We all have those days that start off badly from the get-go. Somehow it always seems worse when your bad day starts before you even leave the house.
Rather than risking it each day, we’re calling for a pre-emptive strike. Take charge and get your day off to the right start with these nine easy tactics.
1. Meditate (or just sit quietly)
If the word ‘meditation’ turns you off, think of this as a ‘sit quietly and do nothing’ exercise instead. The principle is the same either way: sit still and calm your mind for 2 minutes. Set a timer (I’ve been using an iPhone app but any kitchen timer or phone alarm will work).
Setting a timer means you can avoid watching the clock and pay attention to the task of sitting quietly. Which is probably harder than you think. Use your breath as a focal point and practice pulling your attention back to your breath every time your mind wanders.
Just 2 minutes of this can improve your mood, your concentration during the day and your ability to block out distractions at work.
2. Pre-set the night before
In theatre we have a state that occurs just before the audience is allowed in, which we call ‘pre-set.’ This is the point where everything is in its place and ready for what comes next. The lights are set, the music is playing, the next cues are ready to go, and everyone backstage is standing by.
When pre-set is done, everyone can focus on their own job instead of worrying about whether things are in the right place or what other people are doing.
Preparing your work clothes or setting things out for your breakfast can save you time and stress in the mornings. If you take the time to pre-set everything you need the night before, you’ll be able to sleep easier and have a more relaxing morning.
Just like tip #1, this could just be for two minutes. It doesn’t have to be a huge workout. In fact, it could even be something as simple as stretching for two minutes.
Even if your heart rate isn’t racing, spending two minutes by yourself, not talking but focusing intently on what your body is doing can still be beneficial. Like meditation, this can improve your focus and reset your mood before the day starts. It’s also an easy way to focus on yourself and how you’re feeling without being distracted by stress or your to-do list.
4. Have a dance break
I’m a huge fan of dance breaks. Preferably the ‘locked in your bedroom by yourself’ variety, where you can completely let go. Pick a song that really gets you jumping about (mine is Walking On Sunshine, feel free to borrow it) and turn it up LOUD (you might need headphones for this if everyone else is still sleeping!).
Jumping on beds, singing out of tune and ecstatic arm-waving are highly encouraged.
5. Pack a healthy lunch
As Leo Babauta pointed out recently, the trick to eating healthily is to enjoy it. Pick something healthy for lunch that you’ll look forward to and pack it the night before (see point #2).
Packing healthy snacks is a good idea, too. This way you’ll still have variety, with different foods to look forward to during the day. Brit.co has a list of 12 easy snack recipes to give you some ideas.
6. Wear your favorite outfit
Supposedly, when you look good, you feel good. I actually tend to feel better when I’m comfortable, which is why my All Stars get such a workout.
Go with whatever works for you. Pick clothes (or a hairstyle, or a hat, or whatever) that make you feel good, to start your day right. You know that feeling of wearing new shoes for the first time? Yeah, you know the one. Imagine feeling like that every day! That’s what we’re aiming for with this tactic.
Just FYI, you can actually get a pretty similar feeling with new shoelaces.
7. Set reminders
How often do you say to yourself, “I’ll remember that”? I do this a lot. I do it quite often when I’m already in bed, which I’m sure affects my sleep, since my working memory is cranking while I’m trying to sleep.
If you know much about David Allen’s GTD method you’ll know that the system is based on writing everything down so your brain doesn’t have to work so hard to remember things.
Do your brain a favor and give it the David Allen treatment. Every time you think of something you need to remember, set a reminder. Whether it’s a document you need to take to the office with you or a call to return when you get to work, set an alarm or write a note. You’ll be glad you did when you leave the house feeling more calm and relaxed than normal.
8. Hug someone
Hugs are scientifically proven to increase levels of oxytocin (the ‘cuddle hormone’) which helps us relax and feel safe. It also builds feelings of trust. So starting your day with a hug can improve your mood and someone else’s.
Plus, this won’t even take you two whole minutes!
If you don’t have easy access to human beings for a morning hug (or the ones nearby are resistant) don’t despair. You won’t get quite the same effect, but you can always make a substitute. My personal preference is a Build-A-Bear monkey called Malcolm, but if a cat or goldfish is more your thing, have at it.
9. Keep a promise to yourself
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens Sean Covey talks about the power of keeping promises… to yourself. (see the bottom of this post for more info on this book)
By making a promise to yourself and keeping it, you’ll start with a win. And a win is a win, no matter how small. It’s a positive way to start the day.
If you promise not to eat chocolate before you leave the house, set a banana or some nuts in easy reach so you won’t be tempted. Or turn the radio on when you get up if you’re avoiding TV before work. Remember to praise yourself for keeping the promise, as it starts a positive cycle for your day.
About the book: In case you’re wondering about the book I mentioned, and whether it’s a typo: Sean Covey is the son of famed self-help writer Stephen Covey. Sean wrote the teen’s version of his father’s successful book, which reframes the 7 Habits in light of issues affecting teenagers (and includes cartoons to illustrate each point, of course). Since this was my first introduction to the 7 Habits principles, I’ve never been too keen to move on to the more serious, ‘grown-up’ version.
What else do you do to start your day in a positive way? Let us know in the comments.