We all know that getting our day off to a good start is vital, an ideal way of putting our best foot forward. But how can we turn those first few waking hours into a launching pad for success? What truly makes for a better morning?
“Starting your day right helps set the tone for the rest of the day,” says Dr. E. Robert Schwartz, a family medicine expert with the University of Miami Health System. “If you begin on a good note, usually you can handle pretty much anything that comes your way.”
So Dr. Schwartz, who practices what he preaches, gave us eight simple things to add to our routine:
Get enough sleep.
“If you haven’t slept well, you’re not going to have a good day,” Schwartz explains. “Yet, that’s one of the top complaints I hear from my patients.”
Of course getting a good night’s sleep is often easier said than done, but Schwartz is a big believer in “sleep hygiene” — in other words, a nightly routine that helps our body settle down for some Z’s.
Some of his suggestions: Take a hot shower before going to bed. Don’t drink coffee after mid-day. Turn the thermostat down to cool off your bedroom. Turn off your TV and avoid checking email and social media at least an hour before turning in. Invest in good pillows and a firm mattress.
Think positive thoughts when you are awake.
Most of us tend to ruminate last thing at night and first thing in the morning. We get stuck fretting about our To Do list and thinking about what we did wrong. Schwartz suggests creating a “psychological habit” of immediately thinking of something joyful or fun. “There’s good psychological evidence that if you start in a bad mood, your day is not going to feel as if it were going so well,” he explains. “It’s what happens when you get to work and somebody says hi and all you want to do is growl at them.”
If you’re an Eeyore, the pessimistic and gloomy donkey in “Winnie the Pooh,” you might want to try phoning a good friend or creating some other kind of positive social contact to brighten your morning. A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, for example, reported that people are much happier during their commutes when they engage another passenger in conversation.
Other ways to boost happiness and help sweeten your mood? Pray. Keep a gratitude journal, listing one daily thing for which you are most grateful. And meditate. “Calming the mind before the rush is important,” he adds. “Developing research keeps pointing to a very strong mind-body connection.”
Don’t skip breakfast.
Yes, your mother was right: fueling up for the day will help your mood and your energy. Eating the right kind of breakfast, however, is important, too. Skip sweets and choose protein, fruit and complex carbs. Schwartz favors oatmeal or yogurt and fruit. “If you don’t have time, you don’t have to make it into a huge meal, but you do need to eat,” he adds.
Research has shown that eating a high-protein meal in the morning (think eggs, not carbohydrates) will ward off hunger longer. In fact, one study has shown that a high-protein breakfast tends to help people eat less the rest of the day.
Don’t skip the coffee.
Or tea, or whatever beverage you’re used to sipping People who forget their cup (or two) o’ joe can get headaches. “If you’re used to having it and don’t get it, you’ll get (caffeine) withdrawal,” Schwartz explains. “But it’s like everything else — in moderation. You got to go easy on the milk and sugar.”
In your house, at the gym, alone or with a friend: get those endorphins pumping through your body.
“Even if it’s only 20-30 minutes, it’s important to create the habit,” says Schwartz, who has been exercising every morning for the past 20 years. “You’re going to find it gives you energy the rest of the day.”
Plan your day.
Usually, this is done best in the evening or right at the end of your workday, but doing it before you start your workday is fine, too. Creating a game plan can help you have a more productive morning. Some experts also suggest tackling your toughest task first thing. Putting it off will only make your workday feel both longer and tiresome. Besides, people tend to be at their most productive in the mornings.
Turn on the lights. Open the curtains. Let the sun in.
Daylight tells your body it’s time to greet the day. Besides, getting sun (with proper sunblock, of course) helps you make Vitamin D, which, among its many benefits, builds strong bones and helps your body fight infection and inflammation.
Perform one good deed.
Compliment a co-worker. Let another commuter merge into your lane. Smile in the elevator. “It doesn’t have to be complicated,” Schwartz adds. “The idea is to make yourself have a conscious awareness of doing something positive. It’ll make you feel better.”
In Their Words
Ana Veciana-Suarez, Guest Contributor
Ana is a regular contributor for the University of Miami Health System. She is a renowned journalist and author, who has worked at The Miami Herald, The Miami News and The Palm Beach Post. Visit her website at anavecianasuarez.com or follow @AnaVeciana on Twitter.