least have a plan.
- What am I going to wear?
- Take dog for a final outing.
- Set alarm for the morning and program coffeemaker.
- Skin-care regimen, etc.
- Take vitamins.
- Unplug and relax.
Now obviously this isn’t rocket science. But that’s what makes it so great: it’s common sense, and it’s designed to make your life easier.
The Importance of Nighttime Routines
Having a routine in place is really calming for me, personally. Right now I have a lot of balls in the air with various projects I’m working on. And when I get going on my day, it can be very hard to know what to focus on. It gets overwhelming, due to a phenomenon known as “decision fatigue.” (2) (3)
Basically, your brain can only handle making finite number of decisions each day before it gets tired out, a situation that studies show wears down your willpower. (4)
Think that sounds like a stretch? Well, that can happen to me when I don’t follow my evening routine.
That’s because the next morning I end up rushing around trying to find something wear, taking the dog for a quick walk while fretting over what to make for breakfast that will hold me till I’m done with my morning round of training clients. Inevitably, by the time I finish up at the studio for the morning I’m thinking about grabbing a muffin and coffee from Dunkin’. And I don’t even really like their muffins all that much.
What’s Your Routine?
So now, I make sure I go to bed with my kitchen clean, my early-morning to-dos handled, and my day-long checklist in place. (Bonus: I can fall asleep without worrying that I’ll forget something I’m supposed to do).
Want to know the evening routines of some successful women? Check them out here.
Do you have an evening routine? Or maybe morning routines actually work better for you. I’d love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments.
I was supposed to do deadlifts today but I woke up with a cold.
I’m pretty bummed out about this, because deadlifts are on my radar for this year. In fact, I gave myself a pep talk the other day about it. The pep talk was actually the annual birthday “come-to-Jesus” evaluation that I treat myself to each year, when I examine what’s working and what isn’t in my life, and I refocus and commit to a couple specific goals.
Generally, for me, discussions with myself turn into multi-point lectures complete with lists. The list this time around wasn’t awfully long, in fact it has to do with simplicity and taking care of myself. Which is ironic (or not), what with this sudden cold and all.
There are some other fitness-y things on the list, along with other less-workout-y things (rest, food, education, etc.). All of this was scheduled to start happening on a fairly regular basis starting TODAY, but nothing too strict or scheduled because of simplicity.
Why did I choose today? Because it’s mostly a day off. I’d been putting off starting because my schedule has been whack and I need to get a handle on it, but to get a handle on my schedule, a number of things have to happen and … well, I’m not that good at setting boundaries for myself because I’m caught in the personal-trainer conundrum of time and energy management (look it up, it’s a real thing). I feel a deep responsibility for my clients and helping them get/stay fit and vital, but sometimes I’m running ragged at both ends of the day.
So anyway, that’s how the multi-point lectures with lists come about: things have a tendency to snowball, from wanting to do deadlifts to having to completely revamp my schedule, because there’s always a reason …. or an excuse.
But then I woke up with this cold today. Which might actually be more than a cold, it’s too soon to tell, but it’s one of those yucky-gross-wake-you-up-coughing/carrying-around-tissues kind of bugs. (That’s why self-care was discussed, too, because getting run down due to the whack schedule isn’t cool.) I mean, I *could* hit the gym and get in some obligatory work, I suppose. However, I’m writing myself an excuse. Or maybe better, I’m letting myself off the hook entirely, no excuses necessary.
So the fitness part of my plan isn’t happening today. Instead, maybe I’ll just hover over the couch, or maybe I will go for a very easy treadmill walk just to shake out the cobwebs. But I can eat healthy foods, get some rest, and read some interesting stuff and work on that “simplicity” thing, right?
The truth is, keeping things simple isn’t easy. But in the long run, it sure does make things easier.
The deadlifts (and clearer-minded blog posts) will be there another day.
I remember when I was a kid, my mom and grandfather had a big debate about me and my brother.
My grandfather didn’t like it when we kids asked, “Why?” But my mom was proud of that fact. She actually encouraged it. “I want my children to have questioning minds,” she told him. “I want them to grow up to be adults who ask questions.” (How awesome was that? Answer: very!)
And now I’m going to channel a little of our mom for you, and encourage you to ask yourself, “Why?”
When you’re stuck when it comes to accomplishing a goal, solving a particular life issue, or even just coming to the gym, ask yourself, “Why?” And then keep asking that question, and I’m guessing that 5 or 6 “whys” later, you’ll find the real answer.
I was reminded of this trick last week when I was listening to a podcast. I’ve been stuck on something for a while and when the “Five Whys” technique was mentioned on The Fitcast, I had to immediately try it on myself. And it worked. Five times I asked myself the question, “Why?” and eventually drilled down to the underlying issue and had a deeper understanding of what was holding me back.
Why does this work? Because answering that “why” question from a really deep or knowing place can make all the difference when it comes to attaining your goals. The actual “why” underlying your reasons for setting that goal in the first place or what is stopping you from achieving it might surprise you.
This is not a technique for the meek because the more “whys” you ask yourself, the scarier it can become because you might tread into uncomfortable territory. Go with that, I say! Be brave!
I’m going to be brave here and do an illustration for you.
Let’s say I want to lose 5-7 pounds. Let’s also say I’ve been stalled on this process for a few months — hypothetically, let’s say I make a few stabs at refining my diet and then decide, “donuts.” (Or, maybe more precisely, “donut holes.”)
I’d ask myself 5 “whys” to uncover the root reason(s) that is stopping me.
1) Why do I want to lose 5-7 pounds? I have gained a few pounds and I want to be able to fit into my pants comfortably again.
2) Why do I want to fit into my pants comfortably? Because when my pants don’t fit properly, I don’t feel good about myself and I feel kind of like a fraud.
3) Why do I feel like a fraud? Because I’m a fitness professional whose pants don’t fit. 😉 Seriously, though, I don’t feel as fit or light on my feet as I like to feel, and I think maybe my stamina and strength is suffering a little bit because I’m not feeling uber fit right now.
4) Why is my stamina decreased? Because I haven’t been following my usual routine due to the fact my sleep/eating/working patterns have been somewhat disrupted.
5) Why haven’t I been following my usual routine? Because I’ve been feeling a lot of stress lately, on several fronts, and have been feeling hamstrung when it comes to solving the issues.
Obviously, this could keep going, but see how this works? By asking the questions, what at first seemed to be an aesthetic goal turned into something else. It’s really about the stress. By working on THAT, which is the “real” issue/problem/sticking point, the weight loss issue will be much easier to address.
You could even do the process a couple different times, following slightly different tracks with your questions, to see if there might be a couple of issues at play.
This technique works not only for fitness, but for almost any goal you want to set or problem you need to solve. It was originally created for Toyota when company officials were trying to work out kinks in their manufacturing process, but it’s really great for personal use. Say you want to go after a big new job, or start a business or go back to school but you’re having a hard time making it happen.
Just ask why. And then, just do it! 🙂
A while ago someone asked me where their motivation to get/stay fit was hiding.
I know exactly where it is.
It’s in the gym.
I’m not being funny here. It’s true. Clients tell me all the time that they had considered canceling their training sessions but then they forced themselves to come anyway — and then they are so glad they did.
I do it too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to skip out on my own workout because I’ve been too busy with other things, or I’ve felt a little beat up by the day.
But I know for sure that once I start working out, I’ll be glad I did it. And that one workout will make the next one easier to tackle, and then the one after that, and then the one after that, too.
Motivation builds. It’s like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets.
You know what? It’s snowing like crazy as I write this and I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. Earlier today I planned on taking a day off from my workouts, but I’m changing my mind.
I think I’m gonna go get my sweat on.
Wanna join me? 🙂
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Before we officially begin the holiday season — k, maybe I’m a day or two late on that 🙂 — I have a suggestion.
Today you should give yourself a gift. Don’t you love gifts? The good news is this one is FREE and will keep on giving as you enter the new year.
It’s the gift of keeping things simple when it comes to your fitness.
For many of us, the holidays are a season of burning the candle at both ends. On top of our regular obligations we are busy planning/attending parties and celebrations, making trips to see loved ones or getting ready for them to visit us, and stressing out over gift giving and putting up the decorations and then taking them down and oh-by-the-way surprise snowfalls, snow days, and generally being winter-ready.
Or maybe we are feeling stressed/sad because this year will be the first (or second, or third) season when things are “different” than we want them to be because of life changes.
No matter which end of the spectrum you fall on, give yourself the gift of keeping things simple.
How do you do that? By sticking with the basics that keep you feeling vibrant, well and full of energy.
Don’t expect to follow a big crash diet this season. Likewise, don’t expect to feel great on a diet of cocktails, cookies, burgers and chips.
Instead, aim for covering the basics. Here are ways I cover the basics, and I think they will work for you, too, not just for your holiday season fitness but year-round:
- Take a few minutes for yourself each day — when I had a busy household with little alone time, I used to find the longest line at the grocery store and let myself b r e a t h e while standing there.
- Intentionally sweat a little every day.
- Drink at least eight 8-oz. glasses of water daily.
- If the weather allows it, go outside.
- Eat at least TWO servings of veggies a day (I know for some of you that is a stretch! Normally I suggest 6 servings, LOL!).
- Try to go to bed at a reasonable hour. That’s easier to control than your get-up time.
When in doubt, always come back to the basics. Being true to the basics 80 percent of the time will give you 95 percent of the results you’re after.
Your body will be happy when you treat it to a regular sweat/eat/drink/sleep cycle.
All of the above is why I’m declaring December the month of moderation! No #beastmode. Let’s get the basics nailed and then we’ll go crazy #beastmode with the new year.
Sound like a plan? Are you going to join me? Let me know! Accountability is KEY!
One of the last things my mom told me was that I was one of the strongest people she knew.
Now, this was saying a lot because most of the people in my life at the time were telling me I wasn’t strong. I had almost begun to believe them.
I’m forever grateful to my mom for saying those words to me because they have helped me survive the past decade, which has been a crazy, wild ride. But this really isn’t about me.
I am telling you this for a reason. You need to know that YOU are strong.
I see so many people give up just as the good stuff they are working toward becomes a reality. They start to lose weight and then something happens and they go off their plan. Or they begin to feel fit and then they quit coming to the gym. They aren’t used to feeling those new things (lighter, stronger, fitter) and they get uncomfortable.
The good stuff happens just outside your comfort zone. That means you have to enter the discomfort zone for a while.
In the discomfort zone, you feel anything but strong. It’s hard to trust your footing and you tend to second-guess yourself. Movies tend to romanticize these things but when you’re in the thick of it, it’s not very pretty. In fact, it feels awkward and crappy. But the thing is, it’s OK to feel that way.
It’s not OK to quit on yourself. Be brave. Trust yourself.
Resist the resistance.
Now, I’m not suggesting you stay in a dangerous situation or ignore the warning signals in your head if you’re in a situation where things are not working toward your best interest. I’m writing here about what happens when making positive changes in your life and everything feels as if it’s unraveling and you’re scared or worried.
I think nowadays we tend to believe that discomfort is something to be avoided. How much pain are we willing to endure — the pain of being stuck in our current situations — in order to avoid the pain of change, of daring to try something new?
For example, the other day I started to feel some butterflies — more like vultures — in my stomach. Usually I’m fairly resolute when it comes to decisions and I trust in my abilities. But all of a sudden — boom! I was doubting myself and it even got a little hard to breathe. I almost wanted to run off into a cave to hide from the world, or at least stop making some of the changes I was making because … well … because.
And then I realized my insecure feelings were actually “resistance” — my own little demons telling me I need to keep things comfortable, as-is. Steven Pressfield wrote a great book about this phenomenon that I have read countless times — The War of Art.
Here’s a quote:
Look in your own heart. Unless I’m crazy, right now a still small voice is piping up, telling you as it has ten thousand times, the calling that is yours and yours alone. You know it. No one has to tell you. And unless I’m crazy, you’re no closer to taking action on it than you were yesterday or will be tomorrow. You think Resistance isn’t real? Resistance will bury you.
(Here’s more if you want to read it. Personally, I think you should buy it. 🙂 )
The comfort zone is a trap.
So as I’ve said, I’ve been making some changes that had me feeling energized and optimistic. But then those little self-doubting demons started to notice and felt threatened, so they started yelling for attention. They wanted me to stop doing what I was doing and get back on track to the comfort zone.
The thing is, I know that’s actually a DISCOMFORT zone because when I’m in it, I feel trapped and stuck. Instead, it’s time to make some breathing space and keep moving forward.
See the ring in the picture above? A wonderful, sweet (boy, would she ever hate that word!) client gave it me a few years ago. I dug it out of my jewelry box and now it’s on my finger as a reminder.
And here’s your reminder: Be brave this week! Don’t let up, and know that those icky feelings might be a sign you’re on the right track. Hang with it and soon you’ll be on the other side.