The One Realistic Morning Routine That Will Make You a Better Person

We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. — Howard Zinn

Morning routines are all the rage. They set the tone and increase optimal achievement throughout the day.

According to the ultra successful like Oprah and Tony Robbins — ice baths, hot yoga, soul-cleansing meditation, marathon journal sessions and frolics up a mountainside at sun rise are just a few things you’ll need to do before breakfast in order to be more successful, happier.

But what if an elaborate morning routine is simply not realistic?

What if you’re a working parent who, along with getting yourself together, have to wake up the kids and pack lunches and make breakfast and brush teeth and wipe butts and study for the looming tests and break up fist-fights in the hallway?

Proponents may suggest, “How about waking up earlier?”

Um…how about no.

I wake up at 5:15 every weekday, 6:30 on weekends. I get to bed around 10:30–11 during the week. And on the weekends, I often collapse on the couch by 9.

So if waking up earlier is simply not an option how can we — the breakfast-builders, lunch-makers, teeth-brushers, butt-wipers, teachers and referees of the household get our day started right?

Since I have only about an hour each morning before I leave for work, here’s what I do…

Every morning, for the last 45 days I have practiced a three point reflection.

It’s nothing elaborate.

As I’m having coffee I scratch down three things I am grateful for.

Here’s what it a page looks like…

Here’s my journal entries from 9/4 to 9/15

Some mornings the three points come quick and my reflection takes less than a minute. Other days I have to sit longer and reflect deeper until I find 3 things I’m grateful for. But even on mornings of longer reflection, the practice is completed within 3–4 minutes.

It’s a simple habit which requires no special journal or pen. Just a legal tablet or notebook. But in 45 days I’m realizing the positive effects the practice having on my mental health.

Here’s what I learned…

My first thoughts of the day are positive

It’s so easy to wake up on a Monday morning and think negatively about the day ahead and about all the things you have to do before you limp back into bed at night. The 3 point reflection requires you to develop positive thoughts before the chaos of the day begins which helps you embrace and welcome the impending day.

I get to have me time

Parenting gives you little time to yourself. But as a parent you need to find time for yourself. You need to be constructively selfish. By doing so, by taking care of yourself, even if it’s only a few minutes, you will have more patience and energy for others.

I’m more present throughout the day

Identifying good moments each morning has trained me to look for good moments and appreciate good moments as I encounter them throughout the day. The daily chaos often distracts us from finding meaningful moments that we should acknowledge and celebrate. The simple 3 point reflection allows you to celebrate those moments which in turn inspires you to find more of those moments as the day stretches on.

I’m learning humility

It’s so easy to complain. It’s so easy to take your life for granted — to forget that you have electricity and running water and food in the refrigerator. It takes only a few minutes a day to recognize all of the luxuries you take for granted and how humbling it is to have such luxuries.

I just feel happier

Happiness and gratitude are a package deal. You can not be happy and ungrateful at the same time. Learn gratitude and you’ll find real happiness. The 3 point reflection is a daily emotional inventory that allows you to acknowledge things in your life that make you happy. It’s also a daily reminder that you need to give the present day your best effort so tomorrow, when you sit down to reflect, you will have three moments worth writing about.

Daily life is dizzying. Sometimes I feel all I do is run, run, run and sometimes it seems impossible to find a moment’s peace. But finding those quiet moments in the day are crucial for your mental health. It’s those quiet moments that help you to slow down, gain perspective, better yourself and realize that despite the impending chaos of the waiting day there are at least three things to be grateful for.

Be well,

Jay

How I Avoided Parental Burnout this Summer

Summertime parenting is the worst.

The kids are always around–bored, sweaty, and always buzzing with energy.

In those glorious B.C. summers (Before Children), Cindy and I would sleep until 10, split English muffins with Kelly Ripa, take naps at noon and share a frozen cocktail at 4.

But eight years later and three children later the landscape of our lazy summers have changed considerably. We’ve gone from sipping frosty Blue Moons in the shade to crawling  head-first into clammy, germ filled moon-bounces to fish out one of our crying kids.

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“Summer, Summer, Summertime/ Time to sit back and unwind.” Dammit no it’s not Will! You and Jazz lied to us!!!

Once a hammock of relaxation, our summers are now one long parenting triathlon, a Tough Mudder of exploding juice boxes, forced timeouts and deep breaths.

This summer however, I did find some relief. You could find me being constructively selfish every morning between 6:15 and 7:30 exercising, writing, reading and listening to music.

Constructive selfishness

In the waning days of every school year one of my final lectures explores the concept of  constructive selfishness– attending to your own needs while remaining grounded and self-aware. I tell my graduating seniors that this is their time to focus on their goals, dreams and desires. However, it’s important that during this constructively selfish journey to understand that their choices have consequences, that they are still apart of a greater community, they  have a responsibility to the world and that constructive selfishness does not afford them the right to be an asshole.

Destructive Selfishness

It’s pretty simple. You cut lines, steal from children, don’t carry your dinner plate to the sink, spit indoors, don’t flush and don’t hold doors. You always pick the movie and you recline 40 minutes into your 14 hour flight to Barcelona. Your needs, pleasure, and desires supersede everyone and everything else on planet Earth. In short, you’re an asshole.

A Case for the Selfish Parent

On our final day of summer vacation with our kids, Cindy and I dropped the cretins off at the babysitters, got massages at Hand and Stone,  enjoyed low-calorie salads and green tea at Panera Bread and went shopping for chinos at Banana Republic ( Can we be anymore lamely suburban?)

Later that day, while scrolling through Facebook I saw plenty of good parents posting pictures with their smiling children at the zoo, on the beach, in a pool on their last day of summer together.

Were Cindy and I being selfish? You’re damn right. Did we feel parental guilt? Nope. Does that make us assholes? Maybe… but at least we’re relaxed assholes.

I believe being constructively selfish makes you a better parent, a better person. Even though it sounds all Saint Kathrine Drexel– absolute selflessness is dangerous business. Look, I love my kids ( as much as you love yours) but parental burnout is real. I’ve felt it, seen it and heard it.  (Next time you’re driving near a Dodge Caravan that has those stick family decals on the back window, turn down your radio and listen closely… you will most certainly hear the blood-curling shrieks of parental burnout.)

As parents, our fundamental job is to care for others. And even though it’s necessary and healthy and humbling to put others needs first I’ve learned that devoting time to yourself gives you more energy to devote yourself to others. It’s a beautiful reciprocal.

Yes, selflessness is admirable but it’s not sustainable. And parenting is all about sustainability– especially in those dog days of summer.

Be well,

Jay

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