While serving a humanitarian and ecclesiastical mission at the age of 20, I learned potentially the most important lesson of my life.

How you spend your morning determines your success in life.

How you spend your morning determines who you will become.

How you spend your morning determines whether you become world-class at something, or remain merely average.

How you spend your morning is the difference between making tens of millions of dollars and making less than 100 grand.

How you spend your morning determines how well you:

  • think
  • strategize
  • prioritize
  • spend your time
  • choose your friends
  • choose your lover
  • choose your career
  • perform in your work
  • influence the world

I didn’t understand how important my morning was at the beginning of my mission. But it quickly became very apparent.

As a missionary, the first several hours of the day are dedicated to getting ready, studying, and planning.

After a few months in “the mission field,” I noticed that most missionaries dragged themselves out of bed, and dragged themselves through their studies.

My experience was different. For the first time in my life, I experienced the power of learning. I felt the nourishment of feeding my mind and soul. To quote Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.:

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

I started waking up earlier than prescribed to read more and more. Rather than reading one hour each morning as recommended, I was reading three or four.

Within six months, it became apparent that my thinking and teaching abilities were accelerating at rocket speed. I began to stand out as a missionary.

The following quote by Jeffrey Holland became crystal clear to me:

“I frequently say to missionaries in the field, ‘You make or break your mission every morning of your life. You tell me how those morning hours go until you are on the street in your mission, whatever time it is; you tell me how those hours go, and I will tell you how your day will go, I will tell you how your month will go, I will tell you how your year will go and how your mission and your life will go.’”

You Make Or Break Your Life Between 5 and 7 AM

“Lose an hour in the morning, and you will spend all day looking for it.” — Richard Whately

If you lose an hour in your morning, you’ll spend your whole day looking for it.

If you spend your day looking for the most important time you’ve lost, you’ll be spending your whole life on a lower-level path than you could have had.

If you don’t prioritize and maximize your morning hours, you’ll always be left wondering what your life could have been.

You’ll never know what you could have had.

You’ll never watch yourself accelerate and advance at rates that are possible but from your current vantage point, seem impossible.

You’ll always settle for less in your choices, relationships, eating, environment, income, and life.

Given the fact that most people reading this article operate on a 9–5ish schedule, the hours before 9AM are significant.

Moreover, many people reading this article have kids and other responsibilities that are immediately pressing upon them, usually around 7AM.

I can speak from experience. My wife and I have 5 kids, including two infants under 7 weeks old.

Lauren, my wife, with our two new girls (Zorah in pink; Phoebe in blue)

Life is busy.

I get it.

It’s crazy.

But the question is — do you still have the fire burning within you? Or, are you letting life burn out your flame?

If you start your day at 7AM, you’ve already lost the most important hours of your day. You’ve already lost your chance to radically separate yourself — intellectually, emotionally, spiritually — from the masses.

Stephen Covey explains the importance of “Sharpening your saw” as fundamental to becoming a “highly effective person.” It is usually during your morning hours that you are sharpening that saw — your mindset, your vision, your skills, your physical body.

If you don’t do a morning routine, then you are probably repeating the past over and over, every single day.

The purpose of a morning routine is to stop the repeating past. It’s to put yourself in a position of growth and development so that you have a new and consciously-developing future — one that you are writing the script to, regardless of what has happened in the past.

Without the morning routine, you will be far less equipped to deal with the challenges of life.

Without question, life can beat you down at times. My wife and I are currently doing therapy to process the events of 2018. In 2018, we adopted three beautiful kids, had twins, moved to another state, launched a book (which can age you a decade), tried to grow a business and many other things.

It is through our routines and spiritual practices that we are equipped — emotionally, relationally, and spiritually — with all we are striving to do.

When you seek rapid growth in your life, you invite rapid pain and complexity. True growth and learning can be traumatic — but it doesn’t have to lead to the fixed-mindset and stunted development of trauma. Instead, you can put yourself through the fire and come out a different person.

You can come out a far more organized, mature, and humble being.

Alain de Botton, the British philosopher said, “Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.”

I dare you to make extreme progress in your life without intentionally utilizing your evenings and mornings.

I dare you to take on the biggest growth, challenges, and risks of your life without having practices for clarity, creativity, and productivity DAILY.

If you’re someone who dislikes or avoids evening and morning routines, then you simply are avoiding the greatest growth of your life. You’re still holding onto an old identity. Still holding on to a fixed-mindset. Still telling yourself that you don’t need stuff like that to make great progress.

What Do You Do Between 5 and 7 AM?

If you could give yourself two hours, every morning, solely dedicated to learning, thinking, planning, meditating, praying, and writing in your journal, your life would change.

These are the best things you could do with your morning time.

How a person spends the hours of 5 to 7 AM are a pretty clear indicator of how successful they’ll be. Is this always the case? Of course not. Are there certain circumstances, such as people who work night shifts, when these exact hours don’t apply? Sure.

But for most people, the hours of 5 to 7AM make or break their entire life. (A warning: if you think this doesn’t apply to you, it probably does… your trigger points the direction of your most needed change)

How do you spend the hours of 5 to 7?

Do you spend half of that time sleeping?

Do you sleep the entire duration?

Do you spend that time working out?

How you start something is very important. Prevention is far better than rehabilitation. Starting right is much easier than correcting course.

There have been many studies done on the costliness of course corrections in life and business. If you don’t get things dialed at the beginning, your chances of success plummet. The cost of correcting a project is often more than simply starting right.

Likewise, how you start your day is extremely important. It is indeed possible to correct your course mid-way through the day, but let’s be honest, it doesn’t often happen. Momentum — good or bad — is hard to reverse.

Waking up at 5AM isn’t enough, then, if you wake up at that time and you start yourself down a non-optimal path.

First things should come first.

Some things are good, other things are better, and other things are best.

Given that your morning hours are your most important, you shouldn’t dedicate those golden hours to activities which are merely “good.” As Jim Collins has said, “Good is the enemy of great.” Similarly, Dallin Oaks has said, “We should be careful not to exhaust our available time on things that are merely good and leave little time for that which is better or best.”

Every person has 24 hours per day.

However, what each person does with those 24 hours determines who they become and what they do.

How you spend your 24 hours is the difference between making tens of millions of dollars and living paycheck to paycheck.

How you spend your 24 hours is the difference between being happy and being miserable.

There are endless choices you could make. Endless activities you could engage in. Endless people you could surround yourself with. Endless goals you could pursue.

John Maxwell has written, “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”

Most choices are bad choices.

Most activities are unimportant.

There are a lot of things which are “good.” But those activities should NOT come first thing in the morning.

Research confirms the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex, is most active and readily creative immediately following sleep. Your mind is clearest in the morning. Your energy is highest.

A lot of people wake up first thing and head to the gym. This is certainly a good activity — it will wake you up and get you moving.

But fitness is not the most optimal thing you could do in the morning. Research confirms that you workout better with food in your system. Your workouts will be far more productive and powerful if you do them in the late morning or early afternoon, as opposed to first thing in the morning. Lunch-break workout.

If you’ve already accomplished more in your morning than most people do in a month, you’ll be SO PUMPED to workout. You’ll push yourself so much harder. You’ll feel so much more fulfilled. You’ll feel so good it will feel like beating the system — which is actually what you’re doing when you live on your own terms.

Your workout should be a mental break — a way to break up your day. The physical and mental can push each other upward. Once you workout, you give your mind a rest and allow your subconscious to synthesize and organize all the work you’ve done throughout your morning.

Another benefit of working out later in the day is that it does energize you — and thus you can add a couple extra hours of good mental energy that you won’t get if you exercise first thing in the morning.

So What Should You Do First Thing In The Morning?

“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you want to quickly set yourself apart in life, you should make it your first priority to read lots of really good books. If you spend 1–2 hours per morning reading, you’d read 50–100 books per year. Do this for 5–10 years, and as they say, you’ll become an “overnight success.”

In our incredible age of information and technology, it’s never been easier to access information. Of course, it’s also never been more distracting.

There are many REALLY REALLY good books. There are also MILLIONS of books that aren’t that great.

The quality of books you read matters. To quote Ryan Holiday, “If you read what everyone else reads, you’ll think like everyone else thinks.”

Some books are “milk,” some books are “meat.”

Some books will change your entire life. Others are hardly worth the paper.

Do you read deep, or shallow?

And when you start really reading, you’ll be guided by the books themselves. The right books will pop-up and stir your heart. You’ll intuitively know — I need to read that book, which will then lead you to the next book and the next.

You’ll begin making important connections that other people haven’t made.

You’ll be able to shape culture yourself.

You’ll be able to make influential change — first in your own life, then in your family, then in your circle of friends, then in your work and community, and eventually, you’ll be able to influence and shape the whole world.

Reading isn’t enough though.

You need to spend plenty of time thinking, meditating, praying if so inclined, and writing in your journal.

Rather than just reading for 1–2 hours straight, it’s good to shift between reading, thinking, and writing down your insights. Listening to audiobooks makes this process even easier.

While either listening or reading, it’s good to allow spaces of time to really think about what you’re learning and to measure what you’re learning against your current worldview, priorities, and goals.

Hopefully, if you’re open to learning, you’ll allow what you’re reading to alter and enhance your current mental model. You’ll allow your learning to hone and improve your current priorities, goals, choices, and daily behaviors.

If you have the same priorities and goals you had last year, then you didn’t learn very much in the past 12 months.

Emotional Transformation Through Reflection

Thus, while you’re learning, it’s good to ponder and think about the goals you’re currently pursuing. Writing your goals down in the morning, and emotionally visualizing their completion is powerful. It’s awe-inspiring and humbling to read old journal entries and realize that many of your former goals have since been attained and accomplished.

You’ve changed as a person.

You’ve moved forward.

This is why you must take the time to MEASURE THE GAIN, not just the GAP. Taking time to reflect on where you currently are, and how far you’ve come is humbling and beautiful. In fact, it is often through this form of reflection that you are brought to tears — realizing how much your path has been guided. Realizing how good God has been to you. Realizing how much other people in your world have been patient and beautiful and generous with you.

Intellectual Transformation Through Learning And Journaling

While listening to or reading powerful information — your mind will be primed to get lots of really good ideas. Especially if you’ve developed skills in meditation, thinking, and prayer.

While listening/reading, you’ll get lots of REALLY GOOD ideas about how you can better accomplish your goals. Ideas will come to your mind about how you can better help the people in your network accomplish their goals.

You’ll want to immediately act on these ideas. The longer you hesitate, the more likely you will be to forget about your key insight. The longer you wait, the less power your idea will have.

When a brilliant idea sparks, start writing. Don’t just put it on the back-burner. Follow the idea and see where it takes you.

It’s usually the idea after the idea that really matters. But most people take their ideas for granted, or they just continue their reading.


When you get a core insight, pause and reflect. Pull out your journal and begin connecting that idea with your most pressing goals and priorities and relationships. Quickly, another connection will be made. A deeper insight will present itself. Eventually, you’ll stumble upon something very practical. Something you’ll need to act on immediately.

That “something” may be a conversation you need to have. It may be an article you need to write that morning. It may be something you can do for someone to dramatically move the needle.

Act Immediately Upon Every Prompting You Get

You need THAT insight. The one that leads to immediate action and makes an immediate impact on what you’re trying to do.

This is how you make quantum leaps, day-by-day, in your progression. When you’re getting powerful insights that improve how you live, your life changes. That’s why learning every day is so important.

If you read good books every morning, visualize and strategize your goals, and write your insights in your journal, you’ll have an amazing life.

You’ll become a highly creative person.

You’ll be a brilliant decision maker and strategist.

You’ll become financially successful.

You’ll learn from your mistakes, and not continue the same unhealthy patterns.

You’ll elevate yourself while most people continue small lives of regret.

What do you do between the hours of 5–7AM?

Ready to Upgrade?

I’ve created a cheat sheet for putting yourself into a PEAK-STATE, immediately. You follow this daily, your life will change very quickly.

Get the cheat sheet here!

Originally published on Medium.

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