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)

 

Selfcare- Getting to know yourself (Take back the power to heal yourself Part 3)

This is the last post on the "self-care" series that I have been writing this month. You can read the first part on self care here and the second part on finding your own self-care routine here.

This last post focusses on self-discovery which is an integral part of taking care of yourself. If you do not really recognise who you are any more, how can you expect that you will be able to accept the person that you are today? Not ten years ago, not twenty, but TODAY. Whether we realise it or not, we are all shaped and moulded by our life experiences and we are constantly changing. This is nothing to be scared of as it is a completely natural process; on the other hand, it is something to embrace!

Without this self-awareness and self-acceptance, we rarely find the strength to prioritise self-care.  As you go on a journey to rediscover yourself, you start becoming comfortable in your own skin and learn to show up as you are, without feeling the need to don any masks.

"As you become familiar with yourself once again, you may find within yourself what you have been seeking from others"

In many ways, this has been the most important lesson that life has taught me over the recent years of my struggle. I have had to confront the reality of who I am and initially, I had trouble accepting those parts of me that did not live up to my expectations. For me, it was a combination of expectations around what I SHOULD have achieved in terms of my professional life and my feelings of GUILT around my daughter's health issues (whether it was justified or not is not the point). It will be different for everyone as we all have our own demons.

But, over time as I have consciously spent time with myself in different ways (solo breaks, meditation, relaxation) I have learned to accept myself as I would another person.

I have learned to forgive my imperfections and embrace who I have become and what I stand for and be proud of it. Isn't it wonderful and liberating at the same time to become comfortable in your own skin? 
I invite you to do the same!

This means that you may need to

get over the fear of really connecting with yourself even if it means facing those parts of yourself that you are not comfortable with; these are usually our feelings of fear around shame and unworthiness. Please show yourself the same love and compassion much as you would a child or someone who is hurting, maybe these hidden and neglected parts of you have been waiting for your attention all this while

say "no" to situations and people that don't serve you well at this time; this also makes it easier to say "yes" to those things that really matter in your life and you would like to pursue

find a meditation practice that will help you to practice paying attention; attention to your life, your body and your relationships with everything around you. Being mindful helps you to take part in your life fully and accept all feelings of joy, gratitude, anger, shame and love without any judgement

let go of expectations as you start on this journey of self-discovery; you may even feel the need to forgive and many times you may find that the person you need to forgive the most is yourself

become curious about your likes and dislikes; when was the last time you did something that you TRULY enjoyed doing and not because you had to do it or it was expected of you? Do you still enjoy hobbies, activities and even play like you used to? Find out what your likes and dislikes are at this point in your life by trying out different things

find a way to recognise your strengths so that you can consciously and effectively use them to enhance your life and overcome challenges; (you can use the "best possible self" narrative or even a survey like the VIA character strengths- I will be writing more on this in another post)

meet yourself with a sense of humour; everything in life does not need to be an emergency, you may need to learn to laugh at yourself or at situations at various points in time

explore the reasons behind your need to be "busy" at all times; is there something that you are trying to avoid facing in your life?

As you get to know yourself, you may also realise that

you are "whole" and worthy of being loved just as you are

the love that you desperately seek is right there deep inside of you. And as you start accepting yourself unconditionally, the craving for respect and approval that you seek from others loses its hold over you and social media becomes just another tool for connection and nothing more

your self-worth is not linked to anyone else or any external circumstances (which are usually not in your control); it has been there with you all along, you just needed to find it

you are and always will be a unique "work-in-progress" and that's ok; so is everyone else! The "perfect" body/job/partner is an illusion that we need to recognise and face up to  

With time, the compassion that you show for yourself can turn into unconditional self-acceptance. With this, we realise that most of the times, we need to find the strength to simply show up and be ourselves and know that IT IS ENOUGH. When this happens, we feel connected to ourselves and to everyone else in a way that ultimately gives our life meaning and helps us find our purpose.

As we become comfortable with who we are, we turn outwards because we feel that we are a part of a bigger whole; a realisation that makes us stop feeling isolated and lonely. This is a liberating and joyous realisation and makes life truly worth celebrating. This feeling of being connected to ourselves and others can help us in many different ways. We can find the strength to focus on healing ourselves in more ways than one even if our condition is beyond a "cure". And sometimes, we may find that through our own struggles and pain, we can ease the pain of others.

So I invite you to join me on a journey towards self-discovery. And if you have a need for it, this path that will ultimately lead you towards self-care and healing.

(I would love to hear your thoughts on this and the ONE way that you have decided to embark on this journey of self-discovery. Please share in the comments section below)

Selfcare- you cannot drink from an empty cup (Take back the power to heal yourself- part 2)

In my last post (you can read it here), I had highlighted the importance of self-care in terms of healing ourselves. In this post, I would like to delve deeper into this subject by answering the following questions.  

  • What is self-care really?
  • And how is it tied to self-compassion and well being?
  • Most importantly, how do you find the version that works best for you so that you are most likely to continue with the routine especially when times get rough and you are incredibly busy?

What we may not realise is that self-care is not selfish, in fact, it is just the opposite. As parents taking good care of ourselves and thereby setting an example for our children is one of the best gifts we can give them. And as adults and citizens, we can model self-care habits to build a culture of sustainable health.

"You can't pour from an empty cup, take care of yourself first"

 

This is especially true for women and definitely true for me. As natural givers and caretakers, those women who are also mothers are even worse at self-care.  This is true for healthcare providers and other similar professions as well where sleepless nights, emotional exhaustion and constant demand is commonplace. While there will always be certain situations which are beyond our control, most of the time, we can take out the time to replenish and rejuvenate ourselves on a regular basis. Much the same way that we take care of our cars.

 

 

We send our car periodically to the best service centre to get a check up and servicing done. We also get it filled with top quality fuel so that it runs smoothly. But somehow, we end up ignoring the need to take care of our own physical and emotional health.

I learned this the hard way when I was taking care of our very sick 7-year-old daughter about 5 years ago. She was hospitalised with a life-threatening infection and before that, she had been struggling with major health issues for more than a year. I was willing to do anything and give up anything just to see her get better. I slept next to her in the ICU for almost 2 weeks straight while my husband and family took turns in the morning. It was a harrowing time for all of us.

But once she had come back home and things had settled down a bit for us, I realised very early that in order to take care of her, I had to take care of myself first. This realisation did not happen in one day though. Over a period of time I realised that if I did not take care of myself, I would not be able to do an effective job of taking care of her. This not only included tending to her physical needs, it also meant taking care of her emotional health as she dealt with a very difficult situation.

For most of us though, we do not need to wait for a difficult situation to come to this conclusion. We know deep down inside what we REALLY need to do take care of ourselves. We usually do not end up having a plan in place that can help us reach our self-care goals. Also, if you have not taken out the time to prioritise self-care in your busy life, you may never find out which practices will work for you since it will always be different for each person.

We forget that we need to treat ourselves with the same kindness that we treat others when they are in pain or in need of some kind of support. The very fact that we notice that someone who is suffering needs our compassion is what connects us to others and makes us human. Compassion also opens our hearts and minds to all kinds of experiences as we become more accepting and less judging. We have to realise the need to extend this same compassion to ourselves.

As we learn to accept our imperfections, failure and suffering which are all inevitable, we also learn to put ourselves on the top of our TO-DO lists. We start on our journey towards self-care and not only enrich our own lives but everyone around us.

"YOU are the most important investment you can make in your life"

There are many different ways that you can design your very own self-care routine. But it all starts with the realisation that you are well worth it to invest your own time and effort into this. No one else can do it for you.

In order to lead a meaningful, productive and healthy life, you will need to figure out the "self investments" that will pay off in the long run. It is impossible to "do-it-all" so it is important not to have an "all or nothing" attitude. Some people can get stuck with this mindset and end up not doing anything at all. We do not need a huge chunk of our day to take care of ourselves on a regular basis.

In reality, you can do a lot in five minutes—you can do some calming yoga poses, deep breathing, listen to some music that inspires you, do some guided meditation or read a chapter from a book.

Find a few things that work for you and condense them into smaller pieces which can be spread out into your daily routine. A consistent morning and evening routine works very well to start the day off on a positive note and then to end the day on a relaxing and quieting note leading to better sleep. No matter how busy your schedule, the payoff is well worth it.

The best way to start on your self-care journey is to

"Give yourself permission to pause during the day"

 

The different ways that you can utilise this time is by-

Moving your body every day- find a physical activity that you like and schedule a time to do it regularly. It does not matter what you do, it matters that you DO IT. It can be dancing, walking, jogging, running, yoga or anything else that you enjoy

Having a cup of tea and reading a book

Listening to your favourite music and getting up to dance a sweat if you feel like it

Getting a massage done once in a while

Keeping and writing in your journal regularly about things that matter to you, penning down your thoughts and feelings and even 3 things that you are grateful for everyday

Learning a new hobby or enjoying indulging in an old one like art, music, instruments, dance and anything else that you enjoy or even miss from your childhood

Taking out the time to make and maintain meaningful friendships

Setting aside a daily QUIET time which does not involve any electronics, social media, work. Consider meditation, enjoying creative activities like art or simply enjoying observing the clouds floating by outdoors or watching the raindrops fall on a glass pane and even taking a nap

It really does not matter what exactly you do, it matters that you DO IT.

Do you need to give yourself permission to pause from time to time during the day? Which activities appeal to you and how can you fit these into your daily schedule no matter how hectic it is? What are the obstacles that you need to overcome first? Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing from you!

(I will be posting the last part of this 3 series in the next week and it will cover an important aspect of getting to know yourself better as we practice. It is a natural progression from as we start practising self- care on a regular basis, I really look forward to sharing it with you)

Take back the power to heal yourself (Part 1)

(This is the first of a three-part series of posts on self-care. While I had originally intended it to be only one post, I realised while writing this that there was a lot I wanted to share and I did not want to cut any corners. I will be publishing the remaining posts in the next few weeks)

When was the last time you felt that your health was completely in your hands?

That you had the power to decide the outcome of your health goals?

Do you often feel powerless in front of medical authorities when you meet them for your health issues?

This is not confined only to doctor visits though.

This can happen to any of us anywhere and with anyone that we chose to give away our power to. We often knowingly or unknowingly give away our power over our own lives to authorities outside of us and to the circumstances in our lives.

When we hear the word Power we usually think of it as something lying outside of us.

A powerful car.

A powerful businessman or leader.

A powerful speech.

A powerful motorbike.

A powerful doctor that everyone listens to.

This can also be in the form of thinking that-

If only I had that dream house, I would be able to settle down and be happy

If only I could find someone who finally understands me and loves me, everything would be fine

If only I could have enough money, I would take that long vacation and finally be happy

Does this sound familiar to you?

More often than not we fail to realise we have given our power and in turn our happiness to people and circumstances which lie outside of us. This holds true for all aspects of our lives including our health issues

Instead of turning deep into ourselves, trusting our instincts and listening to what our body is trying to tell us, we usually ignore or otherwise medicate our way out of the symptoms. Medication, of course, has its right of place and is life saving when used properly and for the right reasons. However, when medicine is used as a substitute for self care and leading a well balanced life, it can end up creating a lot of problems in the long run.

"Selfcare is how you take your power back"

Our body is a truly amazing and miraculous thing. Too often we fail to give it the support that it needs on a daily basis to take care of us and keep us healthy. We forget that our bodies have an innate ability to heal provided all the right ingredients are present.

Taking the time to really get to know yourself and who you have become and in turn what your body needs at this point in time, is one of the first places to start. This does not happen in one go and neither does it happen overnight, so we need to deliberately take out the time for self care from our busy schedules on a daily basis.

But before we can begin moving towards changing the way we treat ourselves, we may need to recognise the ways in which we have been giving away our personal power.

We need to...

STOP

Blaming others for our health condition and take responsibility for the choices that we have made

Giving so much to others that we start feeling empty and resentful inside

Holding onto anger and grudges against others who may intentionally or unintentionally have hurt us

Letting other people's behaviour dictate our emotions and how we feel about ourselves and others

INSTEAD

...we can 

Take the time to sit down with ourselves and learn to truly listen to what we need at this moment

Take responsibility for our own life,  feelings and actions

Face our fears and learn to accept the dark and unwanted parts of ourselves as gracefully as we do our strengths; once we are able to do so, they lose their power over us

Nourish our mind and body with positive thoughts and energy by eating the right foods and taking out time to take care of our emotional and physical needs on a daily basis

Most of all, we can get to know ourselves as we would a new friend

In getting to know ourselves, we may...

get to know what we want and what we do not want in our lives, what our likes and dislikes are

find that what we were looking for was within us all the time

find that we need to forgive and move on, and many times the person who needs to be forgiven is ourselves

We can then finally start reclaiming our power and move towards our health and other life goals...