Especially in times of crisis, “…you do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your habits”

~James Clear, Author of Atomic Habits.

I like to think I’m disciplined and optimistic, but this has been a particularly strange time and it’s slowed me down.

Hasn’t it for all of us?

No one in my life is sick or at risk in this global pandemic sweeping the world. I’m fine and staying at home, following the guidelines and doing my small part to limit the spread of this harsh virus.

But, on Sunday evening, after watching an Italian nurse share her personal story of tragedy, I burst into tears. Now, I’m not a cryer. Not usually anyway. It was a little embarrassing.

So, it was time to do something about it. I doubled down on my morning routine and this made a huge difference. Having a morning ritual has always helped me start the day right, regardless of the chaos or crisis around me, but I had slacked off a bit and that had been a bad idea.

Here’s how I’m now staying healthy and serene during these interesting times. I’m sharing this in case it might help someone else as well.

My Morning Ritual:

    • 7am – Wake up, make bed & drink a glass of cool water.
    • 7 – 7:30am – Brush teeth, wash up.
    • 7:30 – 8 am – Yoga on mat at home.
    • 8 – 8:40 am – Core exercise routine with sit-ups, pushups, planks etc…
    • 8:40 – 9:00am – Meditate – simple breathing exercise.
    • 9 – 9:15 am – With vision board in front, do affirmations out loud. Write twenty-five things I’m grateful for.
    • 9:15 – 9:45 am – Vegan breakfast – 2-3 organic fresh fruits with toast & jam and a hot mug of Ceylon tea.
    • 9:45 am – Turn on computer, put my epic movie-soundtrack playlist on and sit down to write. Use the Pomodoro technique to finish at least five thousand words each day.

These times are approximate and is what I try to stick with from Monday to Saturday.

Sunday is my off-day when I wake up and go for a run to the beach instead and try to relax by reading and cooking. My usual wake up time is 6:30am, but these days, with the added stress around us, I’m giving myself a full seven and a half hours sleep.

Sleep is good for stress.

This routine, I believe, is what allowed me to get ten to twelve hours of work done each day. This is how I was able to write the first draft of a book in one month.

In addition to the inherent advantages of exercise and meditation of this ritual, I discovered three hidden benefits to having a morning ritual.

    • 1) The first is it reduces decision fatigue and keeps your mind fresh for more important matters. This way, you’re not wasting your precious brain power or willpower trying to figure out what you are going to eat or when you are going to exercise each morning. Your brain will know automatically what is next and that will keep it fresh and ready for longer periods of productive work in the day. This is probably the greatest benefit for me. As a novelist, I have to hash through the actions, the psychology and the interactions of a host of characters while keeping a story plot exciting, suspenseful and meaningful. This consumes a lot of brain energy as I’m literally (and literarily) thinking for five to ten people every day!
    • 2) The second benefit is it gives you a sense of accomplishment. You can look back at the end of the day and feel like if nothing else worked out, at least you had one healthy meal and you did your exercises. How good is that feeling? These good feelings will keep you happy and productive through the day.
    • 3) The third is an increase in confidence. The best way to build self confidence is to keep the promises you make to yourself. Create a ritual for yourself, give yourself time to adapt and stick to it. Yes, it requires discipline and some effort at the start, but what good thing in life doesn’t?

This ritual is not something I adopted recently, but one I’d worked on since 2015 after I started working from home.

I started small with five minutes of meditation and ten minutes of yoga, and then increased each area in small increments, building on each other, step by step. This structure became even more important after I quit my job to write my novels. I found it gave me a balanced mental and physical lifestyle and a healthy space to do the work I wanted to do.

Granted, I have no kids or pets running around in my home, so it’s easier to do my own thing, but I’m sure you can find ways take on small rituals in your day.

I work longer hours now than I did at my previous demanding risk and project management job, but I’ve never felt healthier and stress free than before. Many of my colleagues and bosses still think I was a bit nuts to leave a six-figured perfectly pensionable job, but I couldn’t ask for more.

I believe this morning ritual (plus my evening ritual which I’ll share another day) and the fact I’m doing work I love has injected a huge boost of happiness into my life.

I am no longer slacking. This morning routine is now a non-negotiable daily ritual.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned recently is that knowing yourself well and knowing how your thoughts and emotions can impact your health and wellbeing is a huge step toward creating a balanced lifestyle.

Given that we’re in the middle of a full-blown global crisis, here is one measurement tool to understand the stages of grief we all go through during challenging times.

    1. Denial
    2. Anger
    3. Bargaining
    4. Depression
    5. Acceptance
    6. Bonus: Find meaning

Sometimes we skip certain stages and sometimes we go through each and every step. Knowing which stage we are in will help us cope better and become more self-aware, so we can self-care.

Take care of yourself.

There is a silver lining in every dark cloud.

I believe we each can find our own personal treasures in the midsts of this crisis. Figure out what yours is and you’ll find calm among these chaos.

What about you?

What are you embracing to stay healthy and take care of yourself these days? Do share your tips and it just might help someone seeking peace and solace these days.