Kristen Ulmer is a former professional extreme athlete, a fear specialist, and the author of The Art of Fear: Why Conquering Fear Doesn’t Work and What to Do Instead. She currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.
What is your morning routine?
I wake up around 9:00am, or whatever time is 9-10 hours after I went to bed (I don’t have kids, and I rarely schedule clients before 10:00am).
I get up to open the bedroom door and the drapes and then jump back into bed and lie there for at least 15-30 minutes while staring out the window at the trees and the weather.
My cat Phoenix, who is an F3 Savannah cat and is about 25 percent wild animal (he looks like a little leopard), usually jumps onboard for a snuggle, as does my husband, who has been up since 6:00am at that point. He climbs into bed with me, and together we marvel over Phoenix and check in about our moods. Am I happy? Am I sad? Am I motivated? Am I flat? We don’t try to alter our moods, just notice them - just an acknowledgement and a discussion.
Eventually I get up, throw on whatever clothing is on the floor, brush my teeth, splash water in my eyes, brush my hair, and then go check email.
When I’m done with email, usually after an hour, I go have breakfast, which I eat while reading National Geographic magazine (I read that sucker cover to cover) out on the porch in the summer and at the dining table in the winter. And that’s it!
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
Fifteen years, at least!
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
Because I’m going through menopause, I rarely sleep 9-10 hours anymore, which kills me. I’m lucky if I get seven. For about six months now, I’ve been getting up at 6:00am or 7:00am instead, which leaves me grumpy. I need more sleep!
I’m experimenting with being creative first thing after I get up, while my brain is fresh, rather than checking email. I’m a fear specialist, and with fear being a huge subject and my approach being so different than anything else out there, I always wake up with some wild morning revelation about fear that’s dying to be sussed out. It dissolves quickly if I don’t start writing about it! But it’s a hard transition because I often have time-sensitive emails to respond to regarding my schedule for that day, and I don’t want to miss appointments.
What time do you go to sleep?
Around 11:00pm. My husband likes to go bed earlier, so I usually snuggle with him in our big fancy bed, kiss him goodnight, and then an hour later go to sleep in the other room - the one painted purple to make me happy.
Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?
I check my calendar right before bed and make a Post-it list of everything I have to do the next day. I sleep better when I’m organized.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
Never! Once, I had a boyfriend who set an alarm every morning, which was fine because I’m great at falling back asleep. What was NOT fine, though, was that he also kept hitting that snooze button, over and over for an hour! We were talking about marriage, kids, all that, but that snooze alarm was my deal breaker. I moved out. I mean, if you’re that tired, why not set the alarm for later and actually sleep the extra hour? I’m still grumpy about it.
As for setting an alarm, I do that maybe six times a year. I avoid it as best I can because I think alarms are evil.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
When I eat is based on how productive I am with work (as you can tell, I work from home). When I’m feeling lazy, I bail off the computer ASAP and go right for breakfast. When I get lost in a project, I don’t think about food until noon.
What I eat is entirely based on circumstances. When I’m dehydrated, a granola concoction with chia and hemp seeds, walnuts, and goji berries covered in almond milk sounds really good. When I have a big day planned that involves sports, I make a single egg with cheese and spinach on garlic Triscuits and drink about four ounces of pomegranate juice. When I’ve been eating crappy food for days, I may blend up an absolutely disgusting, not-at-all sweet kale shake and choke it down.
Do you have a morning workout routine?
Never. It’s so hard for me to conceive of doing anything physical before 10:00am because I’m so low on energy before then.
Do you have a morning meditation routine?
Doing that mood scan while lying in bed is my meditation. In particular, because I’m a fear specialist, I notice where I feel fear. It shows up for me as stress or anxiety, usually in my throat, when I have something pressing to get to. That discomfort usually motivates me out of bed and puts me to work faster.
Or I may feel sadness or anger. When it’s sadness, it’s usually about something or someone, and I lie in bed letting myself really feel it; it’s beautiful. Or I talk to my husband about it.
When it’s anger (haha), it’s usually because I didn’t get enough sleep, and I’m angry about that. I let myself feel that too. Joy is, of course, my favorite.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
Alas, I usually answer it right away. I need to stop that and take advantage of my fresh mind for creative work projects!
How soon do you check your phone in the morning?
Not until at least 10:30am, sometimes noon. I’m not very attached to my phone, unlike most people. I forget it at home all the time. Often, I don’t think about it for an entire day, and when it rings, half the time I don’t even check to see who’s calling. It drives my husband nuts. I’m very attached to my computer, though.
What are your most important tasks in the morning?
Relaxing before getting out of bed. Snuggling with my cat Phoenix or, if she’s up for it, my other cat Neveah, who comes in to lick my arm for about five minutes. Snuggling with or, if he’s busy on a work project, hugging my husband. Checking email.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
Water that I use to take vitamins. I don’t drink coffee or tea. I also sometimes drink pomegranate juice, but not first.
How does your partner fit into your morning routine?
When he crawls in bed with me, I know whether we’re going to have sex or not if he takes his clothes off. If we do, that’s always a mood enhancer, as my husband is a stud. But other than that, nothing changes.
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
My morning routine is the same every day, except Saturdays in the summertime. I still get up whenever the mood strikes me, but I spend those mornings going to yard sales, shopping for food, going to open houses, and eating breakfast out - always by myself. I’m usually gone about four hours. I love those mornings!
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
Yep. It’s the same anywhere, unless I’m facilitating a group or a client - that changes things. But I don’t usually schedule them until after 10:00am.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
No effect. There are about six times a year I have to set an alarm: to catch a plane, give an interview, or facilitate a client or group and adapt to their earlier schedule. I usually feel about the same on these days, but I get tired sooner in the evening and sleep better at night.
Anything else you would like to add?
All day, not just first thing in the morning, I ask myself, “How do I feel now? Okay, how about now?” I call these check-ins “body scans.” These are important because, whatever mood I’m in (unless I have a client scheduled, of course), that’s what determines my next move.
It’s super nice to have that freedom - not only because I know so few people who do, but also because this is what I fantasized about for myself as a little girl. And ha! Look at that! I made it happen! That’s really cool.
Photo of Kristen by Meaghan Golden.
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