The Most Important 60 Minutes Of Your Day and How To Reclaim ItSep 01, 2021
If someone wanted to brainwash you to do something horrible, or at least out of character, a very effective strategy would be to gain control of the pocket of time when you immediately wake up each morning and the last period just before going to sleep. Because they’d get to tap into your subconscious mind during these very impressionable windows of time.
Some thought leaders refer to these two windows of time as “AM-PM bookends.” For most of us, the first thing we do upon waking up, and last thing before going to bed, is clutch our phones and immerse ourselves in a world where outside forces are greatly influencing how we should think and feel. Many of us know we do this, regrettably, and that it’s not great for us. But I don’t think we realize the extent of how much this affects our daily lives. Let’s instead reclaim these precious windows of time. Guard these as if your life depends on it – because it kind of does. It’s time to choose to take control and use social media, emails, online games etc. on our terms.
We’re going to cover some simple, efficient, and powerful daily actions that can serve as a healthy game changer, and even a performance enhancer.
So, what do we replace this incredibly valuable and influential time with? Let’s start with the MORNING. My suggestion is incorporating the powerful combination of three things: journaling, meditation, and movement. And each can be accomplished in 10 minutes.
I recommend JOURNALING being the first, immediate action you take after waking up. According to sleep expert, Dr. Matthew Walker, our brains go through a healthy cleansing during a good night’s sleep. We have the opportunity to think clearly and creatively upon waking up and we want to tap into that before the demands of the day fill our heads with static. Instead of a smartphone, keep a journal at your bedside. For those of you who are intimidated by journaling, I encourage you to give it a try for at least 2 weeks. There are excellent guided journals like The 5 Minute Journal – which provide simple yet powerful prompts like “Today I am truly grateful for…” and “Here’s what would make today great…”. Or you can use a blank journal to articulate on paper how you’re feeling, riff on ideas, creative projects, or whatever comes to mind. This is your free, still time to privately express whatever you want on your terms and with your voice. Remind yourself that this is not a writing competition that will be judged by others. Just keep moving that pen/pencil and let it flow. Over time, and as you continue to tap into your inner voice, you might be surprised what lands on that paper.
Not convinced? University of Texas psychologist and researcher, James Pennebaker, cites that regular journaling strengthens your immune system, called T-lymphocytes. Pennebaker believes that journaling about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, acting as a stress management tool, and thereby reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health. Journaling helps remove mental blocks, and allows you to focus your brainpower to better understand yourself, others, and the world around you.
Next, dedicate some time to MEDITATION. This is another valuable opportunity to spend time with yourself. Just like journaling, there are guided options such as Headspace, 10% Happier, and Calm. At its core, meditation is focus training. Many people value the simplicity and stillness of absolute silence and just focus on their body and breathing. Others like inspirational music that helps them get in a positive state of mind for the day. Whatever works for you. In each case, learn how to breathe slowly and deeply through your nose (if you’re able) – 5 seconds in – concentrating on expanding and relaxing your diaphragm, slight pause, and 5 seconds to exhale. Research out of the University of Wisconsin has revealed that as little as 10 minutes of daily meditation can change the connections in your brain – helping to decrease stress, anxiety, and improve focus and optimism, among many other benefits. The key factor is daily consistency. And, as more studies continue to unfold, it is no longer an opinion that meditation is truly a super power.
The final part of your new morning ritual is MOVEMENT. The purpose is to wake up your body and get your blood circulating. There are so many ways you can do this. It can be doing a few sets of squats, burpees, brief walk or run, yoga, dance – whatever it is that challenges you enough to break a sweat. Psychologist, educator, and author of the book: The Joy of Movement, Kelly McGonigal cites research that when we move our muscles, proteins called myokines are released in our bloodstream that, among many other benefits, can help fight against depression, improve optimism, and promote resilience. Scientists have called these proteins “hope molecules”. Movement tells our brain that we are alive, engaged, and prepares us for a challenge. Which is precisely what most of us need to begin our day.
Many people have shared with me that they struggle to relax and sleep at NIGHT. Along with cutting off caffeine by 2PM and finishing eating by 8PM, here are three things you can incorporate within your final 30 minutes before going to sleep.
An important theme is to signal to your body and brain that you are preparing for sleep soon. So change into whatever you wear for sleep early, brush your teeth etc. ahead of time and empower yourself to put away all screens, outside of your bedroom, for these last 30 minutes. Here are three simple and powerful rituals prior to bed: journal, read, meditate.
Allow time to JOURNAL briefly about anything that is bothering you or simply things that are on your mind. If you choose something like The 5 Minute Journal, you can briefly note a few things that went well that day and what you could have done to make things better. By handwriting these thoughts, we are releasing them on paper instead of ruminating in your head all night and interrupting your sleep. Next, I recommend READINGfrom a book that you’ve always wanted to crack open – so long as its content is nothing too harsh that would get you worked up or stressed prior to bed. If at all possible, use dim, non-fluorescent lighting. This will typically tire your eyes, which is what we’re striving for. And last, we end our day with a relaxed, gratitude-filled MEDITATION where we are again in tune with our body and breath. This combination should get you in a good state and primed for a restful sleep.
Will these morning and evening routines have immediate results? They absolutely could. But like most things, it likely will take a little time (perhaps two or three weeks) to get in the flow and train your brain and body into understanding that this is our new way of doing things. It’s incredible how our body and mind will adapt to change if we tell it to. So get excited about trying something new - be diligent, and be patient.
And I believe that as time goes by, and you’ve established these healthy habits, you’ll be more rested, more insightful, and overall just feel better. As this continues to take shape, the universe tends to notice and conspires in your favor. And you’ll likely end up accomplishing more than you might have ever envisioned.
So instead of beginning and ending the day filled with all sorts of notifications, hyperbole, and headlines – intentionally designed to shock and distract us - we are reclaiming and taking control to intentionally pause, slow down, think, and take care of ourselves - by ourselves and on our own terms. Instead of being held hostage to the whims of technology and social media, we now are an active participant in creating the conditions to succeed and thrive. This is the opportunity we have in front of us - making a few relatively small adjustments - to yield a considerable, healthy shift to our daily well-being. As author Annie Dillard is known for saying “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
What morning-evening habits/rituals have improved your well-being? What new habits do you now want to incorporate into your routine?
About the Author
Peter Russell is Founder & CEO of Kindling - a video based, online mentorship platform that empowers young adults to thrive, personally and professionally.