How to Improve Your Morning Routine & Create Habits that Stick

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Did you know, statistically, that three weeks into January—so basically, right about now—is when most people fall off the wagon with their New Year’s Resolutions?

That means that if you have already found yourself getting off track, then at least know that you’re in good company.

But that DOESN’T mean it’s time to give up.

Instead, this is the perfect time to take a step back and look at some of your daily habits and routines—habits that are sometimes hard to break—and look at what where you might be inadvertently sabotaging yourself without even realizing it.

Are you ready to create the ultimate 12-month blueprint for reaching your health & weight loss goals this coming year?

Our free on-demand video training will walk you through how to make 2024 THE year you set health goals…and keep them.

And the first place that often happens is in your morning routine—your first few hours of the day. Because typically you either set yourself up for a successful day, or you derail the train before it’s even left the station, and you spend the rest of your day trying to get back on track.

The Importance of Habits

But first things first, let’s talk about habits, more in a general sense, because I think it’s important to recognize and understand just how important your habits actually are.

Because the truth is that our habits shape our lives—for better or for worse.

In fact, it’s been said that our habits are often the single greatest predictor of our success or failure in pretty much any area of our life. And that’s because so much of what we do in a given day is driven by habit—an almost unconscious, automatic response to the triggers and cues we face.

Why Habits are So Important

The biggest reason that habits matter is because each of us only has a certain amount of discipline and energy to get us through the day.

Sometimes I think it helps to think of your discipline & energy like a big tank that slowly gets drained over the course of the day. Every time you do something hard or challenging or “good for you,” or something that you maybe don’t feel like doing, a little bit of that energy gets used up, and by the end of the day, our discipline tank is completely empty.

At that point, we need to sleep or do something to fill it up again before we can have the energy or discipline to do one more thing.

This is why sometimes you just feel DONE, like you are completely tapped out and can’t do one more thing.

But here’s the kicker—HABITS, once formed and established, use a DIFFERENT part of our brain than discipline requires. They don’t tap into that discipline tank or drain your limited amount of energy. Once you’ve truly mastered a habit, you can just do it, automatically, and save your energy for other stuff.

THUS, the more good habits you can start to form in your life, the more things you can put on AUTOPILOT in your brain, the more you’ll be able to save your discipline & energy for other things.

And get this—it’s estimated that up to 90% of our daily actions are habitual—meaning that we do them on autopilot, without even really thinking about it. And this is especially true in the morning when we first wake up, because our brain is still in a bit of a fog. It’s not really ready to make a ton of new decisions.

And yet, these habits—these unconscious, automatic actions we take—have a huge impact on our lives and on our ability to achieve our goals.

Why we often fail when it comes to creating new habits

But even if that’s true, it doesn’t always make it easy to change our habits, right?

After all—they’re HABITS. They’re already ingrained in our behavior.

Because let’s be real, most of us have probably thought about or tried to create better habits at some point in our lives, or we’ve tried to break bad habits and failed. 

So what are we doing wrong? Why do some habits stick but most don’t? And how can we use that knowledge to actually start to change our habits for good.

Mistake #1: We make our new habits too big.

Say you decided at the beginning of the year that you want to get healthy. So you decide to overhaul your whole diet AND cut back on calories AND start drinking 8 glasses of water a day AND going to the gym AND and and…

It’s too much too fast.

Because the reality is that the bigger the change from what you’re already doing, the harder it is going to be to actually stick to the new habit that you want to do.

Trying to institute some big massive change into your life all at once is basically setting yourself up for failure—it takes so much effort and energy and discipline to make the change that you don’t have anything left for other stuff in your life, which ultimately is not sustainable. 

You can make it a few days, but then you run out of gas or you need to start focusing on the other aspects of your life again, and suddenly you can’t keep up on that new habit you were trying to create.

So that’s the first problem.

Mistake #2: We make our new habits too hard.

Basically we overcomplicate everything and make those new habits way too difficult to actually do or stick to.

They’re either too complicated or too unpleasant or too much effort

Because here’s the truth: If we’re confused about what needs to be done, we won’t do it

If it feels hard and frustrating every time, we won’t do it

If it feels like complete misery every time, we won’t do it

So we make it too hard.

Mistake #3: We don’t give ourselves an instant reward.

And without the reward, the habit doesn’t stick.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that there are four elements necessary to establish a habit – the CUE, the CRAVING, the RESPONSE, and the REWARD. The CUE is the prompt—the thing that reminds you of that habit. The CRAVING is the desire to do that behavior BECAUSE you desire the reward, the RESPONSE is the action you take, and the REWARD is the positive benefit you receive after taking action. 

The reward is key because without it, there’s no craving and no real motivation to do the behavior. And it has to be INSTANT—an immediate reward for the behavior—in order to make it stick.

How to Create Better Habits

So what’s the solution then? How do you actually use this information to create better habits in your life, especially when it comes to your morning routine.

Well, the way I see it, there are a few simple things you can do.

HABIT STACKING

The first secret to creating habits that actually stick is to start employing a strategy known as HABIT STACKING.

The idea of habit stacking is that you are basically finding a way to connect a NEW habit to an existing habit that you already have—something that you already do automatically.

The old habit becomes the CUE that reminds you to do the new habit.

Because for habits to work, there has there has to be a CUE—something that actually prompts you to act. You have to make it as OBVIOUS as possible.

So the existing habit becomes your CUE and, if your existing habit is something you LIKE to do, it can also serve as your instant reward.

So, for instance, one of my morning habits is to grab a cup of coffee as soon as I wake up. But this year, one of the new habits I wanted to establish is actually taking a few minutes to pray first thing in the morning. So I stacked the habit—I make my cup of coffee, but before I can drink it, I say my prayers. The cue is making the coffee, and the reward is getting to drink it.

See how that works? So that’s the first thing—try stacking your new habits with habits you already have.

MAKE IT EASY

The second secret to creating better habits is that you have to make your new habit as EASY as possible to actually follow through on. You’ve got to clear the path and remove any obstacles that make it feel hard, or make it less likely for you to follow through. 

Sometimes that means starting small and building up your skill level or ability so that it feels easy. Starting with ONE push up, or with flossing ONE tooth.

Sometimes it means buying the right equipment or rearranging your space to make it happen.

A few years ago, when we were still in our old house, I wanted to establish the habit of going for a run first thing in the morning—like really early—but I had a problem—all my workout clothes were in the dresser in my bedroom, and there was no way to get to them without waking up my husband. So my solution was to move all my workout clothes to the closet, where I could turn on the light and get dressed without disturbing him.

Such a simple change, but it really made a big difference.

It’s also important to know that the reverse side of this, when it comes to bad habits that you are trying to break, is that you have to make the bad stuff HARDER to do. You have to put obstacles in your way. So maybe that means clearing out your pantry of all the junk, or locking up the cigarettes you’re trying not to smoke. But put obstacles in your way.

So make it easy—that’s the second trick.

START SLOW & BUILD

The third secret, if you want to begin creating habits that actually stick, you need to START SLOW. 

As tempting as it might be to give your life a complete overhaul, that rarely works. Instead, start slow and easy with small changes that you can actually stick to, then continue building on those small changes.

It might feel small at first, but over time, as you actually STICK to the changes you are making, those tiny changes will compound into something pretty amazing. Honestly I think that’s one of the things that makes our TAS program so powerful—because it’s not about changing EVERYTHING in your life all at once. It’s starting with one thing, then adding more over time, until you’ve achieved those results you are looking for.

Because the reality—and I say this all the time—is that big goals NEVER happen all at once. They are only the result of small steps taken consistently over time.

Morning Routine Sabotage

So with all that in mind, now let’s talk about a few of the ways your MORNING routines and habits could be sabotaging your day, and some of the easy changes you could make to change that. Because let’s be real—there are few things more frustrating than starting your day off on the wrong foot.

WAKING UP LATE

First and foremost—waking up late is one of the biggest morning routine sabotagers. It throws everything else off and makes us feel like we’re already behind before we’ve even begun.

So how do you combat this? First, try setting your alarm earlier and actually getting out of bed when it goes off. Maybe start by just 15 minutes earlier than you usually would. This could give you time to do a quick workout or meditation before diving into your day.

If that doesn’t work for you, take a look at your evening routine—are there things you can change or do ahead of time to take some pressure off your morning? Maybe lay out your clothes the night before or prep a breakfast ahead of time so you have one less thing to do in the morning rush.

CHECKING YOUR PHONE FIRST THING

Another common habit that can sabotage your day is checking your phone first thing in the morning. Not only does this distract you from setting intentions for your day, but it also exposes you to the stress and demands of the outside world before you’ve even had a chance to take care of yourself.

Try keeping your phone out of reach until after you’ve completed your morning routine or setting specific times when you can check it. Your mind will thank you for the peace and quiet in the morning.

NOT PLANNING FOR SUCCESS

A third big one is not actually taking a few minutes to plan your day for success. And honestly, if I were to pinpoint one single thing that makes the difference between a good day and a shitshow day for me, it’s this—just making a prioritized list of my must do items—my A tasks—my should do items—my b tasks—and my would like to do items—my c tasks. I always use a Daily Do It sticky note for this, which is something we sell at LivingWellShop.co, but a piece of paper will work too. The important thing is to have a plan.

And that’s REALLY true if you’re trying to change your eating and calculate your macros too. The best thing you can possibly do is take a few minutes to actually add all the food you think you’re going to eat that day into whatever app you are using to make sure it’s all in line with whatever you’re aiming for. Because if you wait until the end of the day, after you’ve already eaten everything, it’s too late.

So if planning for a successful day is not currently part of your morning routine, then that is definitely something I would work on including. It may take a bit of extra time, but it will save you stress and hassle in the long run.

BLOWING IT WITH YOUR BREAKFAST

Another big way we sabotage ourselves in the morning is with the food we eat (or don’t eat) for our first meal of the day.

And this method of self-sabotage can actually come in a lot of different forms.

If you’re a breakfast skipper, you might be sabotaging your productivity by not giving yourself the fuel and energy to sustain you through the day, especially if you’re just starting with a new eating plan. In our program I see a lot of people trying to jump into intermittent fasting before you’ve actually flipped the switch on your metabolism to become Thin Adapted, and I think it honestly, it does a lot more harm than good, because your body’s not ready. 

You end up getting really hungry, which depletes your willpower and makes you FAR more likely to go off the rails or binge on the very foods you’re trying to avoid.

A far better habit to get into, if you’re trying to change your eating habits, is to eat a healthy breakfast high in protein and healthy fats. Later on, once you are Thin Adapted and your body is burning more of your own fat for fuel, you might be able to go longer in the morning without eating with no problem, but it’s best to let that happen naturally. Because you can definitely feel the difference.

And definitely DO NOT start the day with a pile of sugar and carbohydrates. That’s probably the WORST thing you can do, because it will just cause you to crash in a couple of hours. Cereal, yogurt & granola, a pile of fruit, a bagel or toast….all things that we’ve been told are healthy for breakfast are actually some of the very worst things you can eat, especially first thing in the morning.

So don’t blow it with your breakfast.

BLOWING IT WITH YOUR COFFEE

Along those same lines, another big form of self-sabotage happens with what we DRINK first thing in the morning.

Now don’t get me wrong—I love a cup of coffee first thing in the morning—but if you’re loading up your coffee with sugar or syrup or sweetener or those creamers packed with chemicals and artificial junk, you’re doing way more harm than good.

So if you can’t live without your morning cup of Joe, then find a way to make it healthier.

When I was in high school I read somewhere that if you drink your coffee black for two weeks, you’ll never want it any other way.

I don’t know if that’s actually true, but I tried it and I’ve been drinking it black ever since.

But even just heavy cream and vanilla extract, or a flavored syrup made with allulose or erythritol is going to be a much better option.

And make sure to drink plenty of water too—dehydration is a common cause of fatigue and brain fog, so staying hydrated will help you feel more alert and focused throughout the day.

So don’t blow it with your coffee, either.

Final Thoughts

There’s probably so many other ways we self-sabotage that I haven’t mentioned, but you probably get the point—how we start our day matters.

The reality is that big goals don’t just magically happen by themselves. Whatever we want to accomplish in life, whether it’s transforming our health or something else, comes down to the small daily decisions we make and the habits we create to keep ourselves on track.

So if you’ve found yourself going off the rails already this year, it might be a good idea to take a step back and see what micro-changes you can make to your routine to start setting yourself up for success again.

Focus on making small changes. Stack the with other habits you already have. Make them easy. And find a way to reward yourself.

Then take a look at any improvements you can make to your current morning routine and go from there.

I can’t wait to hear how it goes!

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About the Author: AZ