Becoming a morning person was, for me, quite the journey.
I was a night person, pretty much by necessity, for the majority of my adult life. I would head to night classes after a full day of work and then stay up studying and writing freelance assignments into the wee hours of the morning.
This worked for me because it had to. I had few other options. But after I earned my degree and my career progressed, the night-person habits stayed with me despite the newfound freedom in my schedule. I would stay up late working on things I could have easily finished during the day, sleep in too late, and then rush around the next morning in an attempt to create the illusion that my life wasn’t a complete and utter mess.
I realized I wanted to be a morning person. I wanted to be cheerful before two cups of coffee — okay, maybe after just one. I wanted to wake up energized, positive, and ready to take on the day ahead of me.
Slowly, but surely, I began experimenting with different techniques to make my mornings more productive and put myself in a better mood before heading out for the day. Some habits were clearly not for me, but some stuck, and I feel happier, healthier, and more centered because of it.
Here are five habits to improve your mood in the morning and start your day off right.
1. Pick a mandatory out-of-bed time and stick to it daily
We’re all guilty of hitting snooze. The key to success in getting up-and-at-em without having to go through all seven stages of mourning is to regulate your internal clock and make things more biological than emotional. My alarm goes off at 6:30am, six days a week (sleeping in on Sundays has become a precious gift). I make it a point to be out of bed by 6:40 no matter what.
You’ll want to go to bed around the same time each night as well. I’ve learned that I thrive off lots and lots of sleep, so that means I’m in bed by 10pm as a rule of thumb, typically drifting off by 10:30 for eight hours of sleep. (Pro tip: If your mind wanders too much to fall asleep consistently, there are actually purposefully-and-brilliantly-boring podcasts you can listen to to help you drift right off. Works like a charm for me almost every night.)
If it helps, compartmentalize this experiment to 21 days — the standard accepted amount of time it takes to form a habit. Soon enough, your eyes will be snapping open whether or not your alarm is set.
2. Make your damn bed
“When you are facing big tasks in your life, the little details are important,” said retired Navy SEAL and Admiral William H. McRaven in a now-viral commencement speech. “It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another.”
I can personally attest to this. Each morning after making my bed, I make sure any clutter is cleared away and clothes are tossed in the hamper or back in my closet. This, combined with the fact that I’m no longer rushing around like the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, puts me in a productive state of mind for the whole day.
3. Move that body
Early on in my experiment, I discovered that the days I worked out in the morning were notably more productive than the days I didn’t. This is probably because working out wakes up my brain and body more than a cup of coffee ever could (and without the supplemental shakes and anxiety, to boot!)
I don’t always have time for a full workout in the morning, and I understand this is probably the case for lots of people. On the days when a full trip the gym is implausible, a 10-minute yoga session at home (like this one, this one, this one, or this one) can work wonders. I also love doing 15-minute HIIT sprints on my gym’s track in the mornings for a fast way to get my heart rate up. If you don’t have time to leave the house, doing a quick HIIT workout with bodyweight exercises (like this one, this one, this one, or this one) would have a similar effect.
4. Have a few go-to outfits for the mornings you can’t even
I want to be more positive about mornings, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a realist. There are, inevitably, days I just don’t feel like caring. For those days, I streamline my morning process to involve as little time and as few decisions as possible, minus the rushing around and showing up at work looking like Frankenstein’s monster. Every season, I have three or four chic-but-simple outfits I decided on ahead of time, which I’ll resort to on the days my time or motivation leaves something to be desired. It makes me look like I’ve tried on the days I don’t remotely feel like trying, which can be a game-changer for the day ahead.
Looking crisp and put-together almost always transfers over to how I feel. (Pro tip: Quick hair and makeup hacks also work wonders in this department.)
5. Make a positive daily ritual with something you love
This is probably the most customizable element on my entire list. I developed a strong affinity for cappuccinos while living in Sweden this summer, and when I got back to the states I needed to find a way to replicate the experience without coughing up $4+ bucks on the daily.
Enter, my Bialetti Moka pot, AKA the most beautiful, adorable, and Italian espresso maker on this good earth. I am heavily attached to the thing. It brews delicious espresso in minutes, and my morning cappuccino at home is now something I look forward to like Christmas morning. I kid you not, it is sometimes the thing that gets me out of bed, and I’m okay with that.
After my quick workout and shower, I sit down at my dining room table with my cappuccino and let my hair partially air dry while writing down the things I need to get done that day. It is, at once, my morning treat and a way for me to focus on the important stuff ahead.
If you’re less espresso-obsessed than me, I’d encourage you to think about what other simple pleasures you could turn into a morning ritual. A pleasant walk with your dog and a good podcast or audiobook? A few minutes to read the news? A real breakfast? Whatever it is, make sure it feels like a treat and not another hassle to add to your to-do list.