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)

 

Raising resilient children- why being a “good enough” parent is enough

As parents, we are aware that life has its own share of ups and downs. We also realise that it is inevitable that at some point in time or the other we will be faced with situations laced in uncertainty due to circumstances beyond our control. What we may not always realise though that it is not always possible to shield our children from all such difficulties and more importantly may not always be helpful to do so in the long run. Indeed how we deal with life’s stressors can determine whether we will bounce back from challenges or be broken by them. As parents, it then becomes our responsibility to teach our children healthy strategies to cope with stress and uncertainty. Also, as our children learn that all “stress” is not bad, they start to transform their relationship to it.

One of our most important responsibilities as parents is to help our children develop healthy skills, habits, and perspectives from a young age; this will help them deal with life’s uncertainties and stressors. In other words, it will make them more resilient

In order to deal with challenges effectively, we really need a change in our mindset, in our way of thinking. But this change needs to start with YOU. This is because children are very tuned into their parent’s feelings and use their parents as a model for behaviour and as a mirror for their own feelings.

So, the way that we handle our own mistakes, challenges and the relationship that we have with ourselves play a key role in how our children shape up in their adult life later on. 

Being a “good enough” parent is “enough”

There is no perfect parent. It is a myth.

We simply need to find a way to be absolutely fine with being a “good enough” mother or father

In fact…..

It is way more important to show up and be around our children than to strive for “perfection” in our parenting style

It is way more important to find ways of creating and holding space for our children especially when they are not at their best. This means that we need to be there for the child who is angry, frustrated, sad and disappointed without getting carried away ourselves or withdrawing from their pain

It is way more important to model the way that we deal with our own mistakes; by forgiving ourselves when things go wrong so that we can bounce back from our failures

It is way more important have a good relationship with ourselves and be comfortable who we are and the life we lead; our children learn from what they see us doing much more than any instruction or advice that we give them

It is way more important to celebrate the child that we have instead of wishing for the ideal child that we had visualised for ourselves; in comparing with others we miss out on many opportunities to appreciate our children for they REALLY are and deepen our connection and our attachment with them

As someone had said “There is no such thing as a real parent. So just be a real one

Roots and wings

What our children really need from us is NOT to focus on ways to eliminate stress and hardship for them (this exercise is rather futile) but to teach them and show them ways to cope with such difficult times. In today’s age of digital hyperconnectivity, parenting matters more than ever before. Mental health issues and in some extreme cases suicide in teenagers and young children have sky rocketed.

(There are many reasons for this and I will  address this in my webinar on mindful and strength-based parenting and the importance of attachment relationship later this month- I will be posting updates on my website ans well as my Facebook page – Nourish Heal Connect)

The basic response to a stressor is either a “fight or flight” response or a “freeze and submit” response. While the first response helps us gear up for a threat (whether real or imagined), the second response makes us turn inwards and shut down. Both responses are not helpful in many kinds of situations especially when children (and adults) are not really tuned into their emotions and self awareness is low.

There is a third type of response that is more purposeful and effective and that is a “tend and befriend” response. This helps us to focus on what we can do for ourselves as well as others at the same time allowing us to accept ALL that we are feeling at that moment without trying to change or avoid it. This also enables us to reach out for help when we need it the most. This kind of response fosters a connection with ourselves and others and helps children the most when they have a benevolent adult (usually a parent) that they can turn to. 

If we can teach our children to be more present in their actions and be more aware of their emotions, it would help them reduce stress, increase focus, be more empathetic, and stay calm—just like it does for adults. In other words, becoming more “mindful” really helps and I will be covering this in another post on “mindful and strength based parenting”.

All that I have discussed so far is key to fostering resiliency in children and I have summarised them below.

What are some of the ways that we can foster resilience in our children?

  • We can help them create a “Circle of control”- to remind them that there are things which are out of their control and therefore, no need to stress and worry about them  
  • We can teach our children to reframe the way we think about stress so that they understand that all stress is not inherently bad. Rather, if they are stressed about getting good grades, making new friends- what it really means that they really care about it
  • Just knowing that they are not alone in facing a difficult situation really helps- many times it is enough to know that they are a part of a loving family who cares enough about them to show up
  • One of the most effective ways of teaching our children to be optimistic, strong and always have hope is to help them to cultivate a GROWTH mindset. This is done by focussing on a child’s strengths rather than her weaknesses. Showing our children their strengths and enabling them to use them especially during difficult times is one most powerful lessons we teach our children
  • Inculcating a contemplative practice like mindfulness in our own lives as parents and then imbibing it in our children; these kind of practices create an internal space which enable us (amongst other things) to work through difficult emotions like pain, anger, frustration and is a powerful tool for healing
  • Be a model for and teach our children the value of self compassion; being able to forgive ourselves for making mistakes is key to bouncing back from failure

As someone had said “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One is roots, the other wings”.

Follow my Facebook page “Nourish Heal Connect” for live sessions on these and other topics as well as my upcoming webinar on mindful and strength based parenting later in November. 

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a word which is being increasing heard nowadays. It forms an integral part of my coaching sessions as well. But what is it?

According to the internationally reknowned meditation teacher Jon Kabat Zin “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”

Jon KabatZinn, Ph.D. is internationally known for his work as a scientist, writer, and meditation teacher engaged in bringing mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine and society. He is Professor of Medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he founded its world-renowned 8 week MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) programme.

In other words, mindfuless is simply being aware of the present moment but with kindness and curiosity. It means paying attention to what is right here, right now without labelling it good or bad or anything else at all. When we are mindful, we are in our true home which is in the here and now. We are not living in the past nor are we living in the present. We are thus able to let go of our fears, worries, regrets and our plans and enjoy being in the present moment. By being mindful we realise that the conditions for our happiness are already there with us. This liberates us in a way as we come to understand that we can be happy with what we have and we do not have to search beyond ourselves for what already lies within us. And our breath can be the bridge which connects us to this truth. As the great meditation master Thich Naht Hanh tells us

Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.” 

Babies and young children know this intuitively, we are all born with the gift of living in the here and now. That is why they find joy and pleasure even in the most simple things in life which does not depend on any external and materialistic factors. Fortunately, we can relearn all that we have forgotten, all that we think were never a part of us. In a way, as we learn to dissociate ourselves from our thoughts and learn that they are not who we are. By taking the time for ourselves, we can thus learn to silence the voices in our head and feel the healing power of silence. The practice of mindfulness can thus make us truly alive as many of us start really living fully for the first time in our lives. As Thich Nhat Hanh had said-

“Nothing is more precious than being in the present moment. Fully alive and fully aware”