5 simple morning habits for a calmer, brighter day

This is the THIRD in a series of 6 weekly posts that I am writing about self care- if you have not done so already you can check out the first part "Do you know your WHY?" and the second part "Rocks, pebbles and sand...the key to knowing what is important in your life".

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

-Mary Oliver (from the poem "The summer day")

Take some and reflect upon your answers to the following questions

What do I want from life?

What am I doing that really counts?

What would I do if I knew I would not fail?

What is the unique gift that I can share with the world so that I can contribute and make a difference?

For many of us, somewhere deep inside we have this niggling feeling that what we are doing is not contributing to what really matters to us and what is important in our lives. Taking the time out to reflect on the questions shared in all the three posts should give you some clarity and inspire you to think about what you need to change in order to move towards your goals and focus on what is important to you. As you do this, you will be able to take out the time to listen more, spend quality time with family and friends, enjoy and indulge in your hobbies, relax more and get to know yourself through meditation and self reflection. It would then be much easier to identify those areas of your life that need an overhaul or some tweaking in order to become the best version of yourself.

However, sometimes even when we have the clarity and the inclination to make changes in our lives, the external world can get in the way. Without realising it, we can start and end our day on autopilot merely reacting to circumstances and people, fulfilling their agendas and not ours. For many of us, as soon as the alarm wakes us up, our habitual thoughts take over and our mental playlist of activities, worries and to-do list fill our every waking moment. Each day turns into a month, then months turn into years and pretty soon we have lost decades of our lives simply by remaining on autopilot. We may also feel that because of our circumstances- financial, personal, professional we do not really have any choice but to live like this on autopilot.

This is simply not true

At each moment we have a choice. You chose to read this article today. You choose the clothes you wear, the foods you eat, the activities that you indulge in. You choose to be angry or to forgive people. You choose to be happy or to remain sad. You choose to be grateful for what you have or to focus on the things you lack in your life. You choose all these things and much more. BUT what you need to keep in mind is that this power to choose resides only in this present moment. In time, it is what we do every single day that matters much more than the profound decisions that we may make once in a while.

Once we are clear about what we need to do, we need to rise above excuses and do what is important and needs to be done. And one of the best things that we can do to increase productivity and get things done is to have a well thought out morning routine. Having a consistent morning routine is infact a common and recurring theme amongst many successful people. It helps to counteract the pull of distractions and overcome daily obstacles that can and do pop up. You can and should harness the power of an empowering morning routine as well. And in time, it can literally transform your life.

Whether it is the Olympic winner Michael Phelps, Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Soni, Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet, Ratan Tata, Indira Nooyi or countless other successful people, crafting a sacred space in the morning has made all the difference in their productivity and achieving their dreams. It has enabled them to start their day with intention and set a positive tone for the rest of the day. In other words, an empowering morning can set you up for 'wins' and motivate you to keep going with a calm and productive frame of mind.

Now that the power of morning routines is clear, let us see what it would look like for you. The first thing to note is that it is NOT and SHOULD NOT be the same for everyone. It is not about waking up at a particular time OR doing the same things that everyone else is doing. It is about finding, creating and then sticking to a routine that is right for YOU.

Remember, your mornings are a blank slate and it is up to you to fill it in with what work for you

What is a morning routine?

It is a set of activities that you do upon waking up in the morning. It can and does vary from person to person and includes activities like exercise, meditation, brushing teeth, prayer, journaling, writing and reading.

Take some time today and think about how you usually start your day. Simply start by making a list of all the things that you do upon waking up. The next step would be to identify what is important right now. (This becomes easier if you have already reflected upon this as I have mentioned in my earlier post) Once you know that you are doing the RIGHT thing you can get started crafting out a routine that works for YOU.

In this post, I have shared with you 5 simple habits that you can intentionally develop for a calmer and brighter morning

(It is up to you to incorporate as many of these that you want in your own routine)

Setting intention

Set the tone for the day by finding out what your intention is. The questions below can help you bring some clarity as you think about your activities for the day and set an intention-

How can I show up today that is in line with what I want to achieve today?

What do I want to see more of today? (good news, wonder, acts of kindness, joy)

What is my heart's desire at this moment?

How do I want to feel?

A few examples are "Today I will take care of myself better, show compassion to others and myself, remain calm, be more open to joy".

Journaling, meditation and reflection 

Prayer, meditation and journaling are all beautiful ways that you can use to ground and connect with yourself. There is no one right way to meditate or write in a journal, you simply need to find what works for you.

If writing free form is difficult, you can use the prompts given below (from the book "The Mindful Day by Laurie Cameron")

What I appreciate most in my life right now is....

 I am at my best when I am....

What brings me alive is.....

What I really need right now is....

What gets in the way of me being present is....

My next best action is.... 

Even if you do not have a formal meditation practice, the simple act of paying attention or being more mindful in how you start your day can have a profound effect. The beauty is that you can be more mindful with regards to any activity that you do already. The simple act of paying attention while having a cup of tea, brushing your teeth, showering, exercise will help you to bring awareness to that particular moment and replenish and rejuvenate you.

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Reading

Another way of connecting with yourself and the world in the morning is to read a book (and I don't mean the news). This will be different for each of us as we choose to read something that inspires and motivates us. I find that I prefer to read about other people whom I respect and who inspire me to grow and live a better life. Books like The four things that matter most by Dr Ira Byock, First things first by Stephen Covey, Essentialism by Greg Mckeown, The power of habit by Charles Duhigg, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, Mindset By Carol Dweck, The Go Giver by Bob Burg and John Mann are just some of the books I have read over time.

Spending time with family

Spending time with your family is one of the best ways to start your day. It helps to connect with what is truly important for each of us on a daily basis. Whether it is 10 minutes or an hour, it is the quality of the time spent that matters more than how much time you actually get to spend with your family in the morning.

Since there is always a rush in the morning during school days (I have two school going children), I try and wake my children up around 10 minutes earlier and spend some time with them, giving them a hug or a cuddle and sometimes switching on their favourite music to get them started on the right note. My husband and I also make sure that we savour our quiet time together over our cup of tea and newspaper before we start preparing for our day.

Exercise and mindful movement

Research shows us that moving our bodies first thing in the morning whether it is through exercise (cardio, aerobic, strength training etc) or mindful movements like tai chi and yoga have a profound beneficial and positive effect on our health and how we deal with the rest of our day. By doing this first thing in the morning we have the opportunity to harness the benefits of exercise and movement throughout the remainder of our day. Schedule a workout or activity that you like doing already and then stick to it.

However, the key to having a successful and consistent routine is to PLAN for it and REMOVE anything that might get in the way

A few things that ensure that I stick to my routine are

  • preparing the night before by keeping my journal, workout clothes ready; preferably somewhere I can see them immediately as I wake up
  • using an app to make sure that I cannot access my emails and social media first thing in the morning (I will be covering this topic in details in one of my later posts)
  • having a simple structure that I can follow in terms of activities and time for the first couple of hours
  • setting an intention for the day; sometimes I set one for the entire week
  • complete my workout in the morning so that unexpected work or family issues do not come in the way later during the day
  • lastly, creating an environment that is conducive to self reflection and gives a peaceful start to my day; I love playing music and lighting incense to awaken my senses

My own routine is very much a work-in-progress and is not something that you need to emulate as is. The whole point is to find what works for YOU and then stick to it. It should be something that you enjoy doing and feel good about doing on a regular basis.

So take a pen and paper and start creating an empowering morning routine for yourself. Every day that you stick to it treat as a small "win". It is only when we pause to celebrate each step that we take in the right direction that we can stick to it and achieve what we set out to do no matter how long it takes.

Finally, take this magical time to connect with your body, breath and spirit to give yourself the best possible start to your day and to your life

As Marcus Aurelius said, "When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive, to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love" 

(As you go through these posts I suggest that you keep a journal handy so that you can reflect upon and write down the questions that I ask along the way. You may end up getting to know yourself better and even surprise yourself with your answers. And of course, I would simply love it if you would share with your experience of going on this journey of self-exploration with me)

 

Book review- “Hold on to your kids- Why parents need to matter more than peers

I read a TON of books on various subjects including parenting for both professional and personal reasons. But very rarely does a book grab my attention the way that this book has. As the name itself suggests, this book is about parenting but it differs from the other books I have read on this topic in a very important way. It brought to my notice a phenomenon many of our children (especially in the urban areas) are facing today but mostly goes unnoticed and under the radar by their parents. It is the phenomenon of "peer orientation".

Before I delve briefly on what "peer orientation" is about I would like to highlight a few of the other points that the authors make in this book. Parental influence has always been well established over generations and is considered indisputable and irreplaceable, but sadly that is no longer true in many ways in today's world. The problems that our children face today has reached epic proportions both in terms of mental and physical health. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety, lack of self control, bullying, suicide, loss of resiliency, stress have increased exponentially. If these issues had not been there and our children were well adjusted, settled and positively grounded and content we would not need to worry much, but that is not the case in many societies across the globe. Parents have as much love, concern and good intentions for their children as did the preceding generations and there is a lot of parenting literature to help them. Inspite of this, something has shifted fundamentally and this book should serve as a wake-up call for you are much as it did for me.

As the authors have pointed out, the entire context in which parenting takes place has changed. As a result, the role of the parent is being undermined by forces that most parents are not aware of and are not ready to deal with. The critically important attachment relationship between parents and their children which is at the foundation of parenting is in danger. The authors put forward powerful reasons why this is so and show in this book why the main and the most damaging reason is the competing attachments that children today are developing with their peers.

The authors call this "peer orientation". This competing attachment is undermining parental authority and also diminishing the attachment that the child needs to have with the parent as long as the child needs to be parented.

The book brings about a few critical points about "peer orientation"  and some of the important ones are

  • children like any other warm blooded mammals have a natural instinct for orientation; they need to be guided and nurtured by someone
  • children cannot be oriented both towards adults and their peers at the same time; they must necessarily CHOOSE between the two
  • even though this phenomenon is now becoming "normal", it is not "natural" or "healthy" and has negative consequences in the long run

We need to become conscious of this need for attachment that all humans have (adults and children). This is what creates communities, families and keeps us all connected emotionally, psychologically, behaviorally and physically with each other. This connection could be taken for granted in many ways in the preceding generations. But that no longer holds true for us today.

The book describes in details the six different ways of attaching- senses, sameness, belonging and loyalty, significance, feeling and being known. If these bonds of attachment are strong and development is healthy, these facets are interwoven closely into a strong bond and children will find ways of staying close and holding on even when physically apart from their parents. However, peer oriented children live in a world filled with severely limited and superficial attachments driven by the least vulnerable way of attaching- sameness. This explains their need to resemble one another in look, behaviour, thoughts, tastes and values.

The other disturbing revelation for me was the false independence that a peer oriented child portrays and which seems to be a good thing. On the contrary, they are still dependent but now they depend on their peers for guidance - a set of people who are NOT truly dependable, mature, appropriate, responsible or compassionate. 

Many parents do intuitively know and sense that something is just not right with their relationship with their children but may not know what is exactly wrong. Beneath many parent's anger and frustration of failing to connect and parent their children lies a sense of hurt and betrayal. This intuitive feeling is usually ignored and pushed under the carpet by relegating this to "normal teenage issues" or some other such cause. This works for many parents till it stops working at all. In an extreme situation, this can end with a teen committing suicide as she is unable cope with or has problems getting along with her peers. Usually though, this plays out in the forms of rude behaviour, name calling, increased aggression, bullying, precocious sexuality all of which are discussed in details in this book.

Collecting and reclaiming our children

The good news is, however, that this book also discusses in details how to "reclaim our children". For those children who are not very far down the roads with peers can be "collected" and the attachment relationship can be strengthened in four simple ways- get in the child's face or space in a friendly way, provide something for the child to hold on to, invite independence and act as the child's compass point.

For those children who are too insulated by peer attachments will need additional efforts which are explained in the chapters towards the end of the book-

Preserve the ties that empower

Discipline that does not divide

Don't court the competition

Recreate the attachment village

The last chapter also deals with the role that technology plays in our children's lives and in the parent- child relationship. I am very wary not about the digital revolution per se but about the negative impact it has on children who are too young to handle it. Timing is everything and it is as true in the case of digital gadgets or video games as it is in the case of alcohol or sex with regards to children.

I love this quote from the last chapter

"We want children to be fulfilled with what they truly need before they have access to that which would spoil their appetite for what they truly need"

I hope this book review has opened your eyes to the issues that you may be facing yourself with your children or some other family you know may be facing. Let this serve as a wake up call for you (as it has for me) and also give you HOPE that there is a lot that can be done to undo the damage. We need to be aware of this if we are to raise children who mature into compassionate, genuinely independent, resilient adults who go on to lead purposeful lives and contribute to society.

I had written about raising children who are resilient in my earlier post "To Raise Resilient Kids, Be a Resilient Parent" and you can read it HERE. I had also conducted a Facebook live on this very topic which you can watch HERE.

I have an upcoming free webinar next Thursday, 29th November at 1 pm on "Mindful strengths parenting"  for which you can register on my Facebook page "Nourish Heal Connect".

Webinar- "Mindful strengths parenting"

Mindful parenting does not mean being a “perfect parent” and is not something you can fail at. It is not easy and like many other things needs practice before we can get better at it. At the same time, strengths based parenting can provide our children with 2 vital psychological tools- optimism and resilience. Infact, helping our children connect to their strengths during difficult times is one of the most important things we can do for them. I will be touching on "peer orientation" briefly in this webinar as it very relevant for us as parents to be aware of.
 
Date: Thursday, 29th November

Time: 1 pm

Venue: "Nourish Heal Connect"

 

 

Book review-The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith

The book “The Power of Meaning” by Emily Esfahani Smith stands out for me as a powerful guide to finding meaning in our lives. It gives a different perspective to what we know about happiness. Social scientists are now proving what philosophers have known all along; that the pursuit of happiness actually makes people unhappy. Emily Esfahani Smith identifies four pillars upon which meaning rests: Belonging, Purpose, Storytelling and Transcendence.

The book talks about how social scientists are now showing that the more effort we put into building something, the more we value it. We knew and learned this as children while trying out new sports and hobbies but we tend to forget this lesson as adults- “only by facing challenges head on can we truly find meaning in our lives”.

The author gives an insight to what determines a life lived purposefully through a few examples but they highlight the same thing. Each of us have different strengths, abilities, insights and talents and we will need to be aware of these and have knowledge about ourselves to live a life filled with purpose. She goes on to show that those of us who have a purpose in life, contribute towards the goal that we set for ourselves, ultimately lead lives which are more satisfying and meaningful. She shows that by reaching out and helping others helps us connect to something bigger than ourselves and ultimately makes us feel as if we are connected to everyone and makes us a part of a bigger whole.

Through stories and examples, she gives a roadmap to those who want to craft a meaningful life. At the end, love is the tie that binds all the points she makes in this book as we learn how to find meaning in our everyday lives and in the mundane.

 

 

 

Health and healing

What would it feel like to be truly alive and healthy? How is that most of come to lose sight of what it means to be “healthy”? It is very different from being “cured”. Many health conditions do not have any cure or a person might be so far gone that treatment is not possible. But that does not mean that a person cannot find a way to heal themselves and indeed many of them do. There are some beautiful books on this subject and my favourite is “The four things that matter most”  by Dr Ira Byock. I have written a synopsis of the book here.

Book review – Kitchen table wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen

Book review – Kitchen table wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen

Rachel Naomi Remen is an amazing doctor but more importantly a healer who has touched many lives and healed countless of people through her work and writings. Her own suffering from a then incurable and painful Crohn’s disease taught her much more than her medical degree had ever done. Her grandfather, a rabbi, had a huge influence on her even though he died when she was only seven years old and contributed much to what she became later on. Over time she also learned through her experiences what life is really about even in the face of great difficulties and pain. Through her close proximity to death due to her own health and that of her patients she realised she had a choice when it came to closing off from life to deal with her pain or to embrace it all and live fully. She has written books like Kitchen Table Wisdom and My grandfather’s blessings.

This book is a celebration of life and our connection to others through their stories of love, joy and happiness, pain, suffering, freedom and letting go, the  mysteries of life and especially death.

Kitchen table wisdom is collection of different stories about healing and love, resilience, strength in the face of pain and suffering. Telling each other stories around the kitchen table is how wisdom used to get passed along from one generation to another and through families and friends. In our modern hectic pace of life we have lost a lot of what used to be our way of life and of connecting with others and. This book is a celebration of life and our connection to others through their stories of love, joy and happiness, pain, suffering, freedom and letting go, the wonder as well as the mysteries of life and death.