What was the first thing you did after you woke up this morning?

Did you reach for your phone to check the time, scroll your news feed or open that email? Did you reignite the steady stream of thoughts and worries from yesterday?

Perhaps you jumped out of bed to get a start on your long list of to-dos. Or maybe you hit the snooze button and buried your head under your pillow — dreading the idea of having to get out of bed.

Do any of your morning routines involve turning inward and intentionally setting the tone for your day? Imagine how it would feel to give yourself this gift before you do anything else.

I’m a mom of two active, school-aged boys. I have a well-practiced morning routine. For as long as I remember, my routine has included exercise, meditation, maybe a bit of writing. I make a nutritious, hot breakfast for my family and make sure my boys are showered, dressed, fed and mostly happy. The beds need to be made, the house in order and the kitchen cleaned before I get the kids off to school for 8:10. Then I walk our dog and shift gears into work mode. It’s a rinse-and-repeat, well-oiled machine. Sure, there are a few variations, and it doesn’t always look pretty, but our morning routine is pretty set. It works.

Prior to winter break, I found myself wondering why some days ran smoothly, and other days I found myself rushing, agitated and short with my kids. Our routine is consistent, so why did it feel extra challenging some days, and easy and enjoyable other days? What was the key ingredient to a feel-good morning?

I wanted to discover how to make our full morning feel calmer — without removing any necessary elements of the routine.

I put on my professional coach cap and looked at the big picture of my habits to see where I might make the most impactful shift in my attitude and outlook on the morning. I homed in on the very start of my day: the moment I opened my eyes.

When implementing change and new habits, I like working with microsteps. I first learned about microsteps from Arianna Huffington and her amazing behavior change platform here known as Thrive Global. Arianna describes microsteps as “small, actionable, incremental, and science-backed steps we can take to make immediate changes in our daily lives.”

Taking small, manageable, realistic steps forward is also at the heart of my coaching practice. It’s how I’ve been able to create lasting habits in my life and witness others do the same in their lives. The concept that small change makes big change is tried and true.  

My microstep experiment was to spend one month being very mindful of how I spent the first 2 minutes after I opened my eyes in the morning. Instead of allowing my thoughts to go on autopilot, to whatever worries or issues were top of mind, or focusing on the list of tasks in front of me, I would take charge of my thought stream by focusing my attention on gratitude for 2 minutes. Not just gratitude for the many blessings in my life, but gratitude, too, for the blank slate and brand-new day before me, with the ability to choose. I could set the tone for my feelings that day, and that was something to feel hugely grateful for.

It was only 2 minutes, before things got busy, but I could establish how I felt and how I wanted to feel in my day. I would start by saying to myself — or to myself and my dog and whoever was within earshot—“Good morning. It’s a brand-new day and a good day to be alive. I’m looking forward to being in this day.”

Then I would imagine how I most wanted to feel that day. I would also allow myself to feel that desired emotion in the moment: something like gratitude, calm, happiness, alignment or openness. I’d usually open the window (if it wasn’t already), take in the sound and smells of nature and breathe fresh air and the idea of my intention into my body. Then I’d hop into the routines and to-dos awaiting me.

One thing I didn’t do, during those first few minutes, was engage with technology. I kept my phone out of my bedroom on purpose and relied on an old-fashioned alarm clock instead. I do use my phone for my workout and music for meditation, though, so I was extra mindful to withstand the temptation to check that email or text or open my social media.

In technology’s absence, I began to realize how much those outside influences shaped my mood and morning — for the worse. The microstep of intentionally setting the tone for my morning became a two-part exercise: I also ended up limiting what I ingested from technology in those first few hours of the day.

Here’s what shifted:
  • I felt like I had more time in the morning.
  • I was calmer with my kids, and they responded by also being calm. On some days, they were even ready 5 to 10 minutes early.
  • When upsets happened and I got knocked off my course throughout the day, it was easier to reset and get back to that feeling of calm and gratitude. I was more in tune and in charge of my responses and feelings.
  • I spent less free time on my devices during the day.
  • I found myself reaching for a book at the end of the day instead of mindlessly scrolling on my phone.
  • I found myself drifting off to sleep with more excitement and anticipation for what tomorrow would bring, instead of replaying worries or dreading the morning.  
Here’s what helped:
  • Not having my phone in my bedroom. “Out of sight, out of mind” works. Without any distractions, it’s easier to spend those first two minutes connecting inward and setting a meaningful intention for the day.
  • Organizing my night table. It is the first thing I see, so I kept it tidy and displayed only things that bring me joy, like my wedding picture, special art and rocks from my kids and a candle that smells really good.
  • Opening the window. This encouraged me to take deep, intentional breaths. The deep breathing helped me connect to my body instead of focusing solely on my thoughts. Slowing my thoughts and being more present in my body made it easier to connect to the emotion of gratitude and know immediately how I wanted to feel in the day.
  • Visualizing how I wanted to feel instead of how I expected the day to be. This was an important reminder that it’s not what I do in a day that matters. It’s what I feel and experience while I’m in the doing that makes all the difference.

My microstep experiment helped me realize that the most important part of any morning routine is to appoint yourself in charge of your own happiness — and to do it early in your morning, preferably as soon as you open your eyes.

Turning inward to your own wise guide doesn’t change your day, but it has a positive impact on how you feel in your day. Would you rather rely on yourself or your news feed to feel good? My bet is on you.

How do you most want to feel today?

Article originally published on emilymadill.com


  • Emily Madill is an author and certified professional coach, ACC with a BA in business and psychology. Emily is one of Thrive Global's Editors-at-large and a coach at BetterUp. She has published 11 titles in the area of self-development and empowerment, both for children and adults. You can find her writing in Chicken Soup for the Soul:Think Positive for Kids; Thrive Global; The Huffington Post; TUT. com; Best Self Magazine; MindBodyGreen; The Muse; WellthyLiving.ca; TinyBuddha; Aspire Magazine and others. Emily has a private coaching practice and an online program offering courses that support others to create lasting habits around self-love, well-being and all things related to time and weekly planning. She lives on Vancouver Island, Canada, with her husband, two sons and their sweet rescue dog Annie. Learn more at: emilymadill.com