In the mad pace of our modern times, it is easy to begin the day feeling behind. We wake to the sound of our phone alarm and as we slide our thumb across the screen it plugs us back into a world that somehow kept moving while we slept.
Emails and texts ping in, calendar reminders arrive. Our mind leaps to the note we forgot to send, the money we need to transfer, the report we didn’t quite get to before we went to sleep… instantly we feel behind. Whispered visions of an early morning surf or poolside meditation instantly get replaced by a louder voice reminding us of what is pressing, what is urgent, what needs our attention now. Our feet hit the ground running in reaction. Likely outcome – we will arrive at the end of our day with a number of tasks complete but with a certain level of restlessness; a lack of real fulfillment. There will have been lots of doing but very little being. Lots of activity but limited amounts of real, empowered action. We will go to sleep with a busy mind, exhausted and tomorrow we begin again.
As a former athlete whose Olympic dream (and knees) were shattered at the peak of my competitive career, much of the past 20 years of my life has been devoted to helping people achieve extraordinary visions (in sport, creativity, and life) without blowing up their bodies, relationships, and businesses along the way. I’ve come to embrace one of the single most powerful contributors to transforming potential into exceptional outcomes in virtually all areas of life … is how we choose to start our day.
The following are a few simple practices that have played a key role in some of the most extraordinary achievements I’ve witnessed and been a part of myself. In my view, these little things (some of which take only a few minutes and can seem quite insignificant on the surface), are quite literally the difference between the magic we hope is possible and the magic we experience as reality in our life on a daily basis.
Getting Up Before Sunrise (or as close to it as possible!)
Ok. This may be a tough one to start with but it’s worth its weight in gold. From childhood Christmas mornings to road trip adventures and the pressure of all-night writing deadlines, I have come to cherish a golden thread of creative potency – that the hours just before dawn carry a magic that is unparalleled at any other time of day. I used to wonder why the lake was so calm and clear in the morning. Why the ocean showed up so smooth. But now I know. It’s because, in that mystical pause between the exhale of yesterday and the in-breath of tomorrow, there is a window of time infused with the pure energy of inspiration. Farmers, bakers, monks, and surfers. Tilling soil, needing dough, seeding prayers and riding waves. These are the gatekeepers of pre-dawn magic and they know the secret. Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, says getting up early can hold the key to improving your health, career and personal life.
Rising consistently before dawn is not the easiest pattern to initiate, but if you want to start your day feeling ahead (not behind), relaxed (not stressed) and connected to the Universe, this is a potent first step. Try it for a month and you will never look back.
Moving My Body
In recent years we’ve learned a lot about the power of our thoughts to influence our physical health and the state of our body… but what we don’t often talk about is that this mind-body connection is a two-way street. In the same way that a shift in our mental focus or belief can literally alter the make-up of your physical DNA, a change in the way we move our body can profoundly shift the way we think and feel. Meditation is part of my morning practice but I find that if I try to jump out of bed and right into stillness, I often either fall back asleep or find myself flooded with a river of thoughts that have been stacking themselves up overnight. However, if I give myself a chance to move and wake up my body first, when it comes time to quieten my mind, I’m in a much better space to do so.
In the words of personal development giant Anthony Robbins, “motion creates emotion.” Changing our physiology is the fastest way to change our state of being, so if we want to start the day feeling good, one of our most direct pathways is to move our body in good feeling ways. Walk, run, swim, bike, Tai Chi, Chi Gong, Kung Fu or Yoga. Choose your medium and if you take the time to warm up your body through movement (it doesn’t need to be a full workout – just start with ten to twenty minutes), you’ll kick-start your metabolism, boost your energy, increase mental clarity and feel way more alive entering your day… guaranteed.
My dear friend Dr. Cliff Oliver runs the Center for Balance integrative medical clinic in San Diego. He’s the guy that all the other great integrative practitioners I know send their most complex cases to when they don’t know what else to do. Cliff (or ‘CQ’, as he is affectionately known) has an amazing way of distilling complicated issues down to elementary solutions and one of the most transformational tools he uses is the power of conscious breath. Breathing in… breathing out (or ‘BiBo’ as CQ calls it). We do it about 25,900 times a day. If we do it well, we feed and fuel the body and all that we do in incredible ways. If we do it poorly, we begin a chain of dysfunctional events that can have huge negative ramifications throughout our entire body, mind, and spirit in the long term.
Here’s a simple way to start for the next two minutes as you read this article … Sit or stand up straight. Begin breathing slow, deep and steady through your nose – from the bottom up (meaning your belly should expand first, followed by the chest only in the final third of the inhalation). The ancient Essence believes the secrets of the universe can be found in the slight pause between our inhale and our exhale, so try breathing in for a count of five, pause at the ‘top’ of the breath and then exhale to a count of five in reverse order – chest first followed by the diaphragm. Pause again at the end of your exhale (just long enough for your body to naturally kick in) and begin again. After breathing this way for a few minutes, if you find yourself getting light-headed this is simply because your brain is getting more oxygen than usual … which is a good thing! There are many variations and techniques for breathing but simply by becoming conscious of your breath will start a chain reaction of life-giving events in your body (increased energy, boosted immune, sense of peace, clarity of mind, youthful skin) that have the power to transform literally every area of your life.
Going Outside and Putting My Bare Feet on the Earth
I cannot begin to count the number of times that I have closed my computer after hours of frustration from trying to finish a scene or crack some creative challenge, only to have to the problem amazingly solved within just a few minutes of stepping out into the trees and taking a breath. Our modern, indoor-dominant, mostly-seated, technologically-addicted society has produced progress in certain areas of life, but in many cases has come at the cost of our connection to the miraculous gifts of the natural world.
For one thing, over the past few hundred years, humans have become increasingly reliant on shoes. Today the soles of most shoes are made of rubber or plastic, both of which create a barrier between our body and one of the most powerful sources of natural healing, negative ions and positive energy available to us … the Earth. Emerging scientific research shows us something that our native predecessors experienced on a daily basis without even thinking about it – that tremendous health benefits stream into our body every time we take even a few minutes to stand, sit or lay directly on the Earth. When we come into direct contact with the Earth, our body aligns with Earth’s electromagnetic energy, resulting in reduced inflammation, balanced hormones, accelerated physical healing, increased energy, improved sleep, balanced adrenals, and protection from EMFs to name a few. And the truth is, standing/sitting/laying on the Earth, quite simply, feels awesome!
Several years ago I read The Artists Way by Julia Cameron (a magnificent book by the way), and in the very first chapter, she gave a name to a simple daily writing exercise that I had been doing since I was a kid, without realizing it. Cameron calls it ‘Morning Pages’ (I had always called it ‘Free Flow’), and the simple task is to begin each day (after or before the above) writing freely on the page. The idea is to write without agenda, absolutely whatever comes into your mind. Stream of consciousness, with the only rule being that you have to keep your pen moving. If you can’t think of anything to write, you simply write, “I can’t think of anything to write…” until you do. In Cameron’s practice, she suggests to write three pages each day and never look back. I normally give myself a timeframe, like 10-20 minutes, and I often bookend my day with this activity (once in the morning and once at night). The fundamental aim of the exercise is to clear the slate of your mind, to give your subconscious a chance to express in order to prepare your inner space for what really wants to come through. The very cool thing is that whether you are a writer, painter, house cleaner or advertising executive, it REALLY works.
Often times I find that during the process of freewriting in this way, I begin with one voice, expressing simple thoughts and ideas, frustrations, desires, confusions, hopes, realizations, etc… and then somewhere in the middle the voice gradually begins to change and shift to one that is speaking to me instead of from me. In that space, I often discover answers or insights into whatever questions or thoughts I may have come into my writing with, and almost always finish the exercise in a profoundly more expanded state than when I started. And while these words are initially for your eyes only, with no other aim but to clear the pipes and open your creative river, you may ultimately discover that some of your very best ideas come through during this time of simple free flow writing, particularly if you get in the habit of doing it every day. Try it for a week and it will probably become a life practice… plus you may discover some stories in there that want to be written!
Setting a Clear Intention for My Day
Before we even open our eyes each morning we begin to set an internal compass for the types of experiences and encounters we will have that day. If the compass is set for stress and overwhelm, that’s usually what comes our way. But if we take a few moments to set a clear intention for what we really want to create (not what we think is realistic based-on what happened yesterday, not what we think we should do to keep other people happy, but what we really, truly, deeply want to create), and then we anchor that intention with a feeling in our body, this feeling will naturally begin to guide us into experiences and reflections in life that match. It’s a crazy thing about energy. We go through life thinking we have to do certain things in order to experience the feelings we want (once I lose that weight, then I’ll feel happy. Once I’m loved by that person, then I will feel good enough. Once I get that raise, then I’ll feel worthy), but what we don’t realize is that in most cases our deep intention and our feeling precedes experience. If we want to feel a certain way about what happens in our day, we have to be willing to BRING that feeling to the experience (instead of waiting to take the feeling from it). Dr. Patch Adams recommends saying “I love you” to yourself for 30 minutes straight, if necessary, to remind you of your worthiness to create an extraordinary life each day.
Before your day begins, take time to imagine and feel how you want to feel at the end of your day. Bring that feeling into your body, into your morning and you will be amazed at how the Universe begins to line up experiences that reflect and expand the feeling.
Letting it Go and Begin
When we’ve risen at the magic hour, taken time to breathe, to move, to ground, to write and intend (or any combination of even a few of these!) we will find ourselves standing relaxed and centered at the doorway of a completely different experience of our day, our selves and of our life. We see the world through different eyes, we hear our own inner voice with different ears and we are able to respond (instead of react) to what calls to us with actions that are centered, grounded and aligned.
I will leave you with a short video that shares one of my most favorite and inspired ways to start the day because it combines virtually everything mentioned above in one simple activity – the creation of a giant sand mandala at the beach during sunrise. The power of focused movement and deep intention early in the morning, in nature, with my feet in the sand and my heart connected to my center… this is a recipe for magic beyond measure for the day to come.
If you knew that today was one of the most important days of your life, where miracles were possible and breakthroughs imminent but you had to be ready for them, open to them, poised to claim them as they arose … How would you choose to start your day?