By Raju Mandhyan
A FEW WEEKS AGO, a workshop participant asked me what was my personal early morning ritual and what do I do to start the day with a positive state of mind and stay engaged, balanced and motivated all day long?
Barely pausing to think about what I do, I said, I sit. I mean, I sit down. Right away her eyebrows slightly went up and then I added that I have this quiet, special corner in my room and I settle down there cross-legged. I settle down, allow my body to find a comfortable and an upright position and then I let myself watch and listen to my thoughts. It is a slow start; my thoughts first hover around how I woke up and then they try and recollect the traces of my dreams from my half-awake state. Soon, my mind then takes in the opening lights of the day, the state of the sky outside, the gentle rustling sounds of life in addition to the sound of my two dogs who also rise and shine at about the same time as I do. Then my thoughts slowly progress on to my feelings. I check for any excitement about something, any soft concern about my words and actions of yesterday and then, finally, I move into the events of the day and slowly but steadily with a conscious mind I begin to start ticking off things to do from a mental checklist.
You see I am a ‘do’ kind of person. If I find myself excited about something then I ask myself what I should do to tone down that excitement. If I find myself concerned or, even, afraid of something then I ask myself what are my real, valid reasons to be concerned and regardless of the fact that I get logical answers from myself or not my anxiety levels tone down too. Naturally, a shadow of a smile lights up my face. Of course, I do not see the smile but I sense it in my gut.
So I stay there in that upright seated state of solitude for quite some time quietly and deliberately running through the slide deck of my day as I wish for it to unfold. Sure, every now and then I get distracted by the sounds from the street or of my dogs barking at someone or something. The thought that they might be getting anxious to take a stroll down the street and do what they usually have to do also enters my mind but I get right back to my thinking, feeling and breathing life into my life for the day.
Some folks would call this meditation and mindfulness and there’s a shipload of research and discussions that unfold every single minute about these topics around the world. I am fine with that and in many instances I have been part of these conversations and activities but I prefer calling this morning ritual of my own as ‘quiet time.’
After I am done scrolling, rewinding, editing and augmenting my “action” checklist for my day, I slowly get up and get into a plank position and stay there for as many minutes I can. Then I, finally, swing up into a headstand and bring and keep my attention on my breathing for the next three to five minutes. Lastly, I emerge from that quiet moment and take my dogs out for as long as my daily timetable allows.
After attending to my morning needs and before or after getting and garbing myself up for whatever kind of day that lays ahead of me, I still take another few minutes at my desk and colorfully mind-map what went through my head during my “quiet time” at dawn of the day. Doing this is shortlisting and finalizing my daily “do” list for the day.
Now, how does this morning ritual serve me? And, why does this serve me?
You have probably heard of the saying in business that if you fail to plan, you are really planning to fail.
My early morning ritual is my plan for the day. It is my road map for the day. It is my story outline for the action-comedy-drama-romance that my life and our lives are made up of. Life is a stage and no doubt about it that we all have to constantly improvise, yet taking those few moments of quietness allow you to prime up a “yes, and…” attitude. Those quiet moments allow you to take into account how the stage is laid out and how all the other players in your life are placed and it allows you to play the game of life with clarity, creativity and conscientiousness.
At the neurological level, daily, our five senses actively and constantly absorb process, filter and store new data in our memories. This buzz of activity combined with old existing data and expectations of the future keeps our state of mind in a frenzied edge all the time. Having a high amount of unmanaged activity inside our minds in comparison to the sounds and events on the outside make us unnecessarily anxious. Conversely decreasing the amount of unmanaged activity inside our minds in comparison to the sounds and the events on the outside will keep us cool and composed. Finding quiet ground will result in a well-managed, well-controlled state of mind regardless of the quantity and quality of noise and activity on the outside. A gentle daily practice of priming yourself up for the day will keep us all proactive and productive through every possible changes and surprises of the day.
Regardless of what kind of work-life you lead, here are some quick tips for finding time and getting grounded for the day ahead.
• Set a specific hour and time for this quiet time every day. Make it a habit no matter how busy and agitated your day may appear. Take that time out. It is for you. Think of it is a replacement for the usual few more minutes of shuteye every morning or the time you take out for coffee in the morning. Do it, no matter what.
• Now if your mind and body screams any of your daily addictions like coffee, Just sit down and count those darn mind and body screams. In my opinion, in time the screams will run out, you will slowly cool down and begin to focus inwards on your thinking and feeling.
• Use the sound of your breathing to anchor your focus. Every time you yearn to move and get antsy go back to paying attention to your breathing in and breath out. Slowly and naturally you will begin to relax, become focused and breathing will become even and peaceful like how a baby breathes while sleeping. Yes, that is the goal, to breath gently through the tummy like a baby at sleep.
• Whatever other scary thoughts that traverse across the skyline of your mind, watch them go as you would watch dark clouds pass by before a storm. Just note them and go. Name them if you wish. I have one I call Doubting Thomas. I chase him out almost every morning.
• Soon the real things that you can “do” will traverse across the same skies and your gut will recognize smiles lighting up your countenance. Now take notes. Mental notes. Add details if you wish but let the thinking, feeling, checking, breathing and sitting quietly continue.
My friend and speaking idol, author of the book Acorns to Oaks, Jim Cathcart, gets up every morning puts on his shoes and hikes for at least five kilometers a day. That is his ritual and the way he motivates himself through lazy unwilling bones or not-so inviting weather conditions outside by telling himself to “put on those shoes and get out of the door!”
That works for Jim. Getting and sitting down, planking, head-standing and then walking for me. The way I motivate myself through lazy, unwilling bones is by saying to myself, “get up, sit down and be quiet!” That works for me.
Years ago, I used to get up and head for a neighborhood pool and swim till my arms ached and that worked for me then. In the water, with repeated strokes, my thinking and feelings would calm down and become steady. If you don’t like my ritual then go and create your own but know this: that the power of any ritual lies in its consistency and the mental discipline. Yes, and you have it in you to do and you can do it. Take my word or ask around, it does impact your physical and mental well-being very positively.
Raju Mandhyan is an author, coach and speaker.