“There’s something magical about repeating the same positive habits every single day.” ~ SJ Scott
The “Magic Hours”
What do you do before breakfast? Hyrum Smith calls the early morning hours the “magic hours”, a block of uninterrupted time when you can concentrate on things beyond the normal urgency and routine of the day. Brian Tracy refers to this time as the Golden Hours — the first hours of the day which set the tone for the rest of the day.
The number one rule for financial success is “Pay yourself first”. Set aside a specific amount of money to go into savings before you ever see it. Do this consistently and over time you will accumulate a substantial amount.
However we’re not talking about dollars today, but time. The same principle holds – pay yourself first . . . not in dollars, but in hours. Leverage these golden hours by doing the things that move you forward and make you a better person, and set the tone for the rest of your day.
Consider this. As Darren Hardy states in The Compound Effect, you have more control over your mornings and evenings than you do at other times of the day, when you are beset by interruptions, phone calls, meetings, etc. Hardy calls these morning and evening times the AM and PM Bookends. If you bookend your days with high quality activities, you are more apt to do those things that are important for your well being and self-development.
Important but not urgent
Recall the matrix Dr. Steven Covey describes in his book, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People. Picture a table with 2 rows and 2 columns. The left column is labeled “Urgent”, the right column is “Not urgent”. The bottom row is labeled “Unimportant” and the top row is “Important”.
In the top left quadrant (Q I in Covey’s words), you have activities that are both Urgent and Important. These are the events and tasks that must be done and on a deadline; those things that, if you don’t do them, will have a drastic negative effect.
In the bottom left quadrant (Q III) are the Urgent but Unimportant tasks. These are the things that clamor for your attention — phone calls, push notifications, e-mails — but which generally represent other people’s priorities . . . not yours.
In the bottom right quadrant (Q IV) live the Not urgent and Unimportant tasks and events. These are typically time wasters.
Which brings us to Quadrant II — the Important but Not urgent tasks. These are the things that contribute to our health, well-being, advancement and flourishing but which we frequently say we “don’t have the time” to do. These are the perfect activities for your golden hours.
Lark or Owl?
In Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin defines, among other tendencies, the “lark” and the “owl”. As you might suppose, the lark is an early riser, ready to hop out of bed and get started with the day. The owl is more energetic late in the day and evening and struggles to get up early, preferring to sleep late.
Rubin advises to take your own lark or owl tendencies into account when you are trying to develop new habits. For example, leaping out of bed to exercise at 5:00 AM is probably not going to work too well for an owl trying to implement an exercise habit.
However, there is another factor in play — willpower. Roy Baumeister, a leading researcher in the psychology of willpower, has shown that willpower is like a muscle. As you use it during the day, your willpower “muscle” weakens and becomes depleted. You wake with a full willpower “bucket” but as you go through the day, making decisions (even tiny minor ones), refraining from doing some things, “making yourself” do others, you are draining from your willpower bucket.
An owl may need to adjust her schedule (if possible) to have her golden hours occur at the time when her willpower is strongest. Lark or owl, use your willpower wisely. Decide what positive activities you want to do before breakfast, then turn them into habits.
What to do
What will you do in this special golden hour time? Focus on core competencies, the activities and tasks that make major contributions to your health, well-being and self-development. These include nurturing your family, your career and yourself.
Here are some examples for you to consider and to get your own ideas flowing.
This is my morning routine. (I actually have 2; I call them the AM1 Routine and the AM2 Routine. AM2 comes after breakfast and is focused on writing and other work.)
My AM1 Routine
1) Meditate (12 minutes)
2) Journal (about 20 minutes)
3) Plan the morning’s work (about 10 minutes)
4) Read something inspirational (about 15 minutes)
5) Physical activity (about 30 minutes)
Here are some other suggestions from various other sources.
– drink a glass of water
– practice gratitude
– read something inspirational or educational
– review / write your goals
– identify your MVP (most valuable priorities) or MIT (most important tasks)
– focused, targeted thinking about a goal or problem
– connect with God, or Spirit, or the Universe
How To Do
“Success is all about consistency around the fundamentals.” ~ Robin Sharma
Once you know what you want to add to your morning routine, how do you actually incorporate it? You and I know that, despite our best intentions, when it comes to doing something new, sometimes we “just forget”. We also know from past conversations that our best chance of success is to (1) choose an action that is so small it is almost impossible not to do; (2) tie the action to a habit we are already doing; and (3) tap in to our willpower reserves while they are still strong to create a habit of the new action.
Laura Vanderkam, in her book What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast gives these tips in the section = “How to make over your mornings”.
1. Track your time. Just as you must track your spending to understand where your money goes, you can track your time to see where you are spending it. Then you are able to adjust as needed to spend time where you want to spend it.
2. Picture the perfect morning. Use your imagination and intuition to design the perfect beginning to your perfect day. Perhaps you’ll choose some of the activities I’ve suggested above, or maybe you have other ideas to put into action.
3. Think through the logistics. Obviously, you need to plan for how you will implement your morning routine. What time will you get up to give yourself the time you need before the family wakes up? Will you need to drive to the gym for a workout? What other components do you need to have in place to make your new routine possible?
4. Build the habit. Turn your actions into habits by making them too small to fail.
5. Tune up as necessary. The goal you start with is not the goal you ultimately achieve. But you must start somewhere. Start anywhere then fine tune as you progress.
1. Decide what you want to incorporate into your morning routine to get your day off to the best possible start.
3. Identify the mini-habits you will install in order to reach your tiny goals. Decide the tiny steps you will take for each one.
4. Begin! If not today, then make plans for starting 1st thing in the morning . . . your first of many practices of your morning routine.
AM Bookend for an excellent day!
Your life is made up of a string of days. String together a succession of mediocre or average days and you create a mediocre, average life. String together a succession of good days and you create a good life. String together a succession of excellent days and you create an excellent life! Very seldom do excellent days happen on their own, without your involvement. The first, best step is to create your AM bookend — the morning routine that gets your day off to the best possible start and gets you primed for the excellent day ahead! Then you have days filled with flourishing, well-being, meaning, and purpose. In fact, you are living the Excelerated life!
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Excelerated willpower — becoming highly self-regulated — is one step in creating your Excelerated life, a life of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
Baumeister, Roy F. and John Tierney. Willpower – Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength. New York: The Penguin Press, 2011
Covey, Stephen R. The Seven Habits Of Highly Successful People. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989
Hardy, Darren. The Compound Effect. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, 2010
Rubin, Gretchin. Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits Of Our Everyday Lives. New York: Crown Publishers, 2015
Scott, S. J. “Habit Stacking” <http://www.developgoodhabits.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Morning_Routine_Peak_Performance.pdf>
Vanderkam, Laura. What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. New York: Penquin Group, Inc., 2012, 2013