The Secrets of Successful Morning People
Tips for making the most of your mornings
While most of us are still wrestling with our snooze buttons, many of the world’s highest flyers are getting a head-start with their work, personal or fitness affairs. For her book, What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, Laura Vanderkam spoke to CEOs, politicians, academics and entrepreneurs and identified three things the most successful people used their mornings for: “nurturing their careers with strategic and focused work; nurturing their relationships by giving their families or friends focused time; and nurturing themselves with exercise, spiritual and creative practices.”
Here, five healthy and successful people share their own regular morning routines.
Linda Blair is a clinical psychologist who writes a wellbeing column for the Telegraph newspaper, and has written five self-help books.
“Everyone can benefit from a morning routine, even if it doesn’t involve getting up that early. What matters is building structure into your day. A lack of structure is related with depression and anxiety because as human beings we need to predict; to know what the future holds as best we can. That helps us feel safe and in control so we can deal with the unexpected.
If I had one piece of advice on developing a morning routine it would be ask yourself: what did I do when I was about ten or 11 years old? Just before adolescence is the time when we are most truly ourselves; as a child growing up in Kansas, mid-west America, I used to wake up and walk my dog at 5am then, because I swam competitively, I would always go swimming or running.
So now, I wake at 6.45am, do a little bit of yoga while facing a window with the most beautiful view, and always finishing with sun salutations because they’re a great full body workout. My mum, a sprightly 93, does exactly the same thing and says: 'I stand at the window each day and say 'It’s another good day.’
Then, I make a light breakfast such as a fruit and yoghurt smoothie before going for a 20-minute run or swim - always something aerobic, but nothing too strenuous - to get my endorphins pumping and mood lifted for the day. Finally, I walk my dog in a nearby park. I get more endorphins from the sunlight, and stroking an animal while chatting to other dog-walkers gives you a dose of oxytocin, a hormone that makes you feel safe and happy towards other people. Mainly, it just makes me feel good for the day.”
Sir Richard Branson is founder of the Virgin Group and one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs. “I try to wake up around 5am everyday. It’s a peaceful time and allows me to catch up on news from around the world, respond to emails, post social media, play tennis and most importantly, spend time with my family before fully starting my working day.
My routine has changed recently with an even bigger focus on exercise. I took part in the Virgin Strive Challenge throughout September, joining hundreds of people, including my children Holly and Sam and my nephew Noah, in journeying from the Matterhorn to Mount Etna. Sam and Noah set up the challenge in support of Big Change, a social impact accelerator that helps young people thrive in life, not just exams.
So, more recently I’ve been running, swimming or (as you may already know from my recent accident) out on my bike. I find getting in this exercise early in the day puts me in a great frame of mind. I don’t think being an early riser should be a badge of honour, rather it’s part of doing everything you can to enjoy your life.”
James Duigan is a personal trainer who works with Elle Macpherson and Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley; his Clean & Lean Diet books have sold millions worldwide.
“I read something about the importance of rituals a while back and decided to adopt a morning routine that I never waver from, based on what really matters to me. It was around about the same time - two years ago - that my dad passed away. I was holding him in my arms at the time. It made me realise that despite all this success, which I am so grateful for, nothing matters more to me than my family.
So I wake up at 7am and I will grab Leo, two, change his nappy and bring him and Charlotte, four, into our room and we’ll all talk and play for 10 minutes. Then we all go down and have breakfast together. I have a smoothie with some vegan protein and rice milk and then Leo and I will share either some egg on toast or quinoa porridge. You cook a batch of quinoa, keep it in the fridge and soak some overnight in some almond milk with nuts and seeds and add some berries in the morning. Leo loves it. Then my wife Chrissie and I will put on some music and dance for about 30 seconds, it’s a great way of connecting. I won’t look at my phone until 7.45am when I’ve done all that first because I want to be completely present for my family. It’s a great foundation for my day.”
Dr Tara Swart is a medical doctor, neuroscientist, award-winning author and leadership coach. She is based in London and the US where she lectures at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on executive performance.
“Even when we have had a good quality sleep, human beings have the equivalent of a bucket of cognitive resource and that’s finite. Every time you make a decision, you use up a bit of that bucket. For me, because I have to make so many complicated decisions in the course of a day, it means making as few decisions as possible in the morning, so I can preserve my mental resources for the rest of the day. I’m not quite as extreme as Mark Zuckerberg, who wears the same clothes to work every day for this reason, but I do tend toward doing the same thing every morning; especially important when I am jet-lagged because my cognitive resources are already drained. My entire wardrobe is colour coded so choosing what to wear is never a difficult decision and I know exactly which accessories go with which.
I wake up at 8am each day and have either a boiled egg from a batch I have cooked on Sunday, or add some avocado, nuts and seeds to a smoothie I have prepared the night before. Then I have a coffee with a teaspoon of coconut oil which contains medium chain triglycerides, a type of fat that has been shown to boost cognitive function (it tastes better than it sounds.) Lastly, on my commute I will do a simple 12-minute breathing meditation where I visualise the various aspects of my life - work, social, health - as successful.”
Emma Sinclair MBE is founder and CEO of Enterprise Jungle and the youngest person ever to float a business on the London Stock Exchange. She’s also an ambassador for UNICEF – its first ever business mentor.
“I typically wake between 6-7am and speak to my co-founder, who is based in Los Angeles, about what has happened over there through the night while I have been asleep. Then I clear my inbox. It’s good for me to know what I need to do in the first half of my day and replying to emails means setting things in motion so I can then go about seeing my family and exercising, which I love doing in the morning to get it out of the way.
I have a ready-made green juice then either go to my local gym to do a spin class, or my personal trainer comes by and we do a full-body workout at home. Breakfast will be a tofu scramble with onion, spinach and sun dried tomatoes or a protein shake made with hemp or oat milk and protein powder. I get my supplements from a company I love called Viavi that create personalised supplement programmes and mine include a probiotic and magnesium.”
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