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Coffee in the morning

It’s no secret that most of the world’s greatest achievers use some form of morning rituals. American founder Benjamin Franklin was a firm believer, and adopted a rather strange morning practice for himself:

“…I rise early almost every morning, and sit in my chamber without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing.”

And while his naked mornings may seem strange, there’s little denying that he achieved stupendous amounts of success, literally shaping world history for several decades. He invented the lightning rod, helped get the controversial Stamp Act repealed, helped draft the Declaration of Independence, secured French assistance for the US during the revolutionary war, and so much more.

But morning rituals are more than simply eccentric preferences: their connection to success is firmly rooted in science. Researcher Steve Kay, a professor of molecular and computational biology at the University of Southern California, notes:

When it comes to doing cognitive work, for example, most adults perform best in the late morning. As body temperature starts to rise just before awakening in the morning and continues to increase through midday, working memory, alertness and concentration gradually improve.

In light of this, it follows that morning rituals prepare your mentally and physically for your peak working period. They put you in a peak mindset so that when your ideal working period arrives, you can take full advantage of it.

The first step toward maximum success and productivity is to create a series of customized morning rituals.

In this post, I’ve curated a list of the morning rituals of 7 ultra-successful individuals, along with the scientific reason that a particular ritual contributes toward success. Consider using some or all of these rituals in your own life.

#1 – Richard Branson – Founder Of Virgin Atlantic

Early morning swim

Richard Branson rises early, greeting the day at 5 am. He begins his day with exercise on his island followed by some family time. And while you may not be able to swim around your own personal island, you certainly can adopt his practice of rising early.

But this is about far more than the early bird getting the worm. There is a statistical evidence behind the practice.

There is abundant scientific evidence that early risers achieve more than those who repeatedly hit the snooze.

At Asian Efficiency, we are passionate promoters of the “Eat That Frog” methodology, which involves always doing your most difficult tasks first. The good news is that those who rise early have been scientifically proven to be far more proactive than reactive, which then allows them to tackle their most important tasks immediately.

As noted in the Harvard Business Review:

One theory is that morning people are more proactive because getting up early gives them more time to prepare for the day. If that’s true, then increasing your morningness might improve your proactivity. But there’s evidence that something inherent may determine proactivity. Studies show that conscientiousness is also associated with morningness. Perhaps proactivity grows out of conscientiousness.

Those who are proactive don’t let the day come to them; they plan, attack, and execute their plan for the day

Additionally, a study done at DePaul University discovered that those who rise early are much less likely to procrastinate:

Proneness toward behavioral (but not decisional) procrastination was significantly related to number of activities performed in the evening. Together, these studies suggest that procrastinators may be ‘late starters’ who prefer to engage in daily activities later in the day than early in the morning.

Finally, an in-depth study regarding sleep effectiveness found that those who rise early achieve a much better quality sleep than those who work late into the night. This in turn leads to optimal performance the next day.

Clearly, there are serious productivity advantages to those who are willing to rise before the sun.

#2 – Jack Dorsey – Founder of Twitter and Square

Meditating Man

After rising at 5 am, Dorsey takes 30 minutes to meditate. This ritual prepares him for the insane 18 hour days that come with being CEO of two massive companies.

You’re probably familiar with mediation, as it’s been recommended by dozens of entrepreneurs for achieving a peaceful mindset. And though meditation is certainly about achieving calm and peace, it goes much deeper.

There are dozens of scientific benefits directly associated with meditation. To list a few…

The American Journal of Psychiatry reported that meditation had a significant positive effect on those who suffer from anxiety disorders. They note:

Repeated measures analyses of variance documented significant reductions in anxiety and depression scores after treatment for 20 of the subjects–changes that were maintained at follow-up. The number of subjects experiencing panic symptoms was also substantially reduced.

Given the huge number of stresses that come with pursuing success, the importance of learning to mitigate stress in a natural, healthy way can’t be overstated. This allows you to minimize stress without turning to medication or unhealthy habits like alcohol or drugs.

Second, meditation has been shown to enhance creativity. A recent study revealed that there is a distinct positive correlation between “focused attention” (a.k.a. meditation) and divergent thinking, which is the ability to generate a significant variety of discrete ideas.

Finally, meditation has been proven to promote the ability to focus on a particular item without getting distracted. A 2007 study noted:

They furthermore demonstrate that, through mental training, increased control over the allocation of limited processing resources may be possible. Our study corroborates the idea that plasticity in brain and mental function exists throughout life, and illustrates the usefulness of systematic mental training in the study of the human mind.

In other words, “mental training” such as meditation allows you to have increased control over your limited focus.

Does Jack Dorsey meditate to achieve a peaceful state of mind? Probably, but I suspect it’s much more. In order to run two successful companies, he needs full access to his mental faculties, and meditation allows him to do just that.

#3 – Mark Zuckerberg – Founder and CEO of Facebook

Zuckerberg rises around 8 am, checks his phone for messages, gets a short workout in, and then puts on the same style of jeans and t-shirt he wears every single day. Like Steve Jobs, Zuckerberg is known for his spartan style of dress, but there’s a good reason for it. It minimizes “decision fatigue”.

The New York Times discusses decision fatigue in this way:

The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice.

Every day is filled with a thousand seemingly inconsequential decisions. The accumulation of all these decisions results in less focus, less productivity, and a host of bad decisions.

This is why trying to watch Netflix can be so frustrating. You’re absolutely overwhelmed with choices, and as you scroll through the thousands of options, you find yourself shutting down or watching a movie you know is going to be incredibly stupid. Your ability to make decisions has been eroded by the huge number of choices.

To frame it another way, more decisions means less willpower, and if you’re spending your willpower on inconsequential choices like what to wear or what to eat, you’re limiting your ability to make important decisions later.

Just how significant and influential is decision fatigue? If you’re a criminal, it’s far better to have a hearing in the morning than in the afternoon. A study of over 1,100 cases discovered that the odds of getting a favorable sentence are dramatically higher in the morning. Why? Because over time, the judges encounter decision fatigue and are unable to think clearly about the cases in front of them.

Every day, Mark Zuckerberg will be confronted with dozens of high stakes choices. When making those choices, he wants to have all his willpower and decision making abilities. So rather than waste energy on picking out clothes, he dons the same comfortable t-shirt every day.

What can you do to minimize the amount of unimportant decisions in your life? Can you prepare meals in advance so you don’t have to think about lunch options? Can you create a series of standard email templates so you don’t have to spend brainpower crafting the same response again and again?

These small choices have an exponential effect when added together.

#4 – Steve Jobs – Founder and Former CEO of Apple

Business man thinking

Every morning, Jobs would ask himself one, profound and clarifying question: “If today were the last day of my life, would I do what I’m about to do?” This question gave Jobs significant perspective on the trajectory of his life. If he found himself repeatedly answering, “No,” he knew that he needed to change something.

This is related to reducing decision fatigue but also taps into the power of essentialism and minimalism. Running a massive company forced Jobs to make crucial decisions every week. Do we upgrade the new iOS? Should release a new iPad? How will we beat out the competition? Each of these decisions had millions of dollars at stake.

Before he made these decisions, he reduced his life down to a single, essential question. He wanted to be absolutely sure he answered the most important question in his life. Everything else would fall into place under that.

If the answer to the question changed, he knew that it was time for him to also make a change.

In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown puts it this way:

Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

Asking clarifying questions on a daily basis helps you constantly keep your priorities in mind. Are you doing your most important task? What one action will have the biggest outcome? What non-essential things can you ignore so that you can focus on the essentials?

Jobs knew that many things are unimportant and only a few things truly matter. He began each morning by ensuring he focused on the one thing that mattered most to him.

#5 – Barack Obama – Former President of the United States

Family breakfast

Former president Obama and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos share the same morning ritual of having breakfast with their families.

This may seem surprising, given that both confront a massive number of responsibilities every day, but there are solid scientific reasons why it helps them be more productive.

Scientists have found that those individuals who have meaningful connections experience more happiness, have fewer health problems, and live longer, more productive lives.

As the Harvard Medical School notes:

Scientists are investigating the biological and behavioral factors that account for the health benefits of connecting with others. For example, they’ve found that it helps relieve harmful levels of stress, which can adversely affect coronary arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system. Another line of research suggests that caring behaviors trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones.

In other words, creating connections at the beginning of each day literally primes you for the day. Chemicals are released into your body that reduce your stress levels and prepare you for optimum productivity. Obviously, connecting with your family is valuable in it’s own right, but it also has the added benefit of putting in your body in a prime state.

Hyperkinetic entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk, who seems like he never stops, also believes in the importance of creating close family connections every day. Before his children go to school, he spends a full five minutes hugging them, strengthening his connection to them.

What’s essential to note here is that creating these family connections doesn’t have to be the first thing you do every day, but it should be part of your morning ritual.

It puts you in a positive, happy state of mind and ensures that your business doesn’t displace your family. It also prepares you to deal with the stresses you’ll encounter during the day.

Do you make space in your morning for meaningful connections, whether that’s a quick call to a friend or family member, or breakfast with your kids? If you don’t, your overall productivity could suffer.

What Rituals Will You Create?

Some of these rituals won’t be right for you, depending on your job, circumstances, commute, etc. But what is essential is creating a series of morning rituals that will prepare you for an effective, positive, and productive morning.

If you don’t plan out your morning, you’ll end up investing time in the trivial, like scrolling through Facebook or responding to pointless emails, rather than driving forward your most important tasks.

As Jim Rohn says, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”

Plan your rituals. Plan your life. Plan your success.

Start Your Ritual Today

To help you create your own morning ritual, we created the Morning Ritual Starter Kit. It provides you with a simple to follow, 6-step process for creating a powerful morning ritual that will supercharge your day.

Get the Morning Ritual Starter Kit here

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. “But this is about far more than the early bird getting the worm, and all that nonsense…. There is abundant scientific evidence that early risers achieve more than those who repeatedly hit the snooze.”

    So…it’s not “nonsense” then, is it?

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