Sometimes “routine” gets a bad rap — it may feel overly repetitive and mundane, whereas being spontaneous is often associated with fun. However, there are many benefits to a motivating routine. Sarah Moffat, author of Motivated Mornings, focuses on helping people create new and inspiring visions for their lives. First tip: She believes good daily routines start with a great morning. If you’re hoping to revamp your daily routine, try taking Moffat’s advice for starting the morning on the right foot, and harnessing that energy for the rest of your day.
How to design a motivating routine
1. Start with gratitude
“Morning routines are important because you're consciously taking yourself out of a state of stillness and rest on purpose, and you’re starting to put yourself into motion in a very, very intentional way,” Moffat explains. “The first thing I do when I wake up is I sit up and say aloud, ‘thank you for this day.’ Just expressing gratitude for the being that you are is so important. I start there, and then I add a few other more tangible things that I’m grateful for.” Start big, but end with something small that you’re grateful for, like that cup of coffee you’re about to make. You can also keep a notebook by your bed and write down your thoughts. Figure out what feels right for you.
2. Ask yourself, who am I?
As you’re thinking about the right routine for you, Moffat suggests starting with a bigger question: ‘Who am I?’ This may feel like a silly question at first, but defining what matters to you and what you identify with will influence your priorities and therefore your routine. For example, if being a good partner is important to you, you may prioritize having breakfast together, with phones off, in the morning. If being a creative writer is important to you, but your day job is as an accountant, you might carve out 30 minutes of your morning for writing. Once you know what’s important to you, how you approach your day will start to fall into place.
3. Know your values
In addition to knowing what makes you tick, what you value can also help you design a productive plan, not just in the morning, but all day long. “Once you know your values, making decisions is so much easier,” Moffat says. "If I value my family time on Friday nights more than anything else, and someone asks me if I want to go see a movie on Friday, my answer is automatically going to be no, because my core value is family time. Once you know who you are and what you value, then you naturally start thinking about your real goals, because you can now think about them in the context of who you are and who you want to be.”
4. Write out your goals
Moffat knows all about the power of writing out goals — and how this exercise may lead to very different outcomes than you expect. After a surprise pregnancy in her 30s altered her trajectory, she says that motherhood changed how she valued herself and her time, and what she believed she was capable of. “To my great surprise, I believed I was capable of far more than other people thought I was capable of,” she says. One of the first goals she wrote out was that she wanted to do a TED Talk. From that decision, she started to read about speaking, going to conferences, working on presentations of her own, and doing a TED Talk Masterclass. That helped her land her first speaking gig, which led to her first coaching client, which helped her start her business, Leading Ladies. “Writing goals down is like putting gas in the tank of your car,” she says. “You can have the best intentions to drive somewhere, but you can't go anywhere without the gas. Writing down goals helps you start moving, and once you’re moving, you’ll keep moving forward. Objects in motion stay in motion!”
5. Put your goals somewhere
Of course, writing down a goal only works if you revisit it. “You can't hit a goal if you don’t check on it regularly,” she says. “That's how a lot of people lead their lives: They're just doing the same things over and over again, and they get stuck.” Figure out how to display the goal in a way that’s meaningful for you: Moffat points out that some people prefer visual learning (writing a list or making a vision board), while others are better served by hearing their goals (reading affirmations), and some do best taking time each day to visualize themselves achieving their goals. You may even use several ways to remind yourself of where you ultimately want to be.
6. Set your intentions for the day
Once you know where you want to go, get micro about it: After your gratitude practice, think about your intention for the day. “I have a purposeful silent time each morning, where I think about who I am, what I want to achieve, and how I want other people to feel today,” Moffat says. Setting that intention at the beginning of the day can help you stay focused on getting what you want out of meetings, workouts, social interactions, and even your email inbox, rather than letting the day just happen to you.
7. Make space to pause
Remember to be intentional all day, says Moffat. You may need to take time to reset your intentions for the day after big meetings or work sessions. “I always leave a few minutes between Zoom meetings now,” says Moffat. “That way, I have time to use the bathroom and get water or coffee or a snack, but also so I have time to look at the next meeting that’s coming up, so I can get focused and so I can come to the meeting feeling ready for it and intentional about it. That space gives you a minute where you can think through questions like, What's this meeting about? How am I coming to this meeting? Who am I right now?” If you skip that step, meetings have the tendency to leave you feeling drained and inefficient.
8. Don’t prioritize responding to everyone else’s priorities
In the morning, be careful about how you approach your phone and your computer. Ideally, Moffat says, you want to stay away from email and social media in the morning. “It’s so easy to get sucked into what everyone else wants from you,” she says. “As soon as you’re in your inbox, you’re responding to other people’s agendas rather than focusing on your own. You are doing what somebody else needs you to do and that is most likely not the thing that you need to do for yourself.” (She admits that she does check her phone’s lock screen in the morning, just to ensure that she hasn’t missed any important calls or texts — as a single mom, there are occasional emergencies or notices, like a snow day being announced, that she needs to know about.)
9. Make space in the morning
"Allow yourself time in the morning for reflection and getting grounded,” she says. This doesn’t have to be a long time, but even two minutes of sipping coffee in silence (bonus points if it’s outside where you can get some fresh air and sunlight) can do wonders for setting you up to have a great day. "I like to pause and remind myself that I am alive. I have an opportunity today to do something that matters,” she says. “I ask myself questions like, What am I going to do today? Is it really going to matter to somebody else? How am I going to live my best life today? What’s my strategy for success today?”
10. It’s not going to be easy at first
You’ll probably hit the snooze button more than once as you get started with a new morning routine. It’s not easy at first — and you may need to make some tweaks to tailor a plan to fit your life right now. “Setting up a morning routine is very hard. Getting motivated is very hard,” says Moffat. “But imagine you're in a big field where the grass hasn’t been mowed in years. If you walk from one side to the other and you're barefoot, that first walk is going to be painful. It’ll be painful the second time you walk across as well. But the more times you walk that path, the easier that path becomes until it becomes worn down and it’s easy to walk. That's how a morning routine works.”
11. Understand that routines change and evolve
"I always used to say my morning routine was set in stone,” says Moffat. “But I've had a series of major life changes over the last 18 months, and I tried to force myself to continue my old routine. But it didn’t feel right. It felt like too much for me, for where I was in my life. I had to reevaluate what my mornings needed. For example, I used to read nonfiction every morning, but it felt like too much, and I was actually just craving a few moments in silence where I could sit and look out the window and process things. That’s true for anyone who’s life is changing: If you're a new mom or dad and your child is not sleeping through the night, of course you’re not going to have a 20-step intensive morning routine. But you can still take 10 seconds to say thank you and be grateful for something.”