my precious morning routine

“I am not a morning person. I have to ease into my day slowly. First I have my coffee. Sans eggshells or anything else one tends to pick out of the garbage. Then I have a low fat, high fibre breakfast. Finally I sit down and read a crisp, new newspaper. If I am robbed of the richness of my morning routine, I cannot function. My radio show suffers, and like ripples in a pond, so do the many listeners that rely on my advise, to help them through their troubled lives. I’m sorry if this may sound priggish, but I have grown comfortable with this part of myself. It is the magic that is me.”

The above “priggish” speech was pompously delivered by the tight-lipped yet lovable radio psychiatrist in the 80’s sitcom, Frasier.  He was defending his right to keep to his intensely, precise morning routine in order to perform his best throughout his day.  

After my last post about how often the pressure of time significantly increases my stress level, the scene from this episode came to mind along with the memory of the dismissive eye-rolling from the supporting cast and from me. .

I began to consider strategies I use to manage my weekday mornings.  Here are my three simple methods of creating space, stress-free morning moments and a way to ease into a world geared for moving constantly in fifth gear.

1.  Night Vision

My mother tells the story of a time she came into my bedroom to wake me for school to find me still asleep but already fully dressed for the school day.  Apparently, I had put on my clothes the night before. And even more apparently, I was quite an odd child with the quirks to rival those of a sitcom character!  Perhaps my motivation was to find calm in the chaos of a busy school morning filled with getting my turn in the bathroom, practicing piano, making lunches, eating breakfast, doing the dishes and packing my schoolbag, all alongside my three siblings who were also doing the same things.

Currently my mornings do not involve jockeying for position with siblings or piano practice but can still induce a level of nerve-jangling tension when the clock ticks closer to the time I need leave for work.  For this reason I decided to use the night before more wisely.  No, I don’t sleep in my work clothes (often).  But I do prepare my lunch, choose my outfit, pick up some of the excess clutter and create a to-do list all before I go to bed.   This all takes me no more than half an hour.  Not too much work for a huge benefit of a slower pace in the morning.

2.  Rush No More

Realizing that rushing is a genuine energy-sapper for me, my goal is to pace my mornings so that there is no need to hurry.  To make this happen, I choose to get up as early as possible to leave morning space to pause, to linger, to, heaven forbid, dawdle!  By getting up earlier, I have time to sit for a short time of meditation, practice some simple yoga stretches, record three ‘gratitudes” in my journal and enjoy a leisurely breakfast while considering my day ahead.  There are those days when getting up so early is not so easy as others.  My routine is too precious to be written in stone so there is always room to change it according to the situation.  But there is a noticeable difference in my energy levels on the days that begin early with this settling routine.

There was a time that I would regularly check my work email in the morning but I quickly realized that it only served to put my nervous system in work-mode high gear and encroached on the unhurried pace of my personal time.  I was no further ahead when I got to work by knowing what new things were going to be added to my ‘to-do’ list and instead, I’d arrive depleted of energy that would be necessary for later in the day.

3.  Leave Stuff Undone

A problem for many of us with Chronic Productivity Syndrome, is that we feel the need to fill in any extra space with productive activity.  This is true for me.  I look at the clock, see that I’ve got plenty of time before I need to leave so I attempt to fit something useful into that space.  Wash the dishes, pay a bill online, clean the kitty litter, email a friend or whatever.  The pausing, lingering and dawdling are tossed out in favour of “getting something done”. The conflict occurs when I realize that I am soon going to leave my home for a job where i am expected to be “getting something done” for the next 8 or more hours.  Where’s the balance?

And if you’re like me, you’ll begin a task that will keep your steady focus on it until you look at the clock and realize that now you’re running late.  Nervous system is on high alert and deep breathing becomes more shallow and less nourishing.  The trick is to consciously, purposefully leave something undone in favour of a moment of just being.  See the task, notice your desire to attend to it immediately, to fix it , finish, manage it, then just leave it!  You know it wil still be there later.

With this precious morning routine, I clearly understand that I will most likely be considered priggish, hyper-sensitive, and a quintessential introvert to the n-th degree, but I’m okay with that.  This routine provides me with the pace I like, the space I need and energy I love to be the magic that is me.  (Cue the eye-rolling!)

Make it a morning of unhurried moments.

Egypt

pattern interrupted

 

We each contain within us a multitude of patterns and unconscious reactions. They’re often thinly disguised in thoughts and phrases such as “I can’t help it, this is who I am”.  Or perhaps they come to light in a moment of “Why do I always do that?” or when we catch ourselves consistently and insistently complaining about a particularly annoying person or event.

But what if a pattern is no longer beneficial and even becomes a hindrance to our growth and prevents us living freely, then what?  What if a pattern is trapping us in our own Groundhog Day experience? Or if it becomes a pleasingly patterned yet hard-to-penetrate and limiting brick wall?

Patterns

The point is to interrupt the pattern. Whenever a pattern is interrupted, there is a moment of awareness (often accompanied by a moment of panic). That interruption gives you a moment to see or exercise another possibility.–Ken McLeod, Buddhist teacher and writer

Four Steps to Pattern Interruption

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with using these four steps in response to the regular fall-out of my own pattern of staying hyper-busy/ compulsively over-working.

1.  Notice
2.  Uncover
3.  Re-Write
4.  Repeat

Notice
This may be easier for some patterns than others.  For me, the “work” pattern has become clear to me by way of a frantic mind, an oft-weakened immune system and chronic irritation that results when I work to exhaustion.  According to Ken McLeod, interrupting the pattern requires pausing just before the pattern is repeated instead of staying in a trance.  This will be a challenge since my tendency to overwork sort of steamrolls right over pauses.  Meditation has definitely been helpful in disengaging the pause-crushing steamroller and creating more space for noticing.

Uncover
Using the 5 Why’s to uncover the underlying story that informs my pattern has been quite useful for me.  Sometimes I can even rationalize up until almost 10 why’s.

I can’t stop working right now, I’m too busy!
Why?

Because I have this job/ task that must/should be finished.
Why?

Because I’ve already started and it is easier to just push through and finish it before I take a break.
Why?

Because I’d feel better, once I was resting, to not have to see the unfinished task in front of me.  I’d be much more relaxed if it was just finished.
Why?

Because I’d feel guilty sitting down when there’s work still to be done.
Why?

Because I feel valuable when I am productive and get work finished. My value stems from how much I accomplish.

BINGO!

My hidden story is that I believe my value is based on how much I accomplish so my value, in my mind, goes up the harder I work. Clearly there’s a deeper back-story there but, in order to maintain focus, let’s just leave that for when there’s time for self-reflection later and now consider the next step.

Re-Write
The story of “work = value” is an interesting one but is far from liberating and not one that I want to have as a silent director of my actions and decisions. Time for a re-write of that old script.  New script says “Working or not, productive or not, I have value”.  


Repeat
To make even a dent in the ancient story I’ve held to as truth for so long, this new script will need to be be expressed verbally every day until it becomes the new pattern.  New decisions will be based on the freedom of choice, not within the confines of a claustrophobic story.

I’m famously stubborn so this process might take longer for me than it does you.  I already caught myself pushing stoically through to the end of writing this post without taking a break when my mind and body were asking for one.  And this is only one of my patterns!

One pattern, one step at time.

the reluctant coach

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, I was sitting on a bench in a playground watching my two pre-school sons navigate the jungle gym with a raw, adventurous curiosity that only children who have not yet been formally educated can have.

But since I’d had almost two decades of formal education by that point in my life most of my curious wonderings were tucked firmly away in deep, dusty pockets of parental responsibility, exhaustion and occasional bouts of generalized cynicism.

Feeling protective of my precious pseudo-solitude on the bench when my boys weren’t needing me to wipe something, tie something or solve some emotional upheaval between them, I’m sure I let out an audible sigh when a father and his young daughter wandered into the playground.

playground

With no energy to make small talk, I kept my gaze in the direction of my playing boys taking full advantage of that spacey, far-off look I get when tiredness gets in the driver’s seat of my attention. A stolen sideways glance at the father revealed the slump-shouldered look of a man who likely had even less energy for conversation than I did.  For that, I was grateful.

He mumbled some sort of greeting as he sat down on the bench next to me and for a few sacred moments there was an easy silence that was broken only by our infrequent individual interaction with our children.  But then I heard his audible sigh revealing that he was not as much at ease as I had assumed and apparently felt a obligation to begin a conversation.

“Do you live around here?”

From there, we rode the merry-go-round of pleasantries for a few minutes and then he asked what my then-husband did for a living.  I caught myself hesitating to respond.  Turning to do a visual check of my boys’ whereabouts, I did my best to put on an air of casualness.

“He’s a…ummm…he’s a motivational speaker”.

Clearly unimpressed, he grunted loudly.  “A motivational speaker?  Humph….what does he go on about?”

I stifled my own laughter as I tried feebly conjure up the words to defend my husband’s choice of life’s work to this stranger who clearly thought the whole thing was a load of bunk.   But, in fact, I had struggled to “get“ the idea of my ex’s line of work for a long time.  Yes, I know he was helping others towards a new level of self-development and encouraging them to discover transforming moments in their lives.  He was sincere, he was gifted and what he did was important.  Clearly.  But was it work?

According to the Gospel of My Inner Script, work had always meant hard labour whether that be manual, mental, emotional or spiritual.  It meant getting tired.  Even exhausted.  It meant not taking vacations.  And it mostly meant people commenting on the unbelievable schedule I was keeping and how dedicated I must be to keep up the grueling pace all in the name of hard work.  Dark circles and bags strategically under each eye along with frequent illnesses helped with this plan.

Loading hay

Fast-forward a couple of decades later .  My boys are now out in the world, on their own.  Ex-husband is very successfully motivating others in another country.   And I’m here, consciously choosing to the change my life-script,  to find a more useful meaning for the term ‘work’ and to create a beautiful, engaging and passionate life/work balance.

After two more decades of informal education ( life experience) and a renewed child-like curiosity, I’m being drawn inexplicably towards an evolving life’s work that encourages others to dig deep to re-discover the best version of themselves.  To give them a framework for re-writing their own scripts and for setting out intentions and goals.  To help them rewire the neural connections that have been feeding the not-so-useful habits and ingrained patterns that are keeping them stuck.   To help them getting reacquainted with their own body and its deep wisdom.  To help them explore methods of daily groundedness and ease in the face of free-floating anxiety or numbing fear.  To challenge them to draw on their skills, their experiences and their unique personality to create a life of abundance, passion and significance.

So how’s that for getting run right over by the freaking karma bus?   Snickering cynic turned life cheerleader.  Sarcastic skeptic turned self-help sister.  Life-long workaholic turned life coach, mentor and ally.

After I stopped rolling my eyes at myself, I realize this work is what I’ve been doing for most of my life. Intuitively.  And it’s a natural progression of my teaching and guiding of overwhelmed adolescent learners as well as instructing in the practices of yoga and meditation. This evolution of a life’s work that hums marvelously with more balance and is deeply aligned with my deepest values has happened right before my eyes.  This is just too good not to share.

Just in case you think I’m branching into this area because I’ve got it all together, think again.  With miles to go before I sleep, I’m considering nifty monikers for myself like The Manic Mentor or Your Anxious Ally.   But I’m quite certain that those wouldn’t be good marketing strategies and my business coach would highly object.

Stick around if you would like to learn some basic strategies that have tremendously helped me to create a clearer more settled path from overwhelmed to okay.