What is your morning routine?
To the untrained eye my morning routine (and all my other routines) seems to take away what it actually gives me: freedom. But that’s exactly what all my routines give me—mental freedom, in particular.
Here’s why: First, since I live on the fifth floor, each time I got home I used to decide between taking the elevator or the stairs. There are plenty of things I’d prefer to think about than how to go upstairs, so that meaningless choosing process wasn’t improving my life.
To get rid of those thoughts, I asked myself once and for all which way I preferred. I chose the stairs and freed my mind from that decision forever. Second-guessing would undo the freedom I created, so it’s easier for me to take the stairs every time.
Second, when my friend set up my blog and I asked him how often he posted, he told me, “Every day.” If you miss one day, you can miss two. If you miss two, it’s all over.
The perspective stuck with me. The mental freedom of not having to track whether I live by my values helps me more than anything else. I even created a name for my habits: Sidcha, which stands for Self-Imposed Daily Challenging Healthy Activities.
When I find something I value, I systematize it into my daily habits. Then I live by my values freely and effortlessly. Lacking habits is like building in sand. A habit or two is like solid ground. A sidcha is bedrock.
I set my alarm for 6:15am. My phone is across the room from the bed. My routine is:
- Wake up, make my bed, walk across my room, and turn off my alarm before 6:16am
- Open the shades and lay down my workout mat
- Go to the bathroom
- Do burpee-based calisthenics:
- 27 burpees (usually three sets of nine)
- Hamstring stretch for sixty breaths
- A pike for ten breaths (the best I can, which is barely more than ninety degrees)
- Crunches: three sets of eight, then ten bicycle crunches, all while holding a forty-five-pound kettlebell behind my head
- Bridge stretch for six breaths
- One-arm rows, six on each side, with fifty-three-pound weights
- Curls, six on each side, with thirty-five-pound weights
- Water plants (and nibble on the edible ones—basil, arugula, etc.)
- Have breakfast
- Read news and email while eating breakfast
- Shower, groom, and dress (on Mondays and Thursdays I shave after the shower, and every fourth day I take a cold shower)
Now the day begins.
On even-numbered days I also alternate between rowing (usually for about twenty minutes, burning about three hundred calories) or running (between five and seven miles), and I add a weightlifting workout with the following: kettle bell swings, deadlifts, squats, bench, military press, one-arm rows, curls, and Turkish stand-ups.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
I’ve done burpees every day since December 21, 2011, so tomorrow completes my sixth year of daily burpees without missing a day. I added the rest of the calisthenics since then. Before then I hadn’t set a pattern. I expect to continue it until my body can’t.
I’ve done about 2,100 days in a row and passed 100,000 burpees two months ago. Tim Ferriss and fitness expert Martin Gibala talked about me and my burpees on Tim’s podcast.
I added the one-minute making the bed and crossing the room in November 2016.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
Before the burpees I didn’t have a routine.
I started with ten burpees per day. I’ve added new elements to the routine as I’ve built my strength and discipline, having started with neither. I still think of myself as doing ten burpees, despite the routine growing so much since. At forty-six years old, I can sense that within a couple of decades I’ll have to start lowering the burpees and weights. So far so good, though.
What time do you go to sleep?
I set an alarm for 10:00pm to get ready for bed. I usually fall asleep between 11:30pm and midnight.
Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?
Yes, I clear my desk so it’s clean to wake up to.
I’ve meant to start writing down my top three tasks for the next day before going to sleep, but I haven’t made that a habit yet.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
I use an alarm but never snooze. My one-minute bed-making wake-up is one of the best practices I’ve created. It starts my day with purpose, at no cost in time or money.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
Breakfast is usually around 7:00am, depending on how long I was in the bathroom and how long I took to start my burpees. One day I may decide to start them in under three seconds or something like that. For now, I sometimes stand for a while with my inner monologue saying, “start…okay, now start…okay, now start…maybe I should make my bed a little better or clean that dirt off the floor…no, those are just impulses, I’ll let them pass…okay, now start…” etc.
Breakfast is one cup of oats, one heaping tablespoon of chia seeds, two heaping tablespoons of nuts, chopped seasonal fruit, and water. I often eat more fruit and peanut butter after.
Do you have a morning meditation routine?
I don’t meditate regularly, but I do a Vipassana no-talking-reading-writing retreat once every other year or so, sometimes for ten days, sometimes for just five, three, or one day.
In the past, I have practiced meditation daily, but I find that my sidchas give me most of the value of a daily practice. Doing about one hundred hours of meditation in ten days at a retreat gives me depth.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
I do a triage of my email after I turn off my alarm—that is, I read the subjects and leave the rest for later.
Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?
No. And the thought of it feels unnatural, like putting Miracle Whip in guacamole, which I saw someone do once. Yuck!
I view my routines like I view brushing my teeth or wearing a seatbelt. Do you need an app to remind you to brush your teeth? I can’t imagine going to sleep with my teeth unbrushed or driving without a seatbelt on. It’s the same with the burpees and my other sidchas.
How soon do you check your phone in the morning?
I use my phone as my alarm, so I check it when I turn it off, but I almost never get messages overnight and the email is just a triage.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
Maybe some water when I finish brushing my teeth. It’s not part of my routine. I drink when I’m thirsty, almost exclusively water, and never bottled.
I haven’t had coffee or tea in years. In my entire life, I’ve only had a few cups’ worth of each.
If you have a partner, how do they fit into your morning routine?
I don’t have a serious girlfriend right now, but when I’ve had them, they pick up on how set my routine is and give me space. Some start burpees or some equivalent, too, and we make it a fun, shared habit.
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
One of my main reasons I rely so much on bodyweight exercises is so I can do my routine anywhere, no excuses. When I’m away from home I substitute bodyweight exercises for the parts using weights or the rowing machine. Not having access to oats or fruit can be a (rare) challenge, but I’ve always figured it out.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
I haven’t missed it since I started in 2011.
I avoid equipment or apps so I can do my routines anywhere. The last time I traveled, for example, and didn’t have access to a rowing machine or a place to run, I substituted jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and bodyweight squats in my hotel room.
I’ve had injuries and illnesses over the years, but none have stopped me from my routines.
Anything else you would like to add?
I have a few other sidchas throughout the day.
I do my burpee-based calisthenics before going to bed, like my morning routine but with planks (front and side) and an ab roller instead of crunches, an L-sit instead of a pike, and a variation on the bridge stretch.
I write on my blog every day and have since January 2011, almost 2,500 days in a row. I pick up at least one piece of trash per day from the street and put it in a trash or recycling bin. I decided not to fly for at least one year. I’m in month nineteen so far. I mop the floor before my weightlifting routine, every fourth day.
I take the stairs when available for under five flights and most of the time for under ten flights. I walk distances under a couple of miles and take the subway or buses beyond that. I take taxis maybe once a year.
If you enjoyed reading this morning routine interview, and have found value in what we’ve been doing for the past five years, it would mean the world to us if you could tell your friends and family about our book, and consider getting a copy for yourself.