Mark Twain once said, "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day." The legendary wordsmith offers his classic brand of odd, albeit sage, advice to those looking to jump start their mornings with success for the rest of the day in mind. And though I haven’t mastered this practice to the point of hoarding an army of frogs in my desk at Farmers Insurance for this purpose, I’ve found it gets easier with practice and discipline.
If you're like me, you're not always able to bolt out of bed every day with a disciplined, ready-to-go morning routine. In fact, I'm certain I'm not alone as sleep studies have shown that over 53 percent of people feel "dreadful" when their alarm goes off in the morning, and 27 percent feel generally anxious. Even the sound of an alarm during waking hours can trigger something New York Magazine writer Maureen O'Connor coined Phone Alarm Stress Disorder (or PASD).
However, after years of dragging myself through my mornings, I drew a line in the sand and determined that there had to be a better way to approach my daily grind, sans the anxiety following the sound of my alarm.
Conquering my morning struggle didn't happen overnight -- and your goals might not be anything like mine. Whether you are an early bird or a night owl, your day must start at some point, so why not make the most of it? My morning routine now involves exercising (a Princeton study found exercising to be effective at reorganizing the brain to be more resilient to stress), catching up on industry news and, most importantly, reconnecting with my adult children before I begin my morning commute. The whole process lives and dies by one overarching principle: Keep it simple.
Here's what I've learned about creating a morning routine that is both meaningful and productive.
Open wide and eat that frog
There's a big performance payoff when you set challenging goals for yourself, rather than easier ones. Studies show that setting goals that are both specific and challenging leads to higher performance and increases your chances of accomplishing them. But, make sure those goals are important to you personally and not only meant to satisfy the demands of someone or something else. This may seem obvious, but it's easy to get caught up in what others expect or want from you.
Mornings begin the night before
Kenneth Chenault, American Express' CEO, writes a list of three priority items he wants to accomplish the next day before he leaves his office every night. Then he uses the list as his guide for the following day at work. Making tomorrow's to-do list today can also take the form of physically preparing what you will need. My version is to lay out my clothes, program and prepare my coffeemaker for 5:30 a.m., and pack anything I'll need for the next day.
Get it out of your head and onto paper
Committing your morning routine to paper or a computer screen will increase your chances of completing it. Take it from Grand Master of Mornings himself, Benjamin Franklin. He reportedly believed in writing a strict daily routine, detailing when he would sleep, eat, work and "contrive the day's business." Additionally, a study conducted by Gail Matthews, psychology professor at Dominican University in California, found that people who wrote down their goals were significantly more likely to accomplish them compared to those who simply thought about what they wanted to check off of their list.
Get by with a little help from your friends
Matthews's study also found that more than 70 percent of participants who sent weekly updates to a friend achieved their goals, compared to 43 percent of those who kept their goals to themselves. Sharing your morning routine with another person can help hold you accountable. My daughter and I are both runners and discuss our fitness goals during our morning phone calls. I find this helps me recommit to my running regimen on a daily basis.
I don't think I would have been able to complete two Ironman Triathlons and five straight Boston Marathons, all the while raising four children and moving up the corporate ladder, without my rituals in the morning. By sticking to my routine, I've acquired the discipline to better manage myself and my time at work, while still having the energy to do things I love.
Everyone can benefit from a morning routine, whether it involves exercise, writing or meditating. Setting aside time at the start of every day for something meaningful other than work is rewarding in and of itself. Consider your goals, commit to a regular routine, and day by day, you'll begin to see the benefits.
So what are you waiting for? That frog won't eat itself.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors