The Greatest “How-To Make A Morning Routine” Breakdown Ever: Part 2 – The Why

I’d failed.

Id failed again.  And again and again and again.

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.

surfing huge wave

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.

What was the difference?

 My morning routine.

 

The Greatest “How-To Make A Morning Routine” Breakdown Ever: Part 1 – The Physical

My morning routine has changed my life.

I feel stronger, more self aware.  I bounce out of bed, both on the days I do it, and the days I have off.  When I finish and head off to work, I am looking life in the eye and am ready to take it on with a large shoulder-mounted rail-gun and optional IR scope.  The habitual nature of doing it has actually made it harder for me to NOT do it than do it.

My morning routine takes between one and one-and-a-half hours five days a week.  For me this is the best time of day, when the family is still asleep, and I can be alone with my body and mind with no interruptions.  I do about 25 minutes of physical, 15 min of spiritual, and the remainder mental practices.

Creating the routine has evolved over the months I’ve been doing it.  I started with some things that I’ve been doing for years, such as getting up at five am, starting the day with a cold shower, and writing.  These were good foundations to build the rest of the routine around.  Why build from the ground up, when the bricks are already laid?

When I build my routines, I take elements from the Physical, Mental and Spiritual realms.  I work on my body (physical), my skills, intelligence and memory (mental), and I try to establish a deeper connection between my conscious and subconscious to enhance my poise and creativity (spiritual).

5/3/1 Protocol for Morning Routines

Each month I program three weeks on, and one week off.  This is from using the 5/3/1 weightlifting template from Jim Wendler.  For three weeks I use the protocol, following as closely as possible to the routine and going hard.  Three weeks is generally enough time to try an activity and see whether it has any benefit.

I then take a week to relax, regenerate, and ponder what improvements and additions I can make to the next months protocol.  This is a time of honest self assessment.  Where did I improve?  Where did I go wrong?  How can I get more bang for my buck?  Where can I fit more in to the time I have?  Where do I need to relax a little more?

It’s also a time to chill out and take the pressure off.  I’ve found that I can focus more during the routine if I know there is an end-date.  I know I won’t have to get up and do pushups forever.  And I’ve found that due to the habitual nature of the routine, I often get up at 5am during my week off anyway.

 

Important Questions to Ask

To create this routine I used a common thought pattern and turned it into a question: What are the things I want to improve at but never have the time or inclination to do?  

This question pulls out those items from my brain that I ponder under the surface, and only occasionally pop up into conscious thought.  Like when I’m squatting and realise my ankle dorsiflexion is letting me down.

“I should really do something about that.”

I then use these items in conjunction with the overall goals I have for the year.

The Physical

Here’s my broad physical goal list for this year:

  • Run Spartan Race
  • Better movement – more flexible, poised and nimble, lighter on my feet
  • more comfortable moving quickly and fluidly at 85-90kg
  • run 5k with ease
  • squat 140×5
  • Deadift 180×3
  • box jump
  • ab strength
  • Improve fighting power, speed and technique

To hit these goals I need to:

  • Run each week
  • Squat each week
  • Deadlift each week
  • Do abs each week
  • Stretch each day

I go to the gym in the afternoons, and run on Sundays.  So that leaves stretching to be done in the morning routine.

To further aid inquiry, I then ask the question: “What are the things I want to improve at but never have the time or inclination to do?”  It could be more easily summed up as: “What am I really bad at that makes my life miserable?”

  • Stretching in general
  • Calf flexibility and ankle dorsiflexion
  • Thoracic flexibility
  • Shoulder rotation internal and external
  • Abdominal strength
  • Pectoral development
  • Overall conditioning

I then brainstorm ways to improve these items, trying to hit multiple items with each solution.  The objective is to both improve my weak points AND work towards my goals.  I then have a range of options to select from, for example:

  • Pushups (pecs and shoulders)
  • J-curls (thoracic)
  • Ab roller (abs and shoulders)
  • Reverse shoulder walk (shoulders and abs)
  • Calf stretches and rolling (calves)
  • Cossack squat (calves and conditioning)
  • Agile 8 (overall flexibility)
  • Couch hip flexor (hip flexibility)
  • Cat-cow/roller (thoracic)
  • Hollow body holds (abs)
  • Breath-in side bend Rudy (abs and ribcage)

I then pick and choose what will tick most of the boxes I require while fitting into the timeframe I have, which for physical work is about 20-25 minutes max. So into my morning routine I might select:

  • 50 pushups with vest + superset abs – minimum 2 sets of 5x10sec max hold
  • Stretches:
  • reverse shoulder walk
  • cossack squat
  • couch hip flexor
  • cat-cow/roller

(Side Note: For me the morning routine isn’t a punishing morale-killing half hour.  It’s mildly tough but still a walk in the park.  Some mornings I just don’t feel like doing it, but I do anyway.  These are the mornings I break things down to their easiest.  Take the pushups for example.  I never specify set and rep breakdown.  Some mornings I’ll do the entire 50 in one go.  Some mornings when I’m feeling blah, I’ll do five sets of 10, with two minutes between each set.  The tradeoff is that I need to superset abs for each set of pushups.)

In the Part 2 I’ll cover adding mental and spiritual exercises to your routine to round it out and form a super-positive start to your day.  Stay tuned amigo, you’ll wanna read this one.

 

Being Present with my Kids

My children have become my lifeblood.  Small and new humans that intrigue, amaze and frustrate me.

Yet I still struggle to stay present with them.  This is not surprising really, when a 36 year old man is trying to converse with a four year old who is still making sense of the world.  But I crave those moments of presence.  When I see their sunny faces, and feel their warm, vibrant bodies against mine, I understand that it doesn’t get much better than this.

My mind tries to take me away from that presence.  It wants to delve into the Meta, what’s happening behind the walls of my mind.  I want to think, to analyse, to do anything but simply be in this moment.  But that is an escape from life.  There is nothing I could think that is more important than sharing these seconds of connection and bliss right now.

For they will be gone all too soon.

To have my boys still sharing with me, showing me, proud to tell their dad what they’ve seen, things they’ve done, how they felt… it’s thoroughly unremarkable and yet irreplaceable.  These moments are only for me.  Only I can understand and appreciate these sublime interactions with these new humans, created of my blood, sweat and tears.

I am so proud of my boys.  And part of that pride is for myself and my wife.  We have helped create them, and not just their little perfect bodies.  We are helping to craft their minds, their motivations, their reactions to the world.  Their emotions.  When I see my seven year old reacting calmly to a stressful situation, and know that part of that reaction is because of our teaching, that is a moment worth savouring.

And it’s all the more satisfying when others looked down on us for our methods.  Others thought that we were too lenient, that we should discipline more.  That we should bring them into line.

But we saw the future.  We saw that training at two years old informs the three year old, and then the four year old, and so on.  We saw that creating thunderstorms in a toddler does not beget sunshine in an adult.  We had only to look around at the men and women around us to see that the world did not need more robots at the mercy of their childhood training.

So we started at the end.  What did we want our children to become?  Thinking, analysing, emotionally fulfilled and alive adults?  Or automatons, robotically re-enacting the traumas of early life with no self-awareness, androids programmed by the fears of their parents?

We have never allowed our kids to do whatever the hell they wanted.  We have worked together with them from their earliest moments to help their understanding of what is appropriate behaviour.  What is tolerable, and what is intolerable.

It’s a work in progress.  And it’s progressing well.

Becoming The Man You Want To Be – The Basics

You have an image of the Man you would like to be.  We all do.

Some of us dream of a bullet belt strapped across our chest.  Some of imagine a navy blue power suit.  Some of us fantasise of a twelve inch doodle.  And will likely fantasise our whole lives.

I SAID SHOW ME TOUGH, NOT DESPONDENT YOUTHFUL YEARNING GODDAMIT
I SAID SHOW ME TOUGH, NOT DESPONDENT YOUTHFUL YEARNING GODDAMIT

 

For most of us, there are only a few aspects of manliness that particularly stand out.

Strength.  Courage. Resolve.  Reticence.  Doing what we say we are going to do.

For each of us the virtues are different in weighting.  Some are more important to us as individuals than others.

Here’s the issue:

To attain any of these, you are going to have to make changes that put you at odds with the majority of the world.

You are going to have to switch off, and become weird to certain others.  Thankfully, these others, you will find, are a waste of fucking time, and have likely been leaching your energy like the parasites they are.  Or, they are simply stupid people.  There are many, many stupid people.  Stupid people are incredibly easy to spot.  They are the ones watching TV.

 

Rule 1.  Turn off your television.

If you are watching TV, you are indulging in stupidity.  You have important things to do in your life.  Incredibly important things.  You cannot waste the time you have watching reality TV and the news.  Watching free-to-air television is akin to opening your mouth and having someone pour shit down your throat.  The most amusing thing?  Most TV watchers will agree with me.  And then go right back to the box.

(Note: this doesn’t include Netflix or Youtube.  Blokes gotta tune out sometimes. But it’ll be your choice, not some faceless TV executive’s.)

 

Rule 2.  Do not watch, listen or read any news whatsoever.

The news will destroy any sense of equilibrium you have.  Once you have developed a sense of calm, once you have removed yourself from Permanent Emergency Mode, you will notice how the news upsets.  Its sole purpose is not to inform, but to influence cultural mindset.   YOU are the king of your mind, and YOU will, from hereon in, decide on your own mindset.

 

Rule 3.  Cut down or cut out alcohol for extended periods.

Alcohol is a poison.  We all know this.  But it’s so delicious. And fun.  But, it kills you, slowly, and it’s addictive.  Being able to wean off addictions is more important than the type of addiction itself.  So give yourself time away from the booze and see what happens. It is much, MUCH easier to remain motivated and retain resolve when off alcohol.  Falling off the train because of a bender is the easiest excuse in the world, and one that will eventually anger you.

 

Rule 4.  Indulge in Daily Work.

Now you have some mental space that’s free from adrenalised misery and reality TV, you can do some work.  I subscribe to Robert Anton Wilson’s view of hard work as Hard Play.  The word “work” can demotivate, so call it play.  This is not your job.  This is the work you do to make yourself better.  It’s working out, exercising, writing, journalling, art, music, walking, building relationships, creating in some way now that you have the time to do it.  A great place to start is the Thing That You Always Wanted To Do But Never Had Time For.

 

There are many details that make all these easier, and we’ll cover them along the way.  For now, start with just one Rule, and see what happens.

Change slowly.  You have your whole life.

A Decade of Betterment

sparta

Over ten years ago I read a book that changed me forever.  One moment I was just floating around, the next I realised that there was a life that was passing me by, and I had to get on the train.

I believed at the time that if I just thought long and hard about changing, then it would happen.

I was so wrong.

It took work, and that work has gone for over a decade now.  And it’s been the best adventure of my life.

 

I Want to Change Now!

Self Change don’t come easily.  Or quickly.

Vast self change, the type that takes you from zero to hero, from grocery store clerk to CEO, is not a rapid process.  It takes years.

If you’re a young man in your early to mid twenties (or any man for that matter who wants to make serious self change) settle in for the long haul.  You have a lifetime of learning, discomfort and incredible rewards ahead of you.

 

Why does it take so long?

You psyche is like a deep valley.  It’s been carved by river that’s run through it over the course of your life.  That river has been fed by creeks and streams, that have in turn been fed by storms and snowmelt.

Your lifestyle habits, your thought habits, your emotional habits, your social habits, all your habitual behaviours have been worn into the bed of this valley, into the very musculature of your body and the synaptic connections of your brain.

Some people have broad deltas that allow the river to change course easily and relatively quickly.  These are the quick adapters and chameleons.

Most people have steep valleys that take time to change.

A few have sharp, narrow slot canyons that will resist change at any cost.  I would put most older (over 50) people who have never tried to change into this category.  A lifetime of habit has worn their behaviour into an edifice that they themselves see no point in changing.

But for those of us in the middle category, with valleys worn by years of consistent behaviour, we have work to do.

 

Punctuated Equilibrium

It doesn’t all happen at a snails pace.  One of the first things the Self Change Noob will notice is that once he starts, things happen.  A couple of months in, he will experience small behavioural changes that seem enormous to him.  Then, nothing will happen for several months.  This will seem incredibly boring.  But it is necessary.  This is the consolidation period.

The consolidation period is where the changes that have occurred carve deeply into the valley.  They start to change the river’s course.  The initial change in course is noticeable, often painfully so.  But then as it gets worn in, the pain disappears and the behaviour becomes normalised.

I think of this stage graphed as a plateau in the middle of a gradually rising curve.

equilibrium

Then suddenly the graph will spike upwards again, due to the work that the noob is putting in, and the process repeats.

A Decade On

It’s been over a decade for me on this path.  I didn’t consciously choose it.  However I knew that I wanted my life to be different.  I wanted less pain and more happiness.  I wanted choices.  I wanted satisfaction.  I wanted to do what I said I was going to do, and achieve things that were important to me.

In hindsight, it’s fucking awesome to look at how far I’ve come.  At the time however, many of the changes that occurred were painful and confusing.  It is getting easier and more pleasurable as time goes on, having gone through the process many, many times.

There are people out there who have been awesome from the get go.  Great parenting, great genes and good luck can help.

The rest of us have an uphill battle ahead of us.  And it’s the greatest battle of our lives.

 

I hope you’ve started, and if you haven’t, get on the train.  It’s the best trip you’ll ever take.

******

Tell me about your adventure in self change in the comments below.  I’d love to hear what your doing on your journey.