It’s OK to Hate Your Morning Routine
Sometimes changing your habits feels like torture. Is this normal?
For the first five months of 2019, I followed a morning routine I absolutely loved.
I adored this morning routine because it was easy, convenient, and allowed me to be lazy. I would wake up at 5 a.m., check social media and play tablet games for a half hour, walk the dog, grab my first cup of coffee, and spend the next hour doing … absolutely nothing.
This “absolute nothingness” continued until 7 a.m., at which point I would spend the final hour of my morning writing before my day job began.
(The absolute nothingness I refer to actually consisted of at least 2 cups of coffee plus more social media scrolling and tablet gaming, which were for the most part enjoyable, but not at all useful.)
Here’s the thing … I really did love that routine. Ir was easy. It was comfortable. But it was not healthy.
Because I had no incentive to get up when my alarm went off, I often hit snooze and sometimes accidentally overslept. This reduced the overall quality of my sleep and caused unnecessary stress (if you’ve ever jumped out of bed five minutes before you needed to leave the house, you know the kind of stress I’m referring to).
I also started noticing that I’d check into work at 8 a.m. and have a really hard time concentrating because my only mental “preparation” for the day was caffeine. I was pretty much wasting the first 30 minutes of my workday trying to get myself to focus. This led to feeling rushed and overwhelmed and often working late.
It wasn’t just my mornings that this routine negatively impacted, either — it made my nights suffer, too. I realized evening workouts, while they were convenient sometimes, were way too easy to skip — because I skipped them a lot.
I don’t know about you, but if I don’t move, I don’t think clearly, I’m cranky, and I’m extremely unmotivated to do even the simplest things.
I knew something needed to change. So I started out by spending some time trying to figure out what was going wrong.
I spent a week keeping track of all my down time and discovered none of it was actually benefiting me — it was just mindless junk (social media, video games) that wasn’t making me happy.
So I decided it was time to completely revamp my morning routine. Not because I wanted to, but because I desperately needed to.
You can’t be productive or fulfilled or happy when you’re unfocused, unmotivated, and always in a bad mood. Something needs to be done.
For me, that something was switching my workout schedule from evening to morning. Instead of waking up at 5 a.m., checking social media and playing tablet games for a half hour, walking the dog, grabbing my first cup of coffee, and spending the next hour doing NOTHING … I started waking up at 5:15, giving myself 15 minutes to take my time getting ready, walked the dog, and immediately continued my exercise (when you own a high-energy beast, every walk is exercise) with a run.
This gave me just enough time to cool off, shower, spend about 30 minutes writing, and then dive straight into work.
I hated it.
I hated not being able to sit on the couch with my coffee and scroll through my Twitter feed. I hated forcing myself to run when I was still barely conscious. I hated not feeling like I had enough “free” time.
But something unexpected happened when I stuck with my commitment to this routine for two weeks: I actually started to love it.
My morning routine completely changed my life, even though I hated it in the beginning. But I didn’t hate it because it wasn’t good for me or because I couldn’t do it. I hated it because it was different.
Why are we so resistant to change?
Is it normal to experience resistance when changing your habits and/or your routines? It absolutely is.
Humans are completely dependent on rituals. Even if you don’t think you’re the type of person to have an everyday “routine,” there are things you do throughout your day that you do completely out of habit without even thinking about it.
You (hopefully) brush your teeth every night before bed. It’s just what you do. You also check your mirrors before backing out of a parking space (…hopefully), put on your shoes before you leave the house, and put ketchup on your hamburger before you eat it (right?). You don’t question it. You hardly even notice it. It’s a habit. You just do it.
Now imagine one day the American Dental Association announced it was releasing a new product that would somehow automatically clean your teeth every day without you having to brush them. No more daily brushing. No more toothpaste. Technology rules.
You would initially resist this change, however. You would insist that brushing your teeth, despite it now becoming obsolete, was still the best method for cavity prevention. Likely, you would continue brushing your teeth until you either caved and tried the new product and liked it or companies stopped manufacturing toothbrushes, forcing you to make the switch.
No matter how adaptable you claim to be to new things, you would resist changing your habit because the old habit is familiar and easy. You fully trust it not to let you down. And you don’t have to overcome any psychological or physiological barriers to continue doing the same thing you’ve always done.
This is one reason forming a new habit is such a challenge. Why is starting a new workout routine when you haven’t worked out in three years seemingly so impossible? Because it’s different. But more importantly, it requires effort. Spending energy in ways you aren’t used to spending it isn’t just hard on your body, it’s tough on your brain, too.
Now, instead of just going about your day the way you always have, you have to expend mental energy just to get yourself to the gym or to even change into your workout clothes. It’s exhausting … at first.
It turns out establishing a new routine or forming a new habit is exactly like exercising. It’s draining at first. It hurts. You don’t want to do it. But once you start doing it — and keep doing it — it gets easier.
What makes habit forming an even smoother experience is when you practice replacement instead of avoidance. Read on to find out what I mean.
Resisting a bad habit is HARD
Doughnuts are obviously God’s most sacred creations. Glazed, cream-filled, frosted, in hole form — it doesn’t matter how you eat them. What matters is that it turns out you actually can’t stop eating them.
Like, to the point where you no longer fit comfortably in your skinny jeans and Dunkin’ has started putting your face on its Facebook ads because you buy so many of their doughnuts that you are the sole reason they are still in business.
How do you stop eating doughnuts — the loves of your life, the purpose for your existence? You just stop eating them. Instead of stopping for a breakfast doughnut, you just skip breakfast altogether.
This method … probably won’t work for very long. You are much more likely to be able to stop eating doughnuts — break your doughnut habit — if you choose something else for breakfast instead.
Research has actually suggested that if you want to make positive changes in your life, you should replace bad habits with better ones, not force yourself to hard-stop doing something.
In other words: You should order a breakfast sandwich from the drive-through instead of a doughnut. It’s not the best choice, but it’s an improvement, and it’s a beneficial replacement. At least now you’re getting some protein in addition to the fat, sugar, and calories. Progress!
My morning routine works in part because I replaced a bad habit (playing games on my iPad for almost an hour before work ) with a better habit (a workout). I didn’t just stop doing the thing that wasn’t benefiting me and leave a giant empty space in my day. I filled it with something good. Something healthy, even.
I would, within weeks, go on to make more positive changes in my life one at a time — drinking more water and meditating to start. That’s the other important thing to remember when bettering yourself and your life. You shouldn’t try to change everything that’s “wrong” in a single month.
Small changes work — and they don’t have to happen all at once
If you’ve ever tried and failed to develop a new habit, it’s very likely that you fell short because you were trying to do too many new things at once.
As you already know, forming a new habit is hard work. It requires a level of attention and effort that takes time to adjust to. Imagine trying to remember not to brush your teeth AND to work out AND to order a breakfast sandwich instead of a doughnut. That’s a lot of things to remember. And the more exhausted you are, the more likely you are to default back to your old ways.
When it comes to habit forming, small changes are your key to success. Here’s what that might look like.
Pick one habit to adopt and what it’s going to replace. I wanted to make working out a habit and I needed to stop spending so many hours playing video games (there’s nothing wrong with gaming, except in excess — unless it’s your job). So during the time I usually spent on my tablet, I started running instead. I couldn’t “miss” playing games because I was already busy doing something else.
Focus only on that one change for a few weeks. It’s understandable that you want to make massive changes to your life all at once, especially since making one change and starting to see results can motivate you to make more changes. Hold off, though. Give yourself time to adjust and lock in this new habit or routine. You don’t want to subject yourself to too many new things at once. If one habit goes off the rails — which, in the beginning, it almost always will — it’s much more likely the rest will follow if you haven’t been practicing it long enough.
Be patient and don’t expect instant or even noticeable results. The one downside to making small changes is that it’s not always easy to tell if they’re impacting you in a positive way. When I started drinking 8 glasses of water a day (it’s just a number I chose, there’s no law that says that’s the standard), I was disappointed that I didn’t “feel” different. Just because I didn’t feel adequately hydrated didn’t mean I wasn’t. Sometimes you have to trust that what you’re doing is working even if you can’t see or feel it.
Take habit change one step at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many habits or you’re likely to just give up on all of them within a few weeks in favor of the easy and convenient habits of routines past.
Comfort comes after sacrifice
Everyone’s talking about “self care” these days. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that more of my friends are taking time to relax and tend to their personal needs. People my age are stressed and frustrated and under pressure basically every moment of every day. We very much need to chill.
But now that everyone is embracing self care, a lot of people are taking it a little too far to the extreme. Eating more than one piece of cake isn’t unhealthy, it’s self care. Sleeping in instead of working out isn’t lazy, it’s self care. Ordering in instead of cooking the same meal at home isn’t a questionable choice, it’s self care.
I’m not saying cake and sleeping in and Panda Express aren’t wonderful things and you are absolutely allowed to do them when you need some “you” time. But not ALL the time. Comfort is essential until it becomes excessive, then it’s just irresponsible.
How do we combat our desire to, for example, eat Panda Express seven nights a week? (I’d do it too if I could.) We sacrifice our comfort. We do what’s uncomfortable until it becomes habitual.
It’s normal to hate a new routine. But you can’t give up before you have the chance to get used to it.
Don’t like your routine? Give it time. Change is difficult to grasp but becomes worth it when you let yourself settle in. I hated going from walking the dog to running to immediately getting ready for work at first. It made me feel rushed and overwhelmed. I did not like that.
I now realize that’s because in order to begin feeling accomplished and content with my routine, I first needed to go through a period of readjustment. Now I almost look forward to it every morning. Almost.
Even better? My routine also turned out to be the best way to mentally and physically prepare myself for work. I don’t (usually) show up to my job tired and stressed anymore. I show up happy. Who would’ve thought?
You know what’s amazing? I also discovered that my new though difficult to adjust to morning routine actually added valuable time to my entire day. Isn’t that what we all dream of — somehow discovering how to create more time? I did that, and I didn’t even mean to.
Instead of scrambling at the end of the day to get my work done so I could have time to decide not to work out (again), I was now finishing my work at a reasonable time … and actually had time left over to check social media and play a quick game or two.
It turns out you don’t actually have to give up everything you love to take better care of yourself. Most of the time you do have to do your favorite things slightly less often, at least temporarily. But sometimes it might also entail rearranging your schedule so that you can still enjoy your life but like … maybe only on weekends? It’s just an example.
A few important things I want you to take away from this article:
- Sometimes we logically know what’s best for us and have to go against what we would “rather” do in favor of what is going to benefit us in the long-term.
- Not everyone is mentally, physically, or emotionally capable of doing this on their own, however. If you know a certain behavior isn’t good for you but you can’t motivate yourself to change — and it’s causing you harm — ask for professional help. There is no shame in this. Professionals can help you develop strategies that promote positive change.
- No one else can change your rituals and habits for you, though. You are completely on your own when it comes to the action steps. In other words: You are responsible for using the strategies a professional might have helped you develop in your day-to-day life.
- Self-care doesn’t always mean closing yourself off from the real world and doing things that make you comfortable. Is it one hundred percent okay to spend a Friday night alone in your bathtub listening to relaxing music and talking to your cat? YES. But sometimes taking care of yourself also means working out when you’d rather not, getting up early when you don’t want to, and eating a breakfast sandwich instead of a doughnut.
- Just because it’s worked for you before doesn’t mean it has to keep working that way forever. A routine stops being beneficial when you stop questioning why you’re doing it. The more you switch things up, the easier it will become to find motivation in the small tasks you complete every single day.
After a few weeks, I did get used to my morning routine. Eventually I might decide running before drinking coffee no longer works for me or that I need to start eating breakfast before work. That’s fine.
I will continue to shift things around based on my needs. This is why you have to pay attention to your mind as well as your body. If you listen closely, you will understand what you need. You will feel that your muscles ache, or that your brain feels foggy.
All you need to do from there is decide what you’re going to do to resolve these issues. What small changes can you make even in just your morning routine that might lead to improvements? Is there a bad habit you can’t shake that could be replaced with a better one? Do you need a doctor or another professional’s help to get started on a better track?
Pay attention to what could be better. That way, when you do start to make positive changes, you’ll be able to notice the difference. And for most people, it’s a big, and worthwhile, difference.