If you’ve never worn a saucepan on your head for any length of time, I don’t greatly recommend it as a headpiece of comfort. When I wore a small gravy pan into town many years ago, it kept slipping down the back of my head, and the handle would occasionally hit my shoulder, producing a not-altogether-unpleasant “bong” through my skull. I’m reasonably sure it didn’t have any gravy still in it, because it probably would have remained more stationary on my pate.
What is interesting about wearing an item of cookware however, is the instant sense of self-awareness it produces. On this particular occasion I became acutely aware of myself and everyone around me, and let me say… it was not altogether pleasant. Many pairs of eyes warily rested upon my own, searching deeply, no doubt, for a murderous penchant or some other recalcitrant sign of insanity.
In the meantime, I was highly adrenalised. This behaviour was obviously threatening to many people, not least to my own sense of self. All my normal, beige, behavioural scripts were jumping up and down, screaming. A simple metal pot on my head was turning my world upside down.
If I’ve raised you boys correctly, both of you will have a sense of awareness of yourselves. One thing you should realise is that most people are not self-aware. That’s not being nasty or pompous. It is the truth. Most people do what they do robotically, as if they have a computer script that they run for each activity.
RUN: INTERACTING WITH WORK COLLEAGUES SCRIPT
RUN: BITCHING ABOUT FRIENDS SCRIPT
RUN: ARGUING WITH SPOUSE SCRIPT
RUN: TRYING SOMETHING NEW SCRIPT
We all have these scripts. They make life simpler, with less mental overhead. They also make life dull and predictable. Scripts are the primary reason many people are bored with their little boxy lives.
Self awareness is important because it gives you a choice. You can choose to run a script or not. You can choose to run part or all of a script. When I chose to walk into town wearing a saucepan, I was ditching many scripts I held dear, and the world was suddenly a very bright and very real place to inhabit.
I walked up to the counter to buy the items I wanted, balancing my headwear so as not to drop it on some unlucky toddler’s scalp. The lady behind the counter examined me closely.
Gday boys. It’s a lovely rainy morning. As usual, I’ve been up since 5am, stretching, moving, enjoying the only time I get alone.
I’m a man who likes to be solitary. I love to be alone with my body and my mind, exploring both. I ran into trouble early with your mum, as she comes from a family where no one is ever alone, ever. No one from her family does anything solo, or quietly for that matter.
Walk into my family’s house at Christmas time and you’re likely to find everyone with their faces in a book.
I had a realisation last night. To really learn about myself, I have to truly be alone. When I say truly alone, I don’t just mean on my own without other people. I mean alone without distractions. No devices, no books, no shows, no chores. They are all colourful and entertaining noise that prevent me from touching that deep place where the boundless lies.
It’s tough to be truly alone.
It’s difficult to not distract myself with all this novel and wonderful noise, these nostalgically photographed cookbooks, those five-star self-development books, some new and shiny techniques for saving time and achieving… stuff.
However, after years of practice, I’ve observed within myself a personal trend towards entertainment boredom. I can’t watch shows or movies without a deep sense of boredom. They all seem so infantile, so shallow. Not one of them touches on what it means to be a human alone. No show discusses the pain within and the way to heal it. No one talks of the ocean of creativity that lies deep beneath the surface where monsters and beauties and the most incredible creations lie. No one seems to know of the greatest detective story never told – the uncovering of your history, past, present and future.
If more people knew about it, Netflix would be out of business.
Life is a beautiful thing. We are so lucky to be experiencing it, with all its happiness, joy, satisfactions and pain. All of it is beautiful in its own way.
The most beautiful, and yet the most terrible part, is that we have to die. It is beautiful because it forces us to take notice of life. We have to be a part of life, whether we want to or not, and when we find death, we start to take notice. Weirdly, I didn’t find death until I was blessed with new life: you boys.
Before Tay was born I was a couch-sitter. I had my adventures, but most of my time was taken up with simply dreaming and wishing while I was sitting and blobbing. When you were born, something changed.
Firstly, I had far, far, far less time for myself. With so little time, I made the most of what I had. I had no more time for doing nothing, only for creating something.
Secondly, I wanted to be a dad to be proud of. I wanted to be a man you two could emulate. This meant I had to recreate myself as a man worth emulating. It’s a work in progress, one that will continue until my last day.
Being a parent brings into stark relief one of the silliest results of evolution – my kids have to learn all my lessons over again. All the hard work I’ve put into learning about myself and the world, all that knowledge, it will disappear when I die, as it did when my ancestors passed away. There is no download button as yet directly into your brain from mine.
Thus I’ve made this blog. I want you to know what I know. Of course you won’t know it until you’ve experienced it… but there is a time and a place for all knowledge, and I hope that occasionally the right phrase will be there for you at the right time and the right place.
I love you both of you boys, more than anything on the planet. Let’s get this party started!
Within a minute or two it became incredibly clear: My entire life was but a precursor to one small decision.
To decide what sort of man I would be.
The voice was back. So silky smooth and convincing. It paraded excuses dressed as reasons as to why I didn’t have to get up at 5am and do my routine.
I had got into bed at 11, thus giving me only 6 hours sleep (WAAAH).
I didn’t have my phone (deliberate? Perhaps).
I hadn’t set an alarm.
I was tired and needed sleep, otherwise I would get run down (see point 1).
And so on and so forth.
My goal to this point had been to maintain the morning routine for three weeks. This was the final day of an otherwise successful twenty-one.
And I was about to throw it all away.
I tried convincing myself to go back to sleep. I “needed” sleep. My self-sabotaging intention was to sleep in regardless of the goals I had set myself.
Fuck the goals, the little voice said. Sleep instead. You need it. What is this routine anyhow? Just a bunch of pushups and sit-ups. They don’t get you nowhere.
But I remained awake. Torn. Listening to the war raging in my skull, and in my body. I felt the familiar weight in my solar plexus that signalled I was about to do a thing I didn’t want to do.
And I really didn’t want to do it.
I got up.
Discipline Equals Freedom
The morning routine is an exercise in personal discipline. As Jocko Willink says, discipline equals freedom. The more discipline you can create in your life the more freedom you will have to create of your life what you want. Your deepest desires become that much closer and more achievable as you become more disciplined.
The hardest part is finding the balance between Superego (the internal policeman) guilt and the personal satisfaction of discipline, and this balance is different for each person. The mental and spiritual practices in this post will go some way towards uncovering your personal attitude towards discipline.
Mental and Spiritual – Not just for Geniuses and Hippies
The last two parts of the The Best Morning Routine Breakdown Ever focussed on the physical aspect of the morning routine, and the reasons for starting a morning routine. This time round we are going to look at the mental and spiritual practices I use in my protocol.
I define the Mental as the talents and skills of my mind that I can actively improve. Things like memory and intelligence, and aspects of creativity like the technical skills in drawing or writing.
The Spiritual I define as my connection to the subconscious. Within the subconscious lies the definition of our gods, whether they be Religious (like Jehovah), Practical (like Efficiency) or Emotional (like Guilt). The goal here is to improve this connection so we can uncover our own obstacles to success, and find out who we are.
In other words, through spiritual practice we can find our personal definition of success, and find the quickest route to it. Your capabilities, talents, likes, dislikes, and emotional temperament are just some of the diamonds waiting to be mined, and finding these treasures puts you on the fast-track to whatever the fuck you want.
Yet another list
When making my routines I think about what I need to improve in my mental and spiritual life. I ask questions of myself.
Do I want to be more present in my day to day?
A better memory?
Do I need to improve my resolve and persistence?
I then list practices that I know (or suspect) will get me big wins in these areas. This list tends to get pretty big:
I then select from this list based on my goals for that month. Doing the same thing for a minimum of three weeks will give you a healthy dose of it’s effectiveness. It’s short enough a time that if it really is a bag of horseshit you won’t have to do it for too long. But it’s long enough to get past the initial “oh crap this is horseshit” stage that most mental and spiritual practices have lurking beneath their patchouli scented exteriors, and into the good stuff they are renowned for.
Again, this is the value of the morning routine: habitual behaviour can make desperate practices viable if done consistently.
Freezing My Noodle Off
To this list I add a cold shower, because that is undoubtedly the best goddam way to start the day ever. The cold shower sets the tone for the entire day. It s a combination of physical, mental and spiritual, in that it gets frighteningly cold, I need incredible resolve and fortitude to get in and stay in, and it creates a sense of easy calm afterwards. I thoroughly recommend it.
So how does my list currently look?
Immediate cold shower
50 Pushups supersetted with 10 sec hollow body holds
Reverse shoulder walk
Couch hip flexor
Autogenic Tape 5min
Double N-back 10min
Writing until 6:15 (Usually 20 – 30min or 300-500 words)
This routine is undoubtedly the best thing I’ve ever decided to do for myself. Every, Single, Day is awesome. I have a huge win each morning, and the rest of the day I spend with an inner smile, knowing that I’ve kicked serious ass.
Final Notes on the Morning Routine
Your should feel amazing after your morning routine. This means vibrantly alive, healthy and alert. If it’s not like that at the moment, tweak it until it is.
The first day will probably be great! You’ll run and tell your friends how awesome your new routine is… and then sleep in the next day. The challenge lies in maintaining the routine for at least a week or two to get over the hurdle of consistency. Keep at it!
Start small, and work to big. It took me a long time (at least a year or two) to get to the above. Just getting into a routine of getting up early was a big challenge for me, with lot’s of backsliding. But persistence pays off.
If the above seems too comprehensive, then including at least one thing from each of the categories Physical, Mental and Spiritual is great way to think about starting a routine.
The battle is fought anew EVERY SINGLE DAY.
It doesn’t get any easier to do these things, it just becomes more habitual.
If you lose one day, that’s fine. Fight again the next day.
This battle will last your whole life. Focus on winning it more, and don’t sweat the occasional loss.
Back to 4:38am
In bed that morning I realised that this was the most important decision in my life. One question ran through my head over and over:
When life gets difficult, what sort of person would I be?
The man who does what he says? Or the guy who just mumbles along like everyone else?
I had only one task to do, and for years, decades, it had eluded me. The pain of failure was hanging on me like an irremovable overcoat that buttoned in my desire to shine.
I felt the ache of continually butting up against an immovable object.
And that immovable object? My inability to do what I said I would do.
I was seated as an obstacle in my own metaphorical driveway, like a lump of rock that despite all efforts to move, shift, and even blast away via the use of drugs and alcohol, remained firmly fixed in place.
However as time progressed I found some things made me more energetic. Some things made me more tired. Over time I added more of the former and removed more of the latter. I started getting up earlier. I started having cold showers. I started writing.
I stopped and I started and I stopped again. Tens of times I stopped and started again. Some weeks I would be motivated as I listened to podcasts about silicon valley greats and boxing coaches, others I would hide my head under the rock of work and sleep and try to ignore how ruined I was as a man. How useless I was.
“A donkey” as my father would have said. “A bloody useless donkey.”
I found something funny after a couple of years. It was easier to get up earlier. It was easier to jump into a cold shower each morning.
Whether I was motivated was no longer a concern, the habitual nature of this practice made it “just happen”.
The seconds, minutes and hours over the preceding years had built slowly up into a critical mass, a mass that was cascading over my head and pushing me towards a goal that I had given up on. I was surfing on a great wave of habit that washed me onward despite myself.
And then, this year, it all came to a head. I spent seven consecutive weeks ticking ALL the boxes on my weekly goal lists. The longest I’d had previously was one week.
Seven weeks! This effect and the momentum that it generated in my life was nothing short of amazing. I realised that all the stories I’d heard of the greats and coaches were only the 10% of the iceberg that we could see. They didn’t show the pain, the uselessness, the utter redundancy of existence while trying to put together a life worth living. They didn’t tell of the internal quicksand that sucked you down as you failed again and again.