“Early in the morning, when day breaks, when all is fresh, in the dawn of one’s strength — to read a book at such a time is simply depraved!” — Friedrich Nietzsche
Mine is Bigger Than Yours
Morning routines are the new dick-measuring contest.
Search them up on YouTube and you’ll be greeted by thousands of videos by people doing more before 9 a.m. than you and I do in the entire day. They get up before the sun does, do yoga whilst listening to an audiobook, hit the gym whilst listening to a podcast, read two books on their way back, and hunt wild Siberian elks for breakfast.
It’s true that properly structuring your morning can have a tremendous impact on your work capacity and well-being, but I’m not sure the way many people go about it is as valuable as it may seem — not to speak of sustainable.
Getting a lot done is not necessarily good. I’d much rather read and digest one great book than rush through ten mediocre ones. Similarly, I’d rather have a deliberate and enjoyable morning routine than one that leaves me no room to think.
Mornings are a time for intimacy; they make us feel a little groggy, a little naked, a little vulnerable. It’s the perfect time to get to know yourself better. Now, whether that means poached eggs and rock and roll music, or peace, quiet and fasting… it’s up to you. Giving you a cookie-cutter morning routine is as useless as it is boring; it’d be much more interesting to see how you can make your own beautiful morning routine.
So, that's exactly what we're gonna do.
The Pillars of a Beautiful Morning
Here are the four pillars on which I think a great morning should stand, based on the personal schedules of some of the most exceptional thinkers to have ever lived.
Pillar #1: Enjoy. Have something small to look forward to as you’re wrapped in your blankets — I don’t care if that’s a tasty breakfast, a rich coffee, or a morning cigarette. Nietzsche hated getting up early but always did, “with a spartan rigor that never ceased to amaze his landlord”. Kant despised it too, but he was proud of the fact he never slept in. As a treat, the former loved preparing himself a glass of warm milk, and the latter some tea and a pipe of tobacco — both without exception.
Action steps: Experiment with simple but delicious breakfast recipes to look forward to (e.g. eggs and avocado toast). If you’re like me and often prefer to just drink coffee, make a ritual out of it: treat yourself to the perfect French Press. If you really just can’t get yourself out of bed, buy a real alarm clock, place it outside of your room, and make it ring one minute after your normal phone alarm does. That’ll get you up.
Pillar #2: Create. As Nietzsche said in the opening quote, mornings are a time of freshness. We now know that when you sleep, your brain cleanses itself of toxins and metabolic waste from the previous day. You wake up with a clear mind, a clean canvas to paint on. It’s the perfect time for you to create rather than consume; to prioritize output over input; to brainstorm ideas; to meditate or anti-meditate. It’s not the time to fill your head with tweets, Instagram posts, clickbaity news, or someone else’s book.
Action steps: Don’t check your phone in the morning (at least for the first hour, ideally until noon). Personally, I like to spend time jotting down whatever comes to mind in a notebook as I drink my coffee: worries, ideas, memories, a dream I had, a drawing… Sometimes, this turns into the practice of Mourning Pages, which I discussed in this article (section VI).
Pillar #3: Focus. When it comes time to work, work. Commit to it. William Faulkner used to detach his doorknob so nobody would bother him; Karl Marx spent his days in a library study room. For 4 to 6 hours, they ruthlessly cut out all distractions. This was the time for them to focus on real work (writing, planning, researching), not busywork (answering mail).
Action steps: Engineer your environment. Lock your phone in a drawer, have little visual and auditory distractions, try out some white noise. Do not waste time on emails yet, focus on real, high-stakes work. Know that your brain likes habit, so it’s best to have a predictable work setting: same spot, same chair, same pen, same posture… As Gustave Flaubert said: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
Pillar #4: Move. A remarkable number of the world’s greatest artists and thinkers thought their daily walks were absolutely sacred. Kierkegaard, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Dickens, Nietzsche, Kant… all of them took daily 1 to 3-hour quiet walks to come up with their best ideas. It makes sense: physical activity has been associated with a ludicrous number of benefits for the brain. The legendary Henry David Thoreau knew it already when he said: “the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow”.
Action steps: Once you feel like you need a break, stop, and go do something active. If you’re stuck at home, consider trying out a movement practice or getting a quick workout in. If you’re close to a forest or a mountain, go for a run or a walk (you lucky bastard). Ideally, you want to do this without any music or audio content; physical activity will prime your brain into producing particularly bright ideas — prioritize them over Billie Eilish.
What About You?
Take a moment to think about how you can apply these simple guidelines into your mornings to turn them into a work of art. What does your morning routine look like? Has this inspired you to change it? I would love to hear your unique thoughts and ideas down below.
How you spend your mornings is how you spend your days; how you spend your days is how you spend your life. Take the time to craft a beautiful morning and you will be one step closer to leading a beautiful life. Some of the best minds in history started their days with pleasure, creativity, deep work, and movement — you and I would be wise to do the same.
As always, thank you all for being here.
PS: If you have any comments/feedback, I would very much appreciate you sharing them with me, either down in the comments, through Instagram, Twitter, or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.