Why sometimes you need to say “no” to others (in order to say YES to yourself)

Reading Time: 7 minutes

(This post is the second one in a series of posts that I will be publishing over the next 8 weeks on the twin topics of self worth and self compassion. In the first post I had broached the subject of the perils of "doing it all" and the high price associated with it. You can read it HERE.)

We have all been taught to be there for others and take care of those who love and need our help and support. We also know that we need to take care and support each other in order to grow and thrive as a part of a family, community or country. As social animals, we have been hardwired over time during the course of our evolution to get along with each other since our very survival depended on it. Hence, it is very natural that we just the thought of saying no brings us physical discomfort and do not like to hurt or disappoint others. As a result, we often end up saying yes to avoid feeling guilty, uncomfortable and even to avoid the physical discomfort of saying no.

How many times have you said YES lately where you immediately regretted your decision?

(I have written about the positive aspects of being a part of a community in my earlier post, you can read it HERE)

What usually ends up happening in our busy, modern world as a result of this is that we are often overcommitted and overscheduled. Our instinct of saying yes when we really wanted to say no to a request or a task can often leave us resentful, frustrated and burnt out in the long run. If we are honest enough, being asked to help and do things for others also makes us feel good in many ways. However, these emotions can often interfere with our clarity.

As a result, we can end up regretting our acquiescense for days, months and years which can ultimately prevent us from achieving what had we set out to do in terms of our own goals. And it certainly takes a toll on our health if this becomes a way of life. But we need to keep in mind that for each of us not our energy, but rather the TIME that we have in this world is actually the most non renewable resource that we have in our lives.

Our time on this earth is the most valuable and non renewable resource that we have in our lives.

And once a second, minute or an hour is gone, it is lost forever never to come back. Our energy and other resources can be renewed with enough rest and planning but not our time. This means that in order to live a life where we feel that we are able to contribute, achieve our goals and at the same time enjoy our time with our friends and families, we need to be clear about setting limits and putting boundaries in place.

Healthy boundaries give us the freedom to be involved in activities and causes that are aligned with our purpose and give meaning to our lives. It helps us avoid burnout, frustration and stress to a large extent by avoiding overscheduling and overcommitment. It frees up our time to spend time with those who really matter to us and to pursue hobbies and interests that we are passionate about.

"Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others"

-Brene Brown

However, for any sensitive and caring individual, it takes courage to stand up and say no to others. Women are usually much more concerned about what others think of them and even have what is called the "good girl" (and even "good boy") syndrome and have a hard time saying "no". I have realised much later that I have been dealing with this ever since I was a child. And it has only been in the past few years that I have had to learn to say "no" at times as a part of my self-care so that I could do what was needed to be done for my family without feeling burnt out, frustrated or resentful.

Those of you who have read my earlier posts on self care or have been through my self care challenge that I did recently for my Facebook Group, know that I strongly believe that as primary caregivers of most families, a woman's primary responsibility is towards her own health and wellbeing.

Only when a woman takes care of herself lovingly and willingly can she do the same for others without feeling deprived, resentful or ultimately sacrificing her own health. I also believe that those of us who have daughters have an added responsibility and need to teach our daughters by setting an example of this by practising this ourselves and ending this legacy of deprivation and burnout.

How many times have you agreed to....

do something even though there was a distinct tension in what you felt was right and what someone was pressurising you to do?

be a part of something that you really didn't have time for but you felt that would make those people like you?

a request from a family member, coworker or a friend simply because you did not want to disappoint or anger them?

Every single day people make all kinds of decisions based on what others want even as they know that on some level they may be also committing an act of self betrayal. That they are forever playing the role of a "good girl" (or even "good boy") which is hard to let go of. But at what cost?

What would happen if you did start saying YES to yourself? 

There would most likely be some kind of fall out at the beginning, especially if you have been used to overgiving without setting healthy boundaries.  This would likely have trained people around you to expect you to be there for them whenever they may need you. It takes courage to be honest and open with yourself and to stand up for yourself.  Indeed, this is a critical component of self care. And while you may feel guilty and selfish for a while and face social awkwardness, boundaries are essential for your own mental and emotional well being as well as for the health of your relationships.

There are different ways of saying "no" gracefully and it starts with separating the person from the relationship that we have with them. In other words, when we say no to a request from a person, it does not mean that we are saying no to that person. Once we are clear on this, it becomes much easier to remain strong and at the same time communicate with others in a graceful manner. 

Here are some things to keep in mind when you say "no"-

Focus on what you are getting in return and remind yourself that setting certain boundaries are essential in self care

There are a variety of ways of saying no without using the word, For e.g. "I don't have the bandwidth right now", "I would like to, but I am overcommitted right now"

Give alternative suggestions and buy some time to respond to the request when possible

Check in with yourself and ask yourself  "On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do I really want to do this?" or "If I knew this person would not be angry or upset, would I still say no?"

Think about how this request would make YOU feel- would it bring joy, pleasure or satisfaction? Or is it only about fulfilling obligations and responsibilities?

Being first honest with yourself and then with the people in our lives in a compassionate and authentic manner prevents a sense of betrayal and guilt towards ourselves as well as others.  At the same time, being open in a warm and caring manner strengthens our relationships with others and makes them respect us in the long run. In any case, you simply cannot control how others will react if you disappoint them (which happens inevitably at times) while setting your boundaries. However, you can certainly control how you feel and how you choose to communicate.

At the end of the day, our boundaries reflect our sense of self worth. We practice both self care and self respect when we set healthy boundaries.

We are all unique individuals and healthy boundaries help us to maintain our uniqueness and protect our identities. Many women, in particular, find that somewhere along the way while taking care of their families and bringing up their children lose their sense of who they used to be and their voice. I see this in my Health Coaching practice. Most women who have various chronic health issues are a result of years and even decades of neglecting their own needs and wants.

We are rarely taught why we need to set healthy boundaries in all aspects of our lives. As a result, our sense of self worth gets eroded slowly over the years until we reach a stage where we can no longer tune in to what our body needs from us. At times, we need to do less and take proper rest but we can no longer heed the messages our bodies are constantly sending us. We simply choose to ignore the occasional headache, digestive troubles, constipation, tiredness which are merely symptoms of underlying imbalances. Until we can no longer ignore them.

In Functional Medicine we often say "a headache is a blessing" and it is true!

So the next time you are about to say "yes" to a request, check in with yourself. Remind yourself that you are much more than simply a mother, wife, daughter or employee. See how you feel about it and take your time in responding with grace and compassion in a clear and honest manner.

As Anne Taylor said so well

"Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it. You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won't accept."

Are you “doing it all” in order to “have it all” (there is a hidden price that you pay)

Reading Time: 7 minutes

(This is the second in a series of 8 posts that I am writing on the intertwined topics of self worth and self compassion. If you have not read the first post, you can read it HERE. And once again as you go through this series, you can use journaling as a tool to get to reap the full benefit)

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style.
―Maya Angelou, author, speaker, poet

Many of us have an aversion towards asking for help. Usually, we end up doing this only we when are in desperate need for it. For most men and women, this is usually when we have reached the end of our rope, feeling burned out and overwhelmed. How much less painful it would be if we had started paying attention to our needs before we reached this stage? Also, in many ways, women are worse off in this respect than men.

In fact, according to a recent UN report, modern women carry out at least two and a half times unpaid and household and care work than men. However, this is rarely recognised as "work". Things have definitely changed with well-intentioned men taking on more work at home, but it is clearly not enough. And this is not just because of sexism on the part of men, it also due to conditioning of both men and women while growing up. Inevitably, for most women, an impeccable home and well groomed children often become linked to their sense of self-worth. 

I confess that I am struggling with this at this very moment as I am trying to set up my coaching practice. I see myself struggling to reach my goals at work and at the same time manage the homefront according to the standards that I have set for myself a long time ago. However, whenever my well-intentioned husband tries to do his fair share of work or help me out, my ingrained conditioning gets in the way. My idea of getting things done properly is and always will be very different from his and this makes things really frustrating for both of us. Simply accepting our differences with regards to our approach towards housework has been really hard for me. I have chosen to work on this not just because of my own sanity but also because I want my children (a daughter and a son) to have a different kind of conditioning towards this type of "invisible" work irrespective of gender.

In most urban family settings across the world, women are the primary caregivers in their families as they take care of their children, family members and home. This is on top of the work that they may also be doing outside the house as a bread earner. This kind of pressure leaves little time for most women to tend to their own needs and practice self care. Thus today, even though many more women enjoy financial freedom, they often grapple with a feeling of frustration, a sense of hopelessness and end up living in chronic survival mode.

However, the focus of this post is not on the economic price that the society at large pays for this kind of hidden inequality but rather the price that most women end up paying in terms of their health and peace of mind. Since most of my coaching clients are women, I see this playing out all the time with them and this is true even for my friends and family members who are women. Many women are perpetually overwhelmed, with a sense of a never ending to-do list of responsibilities of things to do both at work and at home.

We are all a little broken. But last time I checked, broken crayons still color the same

-Trent Shelton

Women are often under the impression that they need to "do it all" in order to "have it all". There are many ways that modern society has benefited women, however, it masks a dirty secret. As mentioned earlier, while a division of labour did take place in the workplace as many more women have joined the workforce, housework, cooking and/or planning meals and looking after children are still very much under a woman's purview. And in today's world, this is in addition to the workload that women have simply by being a part of the workforce.

This poses an enormous amount of pressure in terms of the expectations that many women inadvertently have of themselves in terms of how childcare and housecare should look like at all times. Can you relate in some way to this kind of thinking? 

Do you find yourself measuring your self worth in terms of

how your house should look at all times?

what your idea is of a "perfect" YOU and a "perfect" family?

how your child behaves or looks like especially in public?

what kind of nutritious foods you are able to whip up (or have your cook make for you) in your kitchen?

There are countless other such examples!

I am guilty of having very high expectations of myself when it comes to the last one. While healthy and nourishing foods have been a part of our meals for a number of years now, I was driving myself and my family crazy by trying to ensure that each and every meal in our house meets my high "nutrition" standards. I realised that I was doing more disservice than helping by forcing my younger son to have each and every meal that met my standards in terms of both variety and quality. It ended up making our meal times very stressful for all of us and became self-defeating in nature. Instead, I have taken a slightly different approach of involving him in respecting the food that is served in a more healthy manner and at the same time teaching him to understand how food affects his body. But, I digress...

Take a moment to reflect on the ways that you may be similarly linking your own identity and indeed your own worth at times to very high standards that you may be intentionally or unintentionally setting for yourself. Be gentle with yourself as you do this as you may have grown up believing that this is the only way.

Here are some questions that you may want to ask yourself (and preferably write down in a journal) to help bring some clarity.

What kind of price (in terms of your health) are you paying for not reaching out for timely support from your partner/spouse or others?

What measure of "success" is worth your health? In other words, are you setting up your life to support the "success" that you want with intention so that it does not cost you in terms of your health in the long run?

Are you clear about what you really want in terms of your life - personal freedom, happiness, more personal time to pursue creative work/hobbies, emotional and physical health to name a few?

Are you willing to give yourself permission let go of your need to link your sense of worth to your house/family's health/children's achievements etc?

While it would certainly help to have our partners/spouses take more responsibility and initiative in terms of helping us, we need to start reaching out to them and find other forms of support in a constructive manner. There is certainly no one right way of doing this that will work for all women and their families.

Given below are some of the things that you can keep in mind while you do this-

 

Reach out when you feel the need to without guilt or shame- either to your spouse or a family member or a friend

Let go of any shame or guilt and the flawed notion that you need to "keep it together" at ALL times

Tend and befriend- connect with a friend or do something social as a part of a community

Give yourself permission to pause and practice "self care" in whichever way you deem fit

Learn the art of saying "no" and be comfortable in disappointing others as you learn to choose yourself over others when required

(I have written a few posts earlier on the topic of self care you can read them here and here.)

Infact, this last point is the topic for my next post but you will have to wait for it till next week!

I leave you with this beautiful poem on self worth by the young poet Erin Hanson

 "NOT"

You are not your age, nor the size of clothes you wear,

You are not a weight, or the colour of your hair

You are not your name, or the dimples in your cheeks.

You are all the books you read, and all the words you speak.

You are your croaky morning voice, and the smiles you try to hide.

You are the sweetness in your laughter, and every tear you've cried

You are the songs you sing so loudly when you know you are all alone.

You are the places that you've been to, and the one you call home.

You are the things that you believe in, and the people whom you love.

You are the photos in your bedroom, and the future you dream of.

You are made of so much beauty, but it seems that you forgot.

When you decided that you were defined by all the things you're not. 

 

How self acceptance can compensate for being ‘NEVER ENOUGH”

Reading Time: 6 minutes

(This series of 8 posts on self compassion is a continuation from my earlier series on self care. If you have not read my earlier series, you can do so HERE. And once again as you go through this series, you can use journaling as a tool to get to reap the full benefit ) 

“and i said to my body. softly.

‘i want to be your friend.’

it took a long breath. and replied

‘i have been waiting my whole life for this.”

― Nayyirah Waheed, poet

 

Many people struggle with low self-confidence, constantly seeking out praise and approval from others and making choices based on what everyone else does rather than what they really want or truly believe in. The innermost belief is usually "I AM NOT ENOUGH".

As a result of this, as adults, we often endlessly criticise and express our lack of self-worth by

Mistreating our bodies

Choosing to believe we are unlovable

Comparing ourselves with other people in terms of achievement, body size and shape and social circle

Judging our worth by the number of likes on social media or the number of friends rather than the quality

We also believe that loving and nourishing ourselves is somehow selfish. There is a myth that self love is the same as vanity and being arrogant, but nothing could be further from the truth. This conditioning is usually as a result of the messages that we receive from our families while growing up, media and the society at large. The focus here is not for you to find whom to blame for this conditioning, rather, it is on finding ways to overcome your negative and limiting beliefs about yourself. 

I see this with many of my health coaching clients in my practice who struggle with making themselves and their health a priority. While most of my clients are women, I would think that men would have similar issues as well. And so, even as I start working with my clients on improving their diet and lifestyle, simultaneously we start working on changing the way think about themselves. Women, in particular, have a much harder time than men believing they need to take out time to care for themselves first.

For if we do not value ourselves and believe that we deserve to love and cherish ourselves, how can we ever take out the time for ourselves in our busy lives? 

And very often, this lack of self worth leads often leads us to have a long "SHOULD" list.

How long is your "SHOULD" list? 

How often do you tell yourself that 

I SHOULD…

Be taking better care of myself

Start the new diet that I came to know about recently

Be taking better care of my family and my children

Join the gym and start exercising soon

Be meditating every day

Be spending more time with my children

Be eating healthier

Lose more weight

Does this all sound familiar to you? Do you think you “should” be doing all these things because you genuinely want to or a combination of the following- misplaced sense of guilt, childhood conditioning, comparison with others, self-criticism? Are the choices that you make in your life based on someone else’s standard or your own? 

As the author, Richard Bach had said,

“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours”

Instead, you can choose to drop some of these from your “should” list so that you can focus on what you really need and thus could do at this moment. This will empower you to feel there is actually a CHOICE that you can make right now. And that instead of living life on autopilot you can choose to take a different path.

A path that starts with a single thought and that is to CHANGE - the way you think and hence the outcomes in your life going forward. As you embark on this journey, you may also soon realise that we all pay a high price for remaining in the "comfort" zone in terms of unfulfilled dreams, a life half lived and countless "if only"s.

However, merely knowing this may not be enough. We need to learn to approve of ourselves and accept the way we are at this very moment in order to move forward. For it is only when we accept ourselves completely that we can create an inner world that feels safe, deserving of love and positive changes. For most people, this often begins with dealing with self criticism first.

Self criticism and judgement often take place at a very subconscious and a subtle level that we may or may not be aware of. Being critical and judgemental is the default option as it often seems safer than making changes. Change forces us to move outside our comfort zone and can be rather uncomfortable for most. However, not doing so keeps us stuck in the same patterns and keeps us from growing into the person that we always wanted to become. Showing kindness to ourselves, being patient and trying to understand ourselves helps us to move through this.

For no matter how old you are, the rest of your life ahead of you; whether it is 5, 10, 20 or 40 years. The past cannot be changed but you can change your entire future by focussing on the here and now. The sooner you realise this truth, the sooner you will be able to take the necessary steps to change your situation.

So ask yourself

What is it is that you truly need at this moment? What do you want from life? What are your dreams?

What is there on your "should" list that you can drop right now? 

(You may want to take out some time to answer these questions in your journal)

However, this is not about how others can fulfil these needs for you but rather clarify what you need, mostly from yourselfIt is far easier to let things be rather than confront the fact that just like others that we take care of, we too deserve to be looked after and taken care of. That we too need to nurture and nourish ourselves and know that there is so much more to life than who we are, what we are and where we are at this moment.

"The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear"

-Rumi

As you take out some time to quieten your mind to actually listen to your inner voice, you may notice constant negative ideas and beliefs that hold us prisoner to our thoughts about ourselves.  

It can help to ask questions like

Where did this belief come from? Does it hold true for me now and serve me today? Or do I need to let go of it?”

Over time as you are able to let go of these, they start losing their power and hold over you. Replacing these instead with positive self-talk can be an incredibly powerful tool if you are just starting out.

Some examples are given below

  • I have the power to change my mind
  • I am proud of myself for trying since I know it takes courage to do so
  • I may still have a long way to go but I am proud of where I have reached
  • I know I can try again tomorrow and learn from the mistakes I  made today
  • I can learn from this challenge and grow as a person
  • Every opportunity that comes is an opportunity to learn from irrespective of the outcome

As you move forward in this path you will soon realise that as you begin to have a good sense of our own worth, other people’s values, judgements and negative opinions matter less and less. This is the starting point of truly being present to yourself and discovering the sense of inner peace that comes with it. Simply knowing that you can show up just as you are, without any shame or guilt whatsoever, can set you free.

You will realise that.... 

 

You are WORTHY and you are ENOUGH

You are a unique individual whose eccentricities are to be celebrated

You are flawed just like everyone else and this is OK

Your mistakes do NOT define you, you need to learn from them and GROW

You are worthy of receiving love without feeling any guilt

You are truly free...

 

What are you doing for others? (community and our health)

Reading Time: 6 minutes

(In past 4 weeks I have been writing a series of posts on self care covering related topics like finding your purpose, knowing what is important and what matters, creating a morning routine and why we need to unplug regularly from technology to reconnect with ourselves and others. You can read these posts here).

In the first four posts, I had focussed mostly on the relationship that we have with ourselves. In the second last post in this series, I am focussing on our outer worlds, namely, the relationships that we have with others. In other words, our social connections.

"Alone we can do so little. Together, we can do so much"

-Helen Keller

However, before we go any further, I would like to mention here that I have started taking baby steps to start a community (closed Facebook group) for like minded women with similar values and goals. Keeping that in mind, I am hosting a free online challenge for women whose details are given at the end of this post.

7 day online "LOVE YOURSELF FIRST" challenge for women

STARTS ON 30th of September 2019 (Monday) 
ENDS ON 6th of October 2019 (Sunday)

As social animals, we have evolved over millions of years to cooperate with others to hunt, to gather food and to survive. Like most primates, if we were ever to have become separated from our tribe, we would have not survived in isolation. Hence each of us has a very primitive need to be connected with others. The accompanying feeling of anxiety that often accompanies our feeling of loneliness serves a very real and useful purpose of making us feel insecure and pushes us to reconnect with others. Infact, our disconnection with other people is one of the most critical aspects leading to the surge in loneliness, anxiety and depression that is so pervasive in our world today. Having meaningful social relationships then is the antidote to the feeling of disconnection and in turn loneliness.

In our busy, hectic modern lives what often gets short changed are the meaningful relationships that we form and maintain right from childhood to adulthood. A lack of such relationships usually leads to loneliness and isolation. There are numerous studies which have been done in this space by scientists studying loneliness and its effects on our health. Numerous studies show that for all the progress our modern society has made in the fields of medicine, science and technology, we are struggling with high rates of mental health issues like depression, suicide, poor health, loneliness and anxiety. One of the research also shows that being isolated is as stressful as experiencing a physical attack from a stranger.

What I really find shocking, however, is a meta-analysis of studies on loneliness which reveal the following-

Living with air pollution increases our odds of dying early by 5%

Living with obesity, 20%

Excessive drinking, 30%

Loneliness increases the risk of dying early by 45%

Every status update is just a variation of a single request "Would someone please acknowledge me?” 

-Marc Maron

Our dependence (and a form of addiction) on social media usage can then be explained in terms of our need to really connect with each other. As social animals, we need to interact face to face, see, feel, hear and smell each other in a non threatening and caring manner. Simply put, social media and phones our simply does not and cannot replace our social lives. The time has come for all of us to become aware of what this kind of disconnection is costing us in terms of our health, happiness, life goals, achievements and preventing us from living a life that is full of joy and passion.

(I have written more on this topic in my earlier post)

The power of community in safeguarding our health

Being a part of a community is a powerful tool that we need to use to combat the illnesses that threaten our modern societies. Of course, wellness and good health starts with each of us taking personal responsibility for the choices that we make daily. We need to nourish our bodies with the right foods, take adequate rest, move our bodies and take care of our spiritual needs. However, it certainly does not end there.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, our lives are inextricably intertwined with all of nature and certainly with that of all other human beings. Being well and keeping well is then a community affair. This includes our families, our schools and colleges and finally our workplaces and society at large.

However, even while being a part of any community, we all need to be heard and feel recognised, understood and accepted as we are by our families, friends, our colleagues and our peers. This becomes even more relevant in the modern social context as traditional social community ties are changing and dissolving. We need to find ways to form social groups and work even harder to make and maintain close relationships.

(I have shared book recommendations and articles below f you would like the explore these topics in details)

Community IS Medicine

It must have become clear by now how our emotional and physical well being is tied up with our sense of belonging and being a part of a tribe. Here, I would like you to pause for a moment and reflect on the following questions

Do I have rich, satisfying relationships with others? 

What is my most valuable relationship?

What are some of the ways that I am nurturing and taking care of my need to belong? (eg. being a part of a book club, religious community, gym, women's groups, FB groups)

What does being a part of that group make me feel? ( eg. feel accepted, heard, safe)

What are some of the ways that I can join or even form social groups which inspire and challenge me to grow and thrive?

In terms of reaching our health and wellness goals,  being a part of a community can support us in the following ways by providing

  • accountability
  • new ideas and fresh perspective
  • inspiration and keeping you motivated
  • you with a collective wisdom

 

As you ponder over these questions, you may want to go through some of the ways that you can choose to enhance your relationships and be a part of a community that fulfils your need to belong in a healthy manner

You can choose to.... 

connect a bit more by listening, communicating, and allowing your heart to remain open

be truly present in a face to face conversation by noticing the posture and body language and making eye contact

show up as yourself and create a space where others feel safe enough to do the same

make your relationships your top priority in life and consciously make time and space for it 

As  the author, Mathew Kelly said so beautifully,

"Learn to waste time with the people you love"

"LOVE YOURSELF FIRST"

A 7 DAY FREE ONLINE CHALLENGE for women

"Love yourself first, because that’s who you’ll be spending the rest of your life with"
Author unknown

 

STARTS ON 30th of September 2019 (Monday)

ENDS ON 6th of October 2019 (Sunday)  

This challenge is for women who feel overwhelmed, exhausted, depleted and/or frazzled and are running on empty with little to give to themselves or others

This challenge is ALSO for you if you are ready to

accept yourself completely

refuse to feel guilty for taking out time for yourself

feel more energetic savour time with yourself as well as take care of your family

5 simple morning habits for a calmer, brighter day

Reading Time: 9 minutes

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)