This is part of a series of articles relating to the 4 rituals, 5 habits and 6 hacks that systemise your life. Remember what I said in earlier articles and I emphasize in my keynotes, “Don’t rely on motivation alone. Rely on repetition and automation. Not just in your personal life but also in business.” A well drilled team will always outperform a motivated one.
In my last article I shared with you the most important daily ritual of all – Journaling. If you have not read it, here is the link: Journaling Essentials. Now I will share with you the second most important ritual you need to do before journaling, without compromise every morning and early evening: Movement. I never skip exercise whether I am in my usual routine, traveling on business or holidays, sleep deprived and tired, working long hours, or whatever my condition. I say this because a lot of us make excuses to abandon a ritual. Don’t blame yourself too much. We are hard wired to crave food and comfort. Recognise this and let it be your cue to fight the urge for comfort and go for growth instead. Let it be your trigger for tenacity.
All the research shows that delayed gratification is the key to success in all areas of life. You study hard, you graduate. You work hard, you outperform the competition and make more money. You save and invest your money, so you can afford to have more freedom later in life. You put in the effort in your relationships, you have more intimacy and build bonds for life. You exercise, you have better health and energy as you get older. You stretch, you get more flexible and supple. You eat live unprocessed food, you build healthier cells in your entire body including your eyes and skin. You learn new things and meet new people, you get a sharper mind as you grow older and bolder. Rarely does anything good in life come easily. You need to put in conscious effort but that makes it all the sweeter.
In future articles I will be sharing 5 habits and 6 life-hacks that will make it easier to implement the 4 daily rituals. For now let’s get onto the next essential daily ritual.
Movement – AM and PM
Before you perform the first mentioned ritual (journaling), it is absolutely critical to start your day with movement. Anything from a 4 minute Tabata routine to a 30-60 minute jog/cycle/swim or whatever gets you puffing and sweating. Exercise is best in the morning when your cortisol levels are highest; but not too early in the morning. There are a lot of ‘experts’ who preach early morning exercise (before sunrise) but the science shows that this is not the most optimal time. The optimal time starts at sunrise and peaks around 7-8am. Exercise later in the day should be milder as the cortisol curve tapers off for rest and sleep.
What Type of Moving?
Moving, just like going hungry, is natural. You need to listen to your body every morning and adapt the length and intensity to suit. But there is never any excuse not to do anything. Even if I am unwell I will still muster the effort to do a brisk walk for 15-30 mins and I am always surprised by how much it lifts my mood and energy.
The best form of exercise is one that you enjoy. Think competitive sport, dancing and training with friends. The second best and most natural is walking, jogging or running. Generally, the shorter the time you have to exercise the higher the intensity should be. When I don’t have much time I do at the very minimum a 10-minute Tabata routine. My usual ritual is however to do a 30-minute jog followed by a cold shower. On weekends I might do a 60 to 90 minute hike or trail run. Or I might do a high intensity session with friends at F45. I am not sharing my routine for you to copy but to demonstrate that you can go hard or you can go slow but the main thing is to go and do whatever suits you. You may be a swimmer or a cyclist or a heavy lifter. Or love yoga or pilates. But never ever skip moving in the morning.
Why is exercise such an important morning ritual?
We live in a world where people rarely sleep straight through the night. Our mind is racing as soon as we wake. We can be confrontational and edgy in the morning and our energy crashes and burns around mid-morning and/or mid-afternoon. Exercise neutralises these abnormal afflictions.
Most people think that exercise is for the body. Its biggest impact however is on the mind. Science tells us that when you are in motion, your mind is on fire! All parts of the brain are active. This kick-starts your cognitive engine in the morning and keeps you mentally sharp throughout the day; which means you will perform tasks faster and you will get more done in less time. And that means you can spend more time with your partner, family and friends.
Exercise also impacts your emotions in a profound way because it changes your body chemistry. It replaces adrenalin and cortisol (fight or flight) with dopamine and serotonin (inspiration and calm). These are the neurotransmitters you should be running on all day and it all starts with morning exercise. Exercise also kickstarts your metabolism and stimulates your lymphatic system (for immunity). Especially when you exercise in the sunshine without wearing sunglasses. Exercising in morning sunshine also promotes a deeper and longer sleep that same night. In fact, exercise in conjunction with sunshine and sleep has been proven to be more potent than Prozac as an antidepressant. (Sleep is the ultimate superpower for your overall health. Read the definitive guide to sleep here: How to Get the Best Sleep)
And why is it important to exercise before the three other daily rituals?
If you try to journal on waking without first moving you will have trouble calming the mind. Your mind is no match for adrenalin and cortisol. You will be edgy. You cannot sit still let alone think straight. We are wired to hunt and gather on waking, so we need to respect this natural rhythm and get moving. We need to also respect this cycle by eating low carb meals in the morning (if anything at all), moderate amounts of carbs during the day, think substantial salads and higher amounts of carbs as the last meal of the day. Think, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, broccoli (NOT pasta, pizza and bread). Carb cycling in this way promotes healthy cortisol levels.
After you move in the morning, you will find your body gets calmer and your mind clearer and these two qualities are the perfect prerequisites for journaling and the other morning rituals.