We are often drawn to coaching because we think the coach is somehow wiser or smarter than we are. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I have no problem sharing my belief that every single one of my clients is smarter than I am. However, you can safely assume that any effective coach is committed to a number of practices that, over time, have become his/her operating system. These practices enable us to live life with more ease, clarity, and productivity. The most life-changing one for myself and many of my clients is what I call the Morning Practice.
A Morning Practice lays the foundation for our day. Why is that important? Because as Annie Dillard expresses so truthfully, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” When we understand that by creating a consistent morning practice we have a high degree of control over how our day unfolds, we no longer see this practice as a chore, but rather as a powerful tool in our life-integration tool box.
A tall building can only stand on a sturdy foundation. An oak tree stands tall and strong because of its roots. Michael Jordan showed up in full force on the court because of all the preparation he committed to ahead of time — work and effort that was not visible to the rest of us. This is the power and impact of a morning practice. It sets us up to create our day on purpose, and then move through it with focus and intention. It is an operating system that reduces the chances of being reactive, and centers us in our creative and grounded core.
In Japan, there’s a lifestyle concept known as ikigai, meaning “a reason for being.” In Japanese culture, it’s believed that everyone has an ikigai, and instead of slowing down completely to find life’s meaning, it’s important to be busy but not rushed. I think there’s a lot to learn from this tradition, so I asked my dear friend in Japan, Nassrine Azimi, to share her Morning Practice for both inspiration and context.
Nassrine’s Morning Practice
- I consider my morning puttering a ritual. I light candles and incense, and usually avoid going online. Instead, I put on the national broadcaster NHK and can always expect some surprising, beautiful programs about nature in the early morning hours.
- Japan has brought me the ritual of Onsen (which means hot spring), and I cherish it so much, both physically and spiritually. Of course mineral baths and spas exist in many places, but in Japan their presence in nature is so incredibly widespread. It’s beloved not just by the wealthy or health conscious, but by everyone. The act of washing oneself clean then entering and sitting silently in the Onsen has a very clarifying and clearing effect for me.
- The tea ceremony is a widespread morning ritual in Japan, as well. Sometimes I hold it for just myself. The simplicity of the moment, the beauty of each of the small objects, the green of the tea powder…Carolyn, please visit me and I shall hold one just for you!
So now I ask, what will be different in your everyday life when you commit to a Morning Practice?
- You gain clarity on what matters to you.
- Your ability to focus becomes deeper and sharper.
- You make decisions ahead of time about what you deem important.
- You become clear about your “One Thing” for each day.
- You get your anxieties and negative thoughts out of your head and can move forward with less, if any, rumination.
- You may feel connected to a higher power.
- You connect with your body, which is critically important in allowing us to stay grounded throughout the day.
- Social media, email, and texts don’t decide your day — you do.
- You strengthen your relationship with your Future Self.
Each one of us can create a practice, over time, that is uniquely helpful and energizing to us. There is no one plan that is perfect for everyone. However, the most impactful practice will incorporate elements (however small) from each of these 4 areas:
- Physical: Stretching, breathing exercises, Wim Hof, working out, yoga, etc.
- Emotional: Thought Download, gratitude journal, morning pages (The Artist’s Way), deliberate solitude, connecting with another who is like-minded and on the same journey.
- Spiritual: Prayer, chanting, meditation, quiet time in nature, any religious practice.
- Mental: Inspirational reading, vision planning and writing, connecting with a community of like-minded people and being inspired, scheduling time for Deep Work.
These are just some examples of what works for me and my clients, and the list is far from complete. It is meant to start you out with one exercise only and have you experiment with and add others as you go along. Be warned that this is what often happens when we want to start a morning practice. We think:
- I don’t have any time for this, or 5 minutes is all I have and that’s not enough. I’m not even going to start.
- OK, I’ll just commit to 5 minutes and see what happens.
- Wait, I feel better during the day.
- Hmmm, how does that work? Maybe I’ll make it 10 minutes.
- I like this!
- I’m getting stuff done, I feel energized, people notice that I’m calmer, and I just feel good. Maybe I’ll make it 15 minutes.
- These 15 morning minutes are making the next 14 hours so much more productive, creative, and pleasant.
Start small. Just 5 minutes, just one practice, and explore the benefits and power of the Morning Practice for yourself.
Note: In this blog, I mention the Future Self, Thought Download, and Deep Work. These are concepts and practices I use when collaborating with my one-on-one coaching clients, and I realize they might not be familiar to everyone. If you’d like to learn more about any of them, please reach out to me and I’ll be happy to share my information and experience.