For most of my life, I've been the type to hit the snooze button multiple times each morning. While in medical school, I arrived at the majority of my rotations un-caffeinated, un-fed and unprepared to be awake. I started the day late, barreled through it in a whirl of activity and crashed hard at the end. There were few mindful moments.
But during a six-week break between medical school graduation and the beginning of my residency in family medicine, I had time to fill my days with journaling, reading, jogging, walking and biking. I realized how happy these emerging habits made me.
And yet my looming residency — a grueling professional experience well documented in decades of TV lore — threatened to derail my positive habits.
I realized the only way to continue forth with my new efforts was to do so ahead of the hurry.
I used to believe that there was a magical combination of tasks, rituals, mobile apps and movement that could optimize my mornings, and my life. But there isn’t.
On that first Thursday, I simply got out of bed at 5:30 a.m. The dawn broke and there I was: Awake and writing freely at my computer. Then I stepped outside to watch the sun draw itself up and went about my day.
The benefits I've gained since have been widespread and unexpected. Here's how my life has improved since I've become an early riser:
1. I don’t crave more hours in the day.
For the first few days, the first 10 minutes of the mornings felt uncomfortable. But I learned to quickly dive into something I love doing — writing — and the crusty, exhausted feeling I got when I first awoke became less noticeable within a week.
Now, even if I spend over 12 hours at work, my writing represents a personal stamp on that 24-hour period. These are completely still, unplanned and self-directed minutes over which I have total creative freedom. Somehow, this overrides the feeling that the day is not long enough.
2. I don’t procrastinate.
After I write, I often have another hour or so for exercise or taking care of business in my inbox. The morning hours feel so valuable that it seems absurd to waste time doing nothing — like scrolling my Twitter feed — at 5:30 in the morning when I could be doing something productive.
3. I am late far less often.
I now have a second to strategically plan the day. This puts my must-dos into perspective and makes it easier to leave the house on time.
4. I start my morning with movement.
Previously, I was unable to summon enthusiasm for exercise in the morning. But since becoming an early riser, I’ve found myself out on the pavement three times a week. My jog is a jalopy-like creep, but it's vigorous and feels great.
I’ve also started squeezing in some sun salutations as the sun rises on my back porch. The satisfaction from this new habit cannot be overstated. I consider it a demonstration of self-respect and an acknowledgement of my capacity for change.
5. I connect more with my partner.
Since I'm now awake when my husband leaves for work, we can sit for a few minutes in the morning to chat while I have coffee. This is a delicious, wonderful time to just be beside one another. It represents a daily check-in with my favorite person in the world.
6. I drink more water.
I have more moments in which to sense thirst and respond appropriately. When I move through the house to prepare to write or head outside for a jog, I'm not rushed. It’s nothing to just stop, go to the tap and pour myself some water. With my old crazy mornings, drinking water was sacrificed in order to make it to the car on time.
7. I eat a smaller quantity of better food.
I now enjoy a relaxed breakfast, which also sets the tone for more mindful meals all day. I start my mornings with a rich and satisfying meal of fresh pecans and key-lime greek yogurt. In general, I listen better to satiety signals and stop eating before I get too full.
8. I make my lunch.
These days, I no longer eat lunch at restaurants. Because I have time now, I pack hummus, cucumbers, carrots, olives, greek yogurt, nuts and dark chocolate. This feels like a plentiful spread but forces me to chew attentively and with patience.
9. I'm losing weight.
I lost five pounds without any dieting because of the extra time for movement, meal planning and eating mindfully.
10. I feel more at ease.
My mornings have almost no "hurry" left in them. It’s like I discovered a pocket of space and time in my life that wasn’t there before. I cruise through the day feeling content, even with tense situations at work.
In fact, I’ve started talking about mindfulness with any patient presenting with worry or anxiety. Because I’ve experienced the benefits myself, my advocacy for morning mindfulness rings more and more true.
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