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Kissing The Frog: How To Set Up A Morning Routine

November 2, 2021

Here are some tips from behavioral psychology and ACT I have used to build a sustainable morning routine that you can put into action first thing tomorrow!

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I'm Diana!

Diana Hill, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, international trainer, and sought-out speaker on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and compassion

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Have you heard the term “Eat the frog first?”

Mark Twain is quoted as saying: “If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing it’s probably the worst thing that will  happen to you all day long.” There is even a book  titled Eat That Frog. In this classic time-management book, Brian Tracy talks about doing what’s difficult first thing in the morning, to set up your day for success.

But I think instead of eating the frog, let’s Kiss The Frog First! (I look a little froggy in the morning, how about you?).

Kissing the frog is putting your energy toward what you care about most about first thing. Small daily habits are the building blocks of your life, and by taking daily committed action toward what matters most, you build the life you want, step by step. Here are some tips from behavioral psychology and ACT that I have used to build a sustainable morning routine that you can put into action first thing tomorrow!

Tip #1: Look Closer At Your Morning Habits

If we think about how many mornings we have in an average lifespan (say 80 years), it’s almost 30,000 mornings! Your habits are probably pretty similar across those mornings. Take a closer look at what you are doing, and ask, “If I did this another 10,000 more times, what could be the long-term consequences?”

Consider these questions:

  • What are the frequent morning tasks you engage in first? Some typical behaviors might be: checking your phone, brushing your teeth, or drinking coffee.
  • If you were to continue these every day for the next 20 years, which ones support the life you want to grow, and which ones don’t?
  • If you were to front load what matters most to you in the morning, what would you want to add?

Tip #2: Start Small, Then Make It Smaller

There is a wonderful book called 5 Intentions: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Dr. Frank Ostasenski. He writes about lessons he wants to impart to the living based on his many years working with the dying.

His first lesson is: DON’T WAIT. Being the person you want to be is about daily processes, not end goals or some miracle time in the future.

But, it can feel overwhelming to get going. That is where starting small helps.

I once attended a workshop by Dr. Steven Hayes where he demonstrated how to get started. He pulled out a phone book, stepped on it and then jumped off. “That’s how small to make it!” he said.

Taking committed action toward a different morning routine will require you to make some changes, but they will be better sustained if you keep them small.

If you replace a morning task with one small behavior linked to your values, what would that small act be? For example, when I added journaling to my morning routine, I started by just writing three values down each day I wanted to focus on. Three words. That’s all!

Take a moment to clarify what you want to add/subtract from your morning routine. Choose a behavior you will be 90% successful at achieving, says Dayna Lee Baggley, author of Healthy Habits Suck. Once it becomes 100%, you can add another.

Tip #3: Cue Your New Behavior

I have had a number of conversations with psychiatrist Dr. Jud Brewer, and every one circles back to the behavior habit loop cycle. Every behavior has a cue that triggers it and a reward that keeps it in motion. When designing your morning routine, you will need a cue to remind you to do it. For example, I started journaling a number of years back after many starts and stops. I paired my journaling with a cup of morning coffee (reliable cue!) and it stuck. Choose a cue to pair your desired morning behavior with and make sure it is reliable, then write it out.

Example: When I drink coffee in the morning, I will journal.

When_____ I will _____

Tip #4: Reward Your New Routine

Positive reinforcement is what helps behaviors stick long term. Many of us grew up on gold stars and good grades as our rewards. These types of extrinsic rewards can keep us going short term, but don’t hold up when our motivation is low, or no one is looking. Instead of using external rewards (e.g., numbers on a scale) to reward your new values-rich morning, reward yourself by taking in the good of what it feels like to do something that lines up with the type of person you want to be in the world.

Rick Hanson has a wonderful practice to help us savor this good called HEAL:

H: Have a positive experience

E: Enrich it by paying attention to it

A: Absorb the experience in to your body and being

L: Link it to times that aren’t so positive

When you add a new practice to your morning routine, take time to really let it land in your body. Paying attention in this way helps transfer it into your memory. The next morning when you wake up and your mind gives you all sorts of reasons why you can’t do your morning routine, remember the positive feeling you created by doing it.

Tip #5: Don’t Mind Your Mind

Your “motivation wave, ” as Stanford habit guru BJ Fogg calls it, might be high now, but it’s guaranteed your mind will give you a hard time at some point. What are some of the common excuses or resistances your mind tells you? It helps to write them down so you can learn to expect them and get a little space from them when they do arise. For tips on how to “defuse your thoughts” check out this blog post.  Expect your mind to have a thing or two to say about your new morning commitment.

Classic morning mind thoughts:

  • I don’t want to
  • I am too tired
  • Can’t I just start tomorrow?

What if you were to listen to your heart, your values, and your wise self instead?

Thank your mind, and let your hands and feet take action toward your heart.

Tip #6: Help Your Future Self Out

Your morning routine starts the night before. You are more likely to be successful at completing your morning routine if you prepare yourself. Do your future self a favor and get to bed earlier, prep your exercise clothes, clean up your meditation space, or make your morning smoothie the night before. Do what you can ahead of time, to lower the friction of carrying out what you care about first.

Tip #7: Dialectically Commit

Dialectics is the philosophy of both…and. You can 100% commit to your morning routine, while also being flexible with yourself when it doesn’t work out. My success at a long time meditation and journal practice is built on my flexibility with it. Some mornings I can only fit in 3 minutes, and that is ok. I get back to my baseline when I have the space and bandwidth to do so.

Committed action is getting off track and returning over and over again. It is the return that strengthens your commitment-every time you return to your commitment to your values, you strengthen that muscle.

Putting It All Together

Kissing the frog today builds the life you want tomorrow. Set up your morning routine to focus on your values, and point yourself in that valued-direction first thing. As Tara Brach shared in a workshop I attended with her many years ago, our daily practice can shift us from skimming the surface of our lives to living in our lives.

For more on habit change, check out these blogs: Why Habit’s Don’t Stick and What to Do About It and The Neuroscience of Habits.

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