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Take back control of your mornings [Weekly Brain Tools]

Mar 27, 2019 | Posted by Cristina in Newsletters

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There are tens of articles available on the world wide web about how to start your day the “right” way and be more productive.

Sleep at least 7 hours, but wake up before sunrise. Go to the gym or run 5 miles. Take a cold shower. Meditate for 20 minutes. Have a bulletproof coffee or low-carb breakfast. Write in your journal. Read 10 pages from a book.

I could go on and on with the different morning routines that are promoted throughout articles or books written by “productivity gurus” who guarantee you’ll become the master of the universe if you do all those (all filled with call to actions that urge you to buy their products as well, of course).

Don’t know about you, but my anxiety levels rise significantly just by reading about this kind of advice. They feel more like chores and, instead of starting the day in an enjoyable way, I’d feel guilty for not following a certain routine or metrics, and I’d be even less likely to stick to healthy habits.

Here’s what I feel should be aforementioned in all those articles: It’s not about what we do. It’s about starting our day in a way that’s under our control, with minimal outside interruptions, instead of jumping straight into chaos and everyday noise.

When your mornings are completely under your control, you’ll feel more confident and get more things done throughout the day. People love to wake up earlier (or would rather work later into the night) for the moments of solitude.

If you begin straight by diving into emails, social media, outrageous news, you’ll feel depleted. You’d be filling your brain with things that are outside your control, make you agitated and more anxious. It would be more helpful to have a “don’t do” list for the early hours.

So here are a few things that I recommend you avoid first thing in the morning:

– Instant messaging apps (or phone in general). Most of my personal and work communications happen on WhatsApp, where every day I receive hundreds of messages in different conversations and groups. They’re permanently active, even at night. I keep them all muted and with notifications off (you can set this individually, for every person or group you’re in) – this way, I’ll only check them when I want to check them and I can properly read and reply, without feeling like I’m a neverending meeting with no agenda.

– No emails. Current newsletter included 😛 Cut off your notifications and perhaps create labels that throw your emails in specific labels or folders, and check them afterwards, when you can only focus on them. Seriously, when was the last time you found out from an email that something that’s truly URGENT happened, a crisis couldn’t wait one hour? There’s a reason why you can’t email the emergency line.

– No news. No social media. I can only think of a few jobs that truly require you to be connected non-stop (maybe if you’re working with stocks). But otherwise, why would you want to fill your mind with information that you have no power over?

Practicing sports or meditating first thing in the morning is something that’s completely dependent on you and it’s a great way to build mental resilience. It’s a meta-habit that acts as a domino, improving other areas of your life as well (btw, we have a list of books recommended by entrepreneurs on building mental toughness, you can see them here).

Author and investor Tim Ferriss uses journaling as a way to cage his “monkey mind”: “the goal is not to write per say. I am not doing it for someone else. I am simply capturing my monkey mind, its litany of complaints or insecurities on paper so that it is not caught on repeat for the rest of the day. I am simply giving it a two dimensional prison or play pen so that I can then move on with my day. And hit mute at least for a brief period of time on those things.

Last year, we interviewed entrepreneur Naveen Jain – he’s the founder of Moon Express, the first company that was granted the permission to leave Earth’s orbit and land on the moon. Naveen starts his day reading books, anything from scientific papers to books and the most up-to-date data he can find on his latest topic of interest. Reading non-fiction books is also my preferred way to start my day – I know that whatever else happens in the rest of the waking hours, at least I feel good that I started by learning something new and that will be useful over the long term.

It’s also perfectly fine to do nothing – wake up without an alarm clock and just have a coffee, look out the window, or chat with your life partner.

Escape the guilt trap of not having whatever morning structures are recommended by “gurus” for a successful life.


1. David Goggins invited at Joe Rogan #2

David Goggins is a legend in the endurance world. He’s an American ultrarunner who has completed over 60 endurance races (won several times, and regularly placed in top five), ultra-distance cyclist, triathlete, and world record holder for the most pull-ups done in 24 hours.

He’s also a retired Navy SEAL and the only member of the US Armed Forces to complete SEAL training – including two Hell Weeks, the US Army Ranger School and Air Force Tactical Air Controller.

If you read Jesse Itzler’s book, “Living with a SEAL“, you already know he’s the toughest man alive (I wrote about that book last year, in one of our newsletters).

However, this hasn’t always been the case. During his childhood, Goggins was discriminated, physically abused, overweight and poor. He didn’t even know how to read.

Goggins talks about his outstanding life story, how to reach our full potential, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, push beyond limits and become the best version of ourselves.

I’ve listened to this podcast three times since it was released. Such an empowering conversation. I also highly recommend “Can’t Hurt Me“, Goggins’ book released at the end of last year.

2. Digital Media and Sleeplessness to Blame for the Rise of Depressed Adolescents

In his new book, “Digital Minimalism“, Cal Newport talks about the rise of mental health issues among teens – a generation that was born with digital devices in their hands and is using them all the time. They experience zero moments of solitude during their days. Because of today’s hyper-connectivity, their mental health has taken a toll – and we’re still not fully aware of the long term effects.

Until recently, teens were dealing with the same issues that have been common for decades: eating disorders, home sickness, and others. Suddenly, the number of students seeking mental health care grew, with problems dominated by something that used to be rare: anxiety and anxiety-related disorders.

When the head of mental health services at a well-known university was asked by Cal Newport what could have caused the shift, the reply came without hesitations: it probably had something to do with smartphones and persistent communication.

The study mentioned in the article above confirms that.

3. Want to Really Make America Great Again? Stop Reading the News.

Author and media strategist Ryan Holiday wrote this article after the American presidential elections, but it’s a great read for everybody who feels caught in the media cycle. I’m an Eastern European, but I’ll easily fall into a loop of consuming political and social news that waste my time, energy and damage my mental health.

How is anyone going to make America or themselves great again—if we’re all glued to our devices and television screens? How can anyone maintain their sanity when everything you read, see, and hear is designed to make you stop whatever you’re doing and consume because the world is supposedly ending?


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