It’s now April 2020, over a year more or less doing my morning routine
It’s now April 2020, over a year more or less doing my morning routine and I thought it’d be a good time to reflect on how that’s going for me.
A Year Ago
It was February 2019 and I was done with dating. Done with boys. Done with mindless swiping on dating apps. Done with wondering when some guy will message me back. Done with second dates that ate hours of my life at some bar with some dude I would come to realize I actually abhorred.
Taking a break from dating resulted in a lot of free time in which I revived some old projects that I had abandoned, took up reading again, and began my own morning routine.
So on February 21, 2019 I woke up at 8AM. Now to a lot of people 8AM is quite late lol. But given I normally woke up on 9:20AM on a good day and 9:36AM on a bad day with just enough time to wash up, put clothes on, and go to work, 8 AM seemed very early to me. Especially since most software engineers at my job came in around 11AM. I now had a whole two hours before work.
Morning O by Tom Rosenthal was my theme song for that first month of my morning routine. It captured that feeling of the angle of the early morning sun in the sky that I rarely saw before and a sense of calm productiveness and possibilities ahead of me. I know that sounds cheesy as hell but that's how it felt.
The Morning Routine
Add variety and make it challenging, but not too challenging
Some people don't like to check their phones in their morning. My relationship with my phone is pretty healthy I think so I don't ban it from my mornings. I do make sure that if I am going to browse my phone though that I'm not just lounging in bed but I can do it while washing up or just check it here and there (except while meditating).
First thing I did was light exercise for twenty minutes. I didn't want to do too much longer because the more work it seemed the less likely I'd actually do it and the most important part was starting. I also didn’t want to bore myself with the same exercise so I decided I’d give myself four options. 1) Stretching, 2) Pilates, 3) Treadmill, 4) Sauna. I counted sauna as exercise as it elevated heart rate lol, to be reserved on very lazy days. We had a sauna in the health center of my apartment building but I ended up only going there twice. I did the treadmill if I really wanted a challenge. I would walk five min, run ten min, walk five, hoping to eventually run the whole twenty minutes. Then I did Pilates if I was feeling a light challenge. My favorite Pilates was the Winsor Pilates series that I used to do back in the day in 2012. I quickly discovered I was not as fit as I used to be. Then if I was hungover or sore or just plain lazy I stretched, trying to increase my flexibility.
I found starting off with exercising really woke me up and got me motivated for the rest of my routine. It's also the thing I dreaded the most so it was nice to get it out of the way first.
Next in the morning routine was meditation. I never ever meditated before this although I gave it consideration for years. I had received a code for a free year of Headspace so on that first day I cracked the app open and did ten minutes of the Headspace app's introductory course. The ten minutes ended up going by a lot faster than I expected. Eventually I worked my way up to fifteen minutes, then twenty, ditching Headspace (sorry Andy) and doing my own non-guided meditation.
Once in a while after meditation however I'd feel very sleepy lol – the opposite of how I felt after exercising. So if this happened I figured I wasn't getting enough sleep and allowed myself to take a short nap.
3) Free Time
By the end of exercise and meditation, I usually had about forty minutes left until I had to go to work. This was free time for me to work on anything I wanted as long as it furthered any of my other goals. Again, keeping it open ended and dependent on what I felt like so that I at least got something done, no matter what it was. This could be reading a book or working on side projects or even cleaning my apartment but mostly it was learning Hindi.
Some people like to do gratitude journals and affirmations and visualizations in their morning routines. I've considered doing a gratitude journal but haven't actually started yet. As for affirmations and visualizations, I haven't really found them particularly interesting. That's not to say they don't work or aren't worthwhile, I just find dedicating time to them in the morning is unnecessary for me at this point. I'd much rather be doing things than visualizing them, which also helps boost my view of myself than affirmations. For instance instead of telling myself I'm a good software engineer I could read a book on best software engineering practices. But we'll see if my view on affirmations and visualizations may change in the future.
Eventually I cherished these few hours before work, this time of calm at the start of the day to focus on me. So then by the end of the day after work I was free to do what I wished guilt free, although I have started thinking about doing a night routine. My morning routine became so important to me that its inherent value is what really helped me to actually get out of bed – that if I got up too late then my morning routine would be cut short, or if I didn't do it at all I'd feel a bit incomplete the rest of the day.
“During this month of my break from dating and doing this morning routine and going to these meetups and working on my side goals and projects I’ve realized it’s all about prioritization,” I told my video diary on March 8, 2019.
“It’s like when I ran into the founder of this one meetup he was like why don’t you come to the meetup anymore? Is it too far for you? Do Tuesdays not work? And I said honestly I don’t prioritize it and it all just clicked. Like before, I would always leave my Tuesdays open if there’s a date or a friend wanted to hang out or even if I didn’t have plans and I was too lazy to go and now I just prioritize it. So Tuesdays I’m just not free now and that’s it because this is my priority.
And I’m also prioritizing going to bed early and waking up early and that sometimes means I have to leave events early and that’s okay because that’s more important to me and I get more out of it. I mean I still get really lonely and I wish I was dating and a month from now I might be on dates again and I might not be doing any of this shit. But I want to remember this because right now my days feel a lot more meaningful and even though I’m making very incremental amounts of progress it will eventually lead somewhere. I feel really...I don’t know. Not content, but I feel like I’m actually doing shit.”
Disruptions in the Morning Routine
I kept this up more or less the rest of the year. Sometimes I woke up too late and only had time to meditate or exercise. Some days I just meditated. Or some days I didn’t do anything. Sometimes If I didn’t get a good night’s sleep or slept too late then I would opt to sleep in instead, thinking more sleep was going to be more beneficial for me than my morning routine that day. And some days, depending on laziness and hunger levels, I ate breakfast as well sometime after meditating.
What really shook my morning routine schedule was vacations or people visiting me and staying at my place. In these cases I just didn’t do my morning routine for that time period but then it would take me a few days to start up my morning routine again.
The first week of March 2020 was one of these times. I was in London and though I still went to work, I did not keep up my morning routine. When I got back to NY on March 8, everything changed.
I was only gone a week but the first thing I noticed when I came back was the lack of plastic bags in stores and that paper bags cost money. The second thing was my work told us to start bringing our laptops home everyday. Then toilet paper, Vitamin C, Lysol wipes, and hand sanitizer were nowhere to be found, back ordered for a month on Amazon. I began making early morning trips to Target and the grocery store, filling up my trolly dolly and extra reusable bag to the brim. France became a level 3 country and since I was just in Paris on March 2, I wasn’t allowed to come to work until 2 weeks since my visit there. It didn’t really matter anyway because my office became full work from home indefinitely soon after. I spent all my free time on Reddit, scrolling late into the night on the Coronavirus and NYC Coronavirus related threads. Scrolling even during work hours. Those first weeks of quarantine there seemed to be new news every hour. Music festivals postponed. School closed the rest of the school year. Bars and restaurants only available for delivery and takeout. The rapid change in the world made time go slow but my uneventful days spent doing nothing but glued to the news blended together, also making time go fast. Though I had more free time than ever now, my productivity was totally shot.
Then sometime in late March 2020, I woke up one morning at 8:30AM instead of 9:30 AM. I got out my exercise mat and did some Pilates (albeit while scrolling through the news on my phone if the Pilates position allowed it). Afterwards I sat down on my couch, opened my clock app on my phone, and closed my eyes.
Closed my eyes for twenty minutes.
Twenty minutes without refreshing Reddit.
Twenty minutes without expanding comment after comment.
Twenty minutes without hypothesizing with friends over text about what the future will look like.
Just twenty minutes of silence. Me and my mind, still racing.
And somewhere in that time, in the chaos that I seemed helpless against, I found something to hold onto. Something familiar. Something that meant everything was okay and everything will be okay. I found that while there are a lot of things that I cannot control, there are some things I can. Beginning with now. I still had control over my time. While I did miss the routine of my old life, a routine of my walk to work, of eating lunch with my coworkers, of going for dinner and drinks after work with friends, I still had my morning routine. And I was grateful for this.
After meditation, I picked up my Hindi flash cards I hadn’t touched in months and re-learned things I had already learnt long ago but forgotten. I only did it for ten minutes but still felt accomplished.
Now it’s April 10, 2020. I’ve started sleeping earlier (11:30PM) and waking up earlier (7:30AM) because I have no late night socializing to blame for my bedtime anymore and I find I’m more productive and motivated in the mornings. So then after work I don’t have to pressure myself about being productive and can just chill out and do whatever. I hope to eventually work my way up to sleeping at 11PM and waking up at 7AM. With my gym in my building closed, I’ve been getting cardio done with YouTube videos in my apartment. I still meditate for twenty minutes. But with my extra hour in the mornings, I’ve been spending about thirty minutes reviewing Hindi and making a lot faster progress on it. Then forty minutes left working on whatever side project, for instance writing up this blog post.
One thing I am struggling with though is that while I do spend less time on the news (and thankfully there is less major news to follow), my days have fallen into a routine themselves and as a result makes my days blend together and time go faster again. My morning routine → work → puzzle → make food → watch some TV → maybe video chat some people → read a book → play a little video game → sleep → repeat. I’m wondering how I can add some new things to do while not compromising my bedtime haha. Overall though, I am very thankful that I still have a job, that I have money saved and am not worried financially that allows me to enjoy routines like this.
I look forward to continuing my morning routine, this anchor I can hold onto when things fall to shit, expanding it and making it stronger and as a result, expanding myself and making me stronger too. If it changes in any way in the next year, I may make another blog post update :)