7. Morning Routines
Pete and Jen noodle on morning routines and why they matter.
Peter: Hey Jen.
Jen: Hey Peter.
Peter: So I've been noodling on something that I want to talk to you about.
Jen: I know you love noodles.
Peter: I love to noodle. Because it's 7:30 AM where I am, and I have been thinking a lot lately about morning routines, and so I was curious, what is Jen Waldman's morning routine?
Jen: Ooh, I would love to share my morning routine with you. It's 5:36 PM here, but let's talk about the morning. This is The Long and The Short Of It.
Peter: Okay. So Jen, I have been - not obsessed, that's the wrong word - but I've been curious about morning routines in myself and in other people for about three years now, and so I was curious. I have some assertions and some ideas and some thoughts about the kinds of morning routines that certain people have, but I'm curious for you to unpack what is your morning routine, and then we can unpack mine and let's see where we land.
Jen: Great. And I just want to add to the agenda that I am also obsessed with morning routines, and a couple months ago I started asking my clients in the group classes to share their morning routines, and some of their answers will just make your mind melt. Not always in good ways, but in interesting ways.
Peter: I love that you asked that because, you know, we joke about having the same brain. I have also been asking people that question in workshop settings as well. So there you go.
Jen: It's very funny: my husband today was like, "You and Peter always talk about having the same brain," because I was sharing some episodes with him, and he goes, "It might be important for people to know that you don't literally have the same brain in that he lives in Australia; you live in New York. He's six foot seven; you're five foot one. He does not work in the theatre; you work in the theatre. He has startup experience; you have none." Like there were all these very interesting differences, which is why I think it's so wonderful that with our totally unique life experience, we've come to many of the same conclusions. It's just sort of mind-blowing. Anyway, wanted to call that out.
Peter: Yeah, so for the listeners out there, we don't literally have the same brain.
Jen: It would be hard because we're thousands and thousands of miles away.
Peter: That's kilometers. Also kilometers, as well. But anyway, Jen, please, morning routine, hit me.
Jen: Okay, so my morning routine is different in the summer versus the school year, but the school year is about to begin again. We're recording this in August, so my daughter's school year begins six days from now. So the way my morning routine goes is: I wake up at 6:34...
Peter: I love this already. Is that, is that actually the time?
Jen: That's the time and nobody, including myself, knows why that's the time, but that's what I settled on and I stick with that. So, wake up at 6:34, I get in the shower, I take a luxuriously long hot shower, and I sort of clear my mind. We've talked about this on previous episodes - we both do some of our best thinking in the shower. So I try to clear yesterday's thoughts and make room for today's thoughts. Then when I get out of the shower, I open the podcast app on my phone and whatever is the first thing there - if it's not a Wednesday, because of course on Wednesday the first thing I'm listening to is Akimbo, let's be real - but if it's not a Wednesday, it's whatever happens to be the first thing in the feed.
Peter: You're not listening to The Long and The Short on Wednesday?
Jen: Touche, my friend. But as you know, The Long and the Short Of It drops on Tuesdays in the United States.
Peter: Oh, okay sorry, Wednesday, Australian time, you're right. Continue.
Jen: Yeah, yeah, okay. So I listen to a podcast, and then I wake up my daughter and get her ready for school. Some days I drop her off at school, some days my husband drops her off at school, but in both scenarios I take the subway from 96th street to 42nd street, and I'm often either finishing that podcast I had started that morning, or if it was something short, I'm listening to something else. And while I'm on the subway, I'm trying to connect the dots between what I'm learning in that moment and what I'm intending to do that day, which you know, if it's a weekday means I'm headed to my studio to work with Broadway actors. So I'm trying to connect the dots between whatever it is that the podcast is about - sometimes it's social science, neuroscience, what it means to be an entrepreneur, all sorts of random things that I listen to - and I try to find the connective tissue between what that is and what I'm doing with my artists. And then when I get off the subway at 42nd street, I open my voice recorder app and I talked to myself from the time I get up the stairs from the 42nd street station to the moment that my keys go in the door at the studio, and I record those things. And now I'm releasing them for other people to listen to, but for the longest time, this was just my way of starting my thoughts for the day - getting my thoughts sort of intact so that I could share them with other people. And so what some people might think is missing from this is checking my email, checking Facebook. I don't do that in the mornings anymore. I used to do that, but there is no science that points to that being a good thing, and in fact all of the science points to that being a very, very bad thing. So I have - I don't do any of that. I check my email for the first time usually like five minutes before class starts to see if someone's telling me that they're gonna miss that day. But other than that I, I save it for the afternoon.
Peter: I just, I just, I'm smiling here as I listen to you describe this, because I love how unique it is, in that not only do you not check your email and check Facebook, which I think a lot of us do, but this idea that you are taking a podcast, a fresh podcast that you have no idea what it's about until you start playing it, and then in that moment start connecting the dots between that and the work you're doing that day - that is like mind-blowingly awesome, and just must help you in so many ways, you know, in the work that you do, but also just in the knowledge that you retain through those podcasts. Because I'm guilty, I'm guilty of this, of passively listening to a podcast and you know, telling myself a story that I'm taking some of it in and that the good stuff will stick. But to actively sit there and try and apply that to my work in that moment, that feels like a - that's like leveling up your podcast game. So I'm obsessed with that. I think I might steal it.
Jen: And I'll tell you something about it, Peter, that there are always dots to be connected even when you're like, "How could I possibly use this story about endangered monkeys in the jungles of Peru?" you'll find a way. If that is the task, and you know, it has to be completed, and I guess this is, this is interesting - so this is an important sort of constraint I've put on my thinking process in the morning is: it has to be done by the time I get to work.
Peter: That's so good. It reminds me of this idea of - so in my research into morning routines (and yes, I did research) one thing I stumbled across was this idea of writing down ten ideas every morning to get your brain flowing. I love your ideas so much more because it's about - and it feels the same, like it feels like the same thing. So the science behind that was that the idea part of your brain is almost like a muscle, and if by practicing every day, you get better at being creative and coming up with ideas and all those kinds of things. But I think your version of that is a lot more powerful, a lot more tangible. And to be honest, it sounds a lot more fun than just a list of ten random things.
Jen: I got to say though, that one of the reasons why this works for me is because I have a terribly loud self-critic when I'm writing, and I don't have that self-critic when I'm talking in the same way, probably because this is what I do with my day as I speak extemporaneously about things that are inspiring to me, so I'm essentially using this skill that I've cultivated in my coaching and just practicing it on myself. But if I had to sit down and write it, I don't think I would be as fluid. For other people, hearing the sound of their own voice can be really jarring and can bring up their worst critic, so for other people, if they want to try this sort of, "get your ideas flowing in the morning," they might be better-suited for sitting down at their computer and opening up a blank word doc and typing. So there is not one way. There's just your way.
Peter: Yeah, exactly. And I think put away the Google Doc and get the old-fashioned notepad out and start writing, which leads me to my morning routine, if you would like me to unpack that.
Jen: I really would.
Peter: Okay so, it's shifted a little bit recently because we record these podcast episodes at 6:00 AM my time; however, let's go with a standard normal-ish day when we're not doing this. So I will wake up usually between 5 and 5:15 - my caveat on that, because everybody thinks that's a little bit crazy, is I go to bed really early, right? Like I go to bed at like 9:30, 10:00, so it's not that extreme, I don't think, to get up at 5 then.
Jen: Well I just wanted to say that we record these episodes at 4:00 PM New York time, which is 6:00 AM in Australia, which means that you already have been like out and about before you and I connect on these calls. So this is like a true story. The, the, the early bird.
Peter: Yeah. And so if I think about it as a morning when I'm not doing this podcast, so I've got more than an hour, I guess, between waking up and being where I am now. So I wake up, first thing I do is I open up a blank notepad that sits next to my bed, and I forced myself to write a page. And that page can be whatever; there's no set rules or criteria other than it just has to be a page, so I just write whatever is on my mind. If I'm stopping, if I'm stuck, then I start writing, "Why am I stuck? This is weird. I can't think of anything to write." Like I will literally write that. The point is to just flow through a page, and I guess in my, how I frame it is it's like I clear my brain of all the crap in my head from the night, and then I can start my day. So I do that, and then I put that book aside, and I pull out my other notebook, which is the five minute journal, which has been a journal, like a product that I've used for like almost three years and it's, it's a morning practice where you go through a couple of questions like, you know, "What are some things that you can do today that will make it a great day? What are some things you're grateful for?" And then at the end of the day you actually come back and reflect on how you went with those things and how the day was as a whole. So anyway, I take five minutes to do that journal after my first journal, and then I use my Headspace app. So at this point, I have to leave my bedroom because my phone is in another room - which is a whole separate conversation, potentially - but my phone is in a separate room, and I will go and get my phone, bring it back purely just to open the Headspace app, which is a, you know, guided meditation app, and I'll do like a ten, maybe fifteen-minute meditation through that Headspace app, depending on how I'm going with time. So you know, when we're recording this, it might be more like a five to ten-minute one, just to acknowledge the fact that I have to get somewhere, and then once I've done that - so I've done my two writings, I've done my meditation - I will go and have a cold shower. So I still haven't checked, like you said, I haven't checked my email, I haven't checked Facebook, I haven't checked anything on my phone other than the Headspace app, and I'll force myself (I say "forced," because at times, especially now I'm in the middle of winter in Australia, and it can be hard when it's below freezing and you force yourself to have a cold shower), so I'll go and have a cold shower. And that to me like shocks my system into waking up. It helps me get comfortable in chaos - which I think I could do a whole episode talking about why a cold shower - but I cold shower, and then at this point it's probably like 5:30 ish. So I will do one of two things: either I'll get dressed and come to my co-working space, which is within a walking distance, so it's about a ten-minute walk for me, so I'll do, like you said, Jen, I'll put a podcast on; however, mine's a little bit passive, like I said, so I think I might try and a bit more active with the way that I consume on the walk, or if I don't have this podcast, or if I don't have a call with someone in the States, which is maybe a couple of days a week, I'll actually go to the gym first and do a workout, like a high intensity Crossfit workout. And then from there I will have another shower, and then - this one's a hot shower post-workout - and then I'll go to the co-working space and do my work. So the only variation now, I guess, is whether or not I do my workout in the morning or whether or not I do my workout at night, and that is, in essence, my morning routine at the, at the moment. It has changed a lot over the years I've experimented. I've tried different things, but that's where I'm at at the moment.
Jen: Are you familiar with a book called The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron?
Peter: So I know of it, but I have not read it.
Jen: Okay, so anybody who wants to tap into their creativity, whether or not they identify as an artist should check it out. It is essentially, I believe it's a twelve-week program, so it's really like a workbook. Most of the artists I know have started The Artist's Way. I don't know that many people who have finished it, but one of the consistent tasks is something she calls "the morning pages," which is exactly what you are doing for yourself every morning. But her assignment's three pages, so you put your pen to paper and you do not stop writing until you have three full pages, and those pages might just contain over and over again, "I don't know what to write, I have nothing to say, my mind is blank," whatever, but the goal is stream-of-consciousness, so that you're beginning your creative process in a very intentional and specific and consistent way.
Peter: Yeah. Yeah, what I think is interesting about it is, and maybe this is somewhat relatable to some of your recordings that you make, is most of it is garbage for me when I write in the morning, but every now and then there's this one idea, or this thought, or this one question, or this one "ah ha" moment that I have made stream-of-consciousness that makes it all worthwhile. And I'll write a blog about it, or I'll bring it to this podcast, or I'll shoot a video on it, or I'll bring it up with a client or whatever, but every now and then you just get this one kernel, to use one of your favorite phrases, but I don't think you can get it unless you thrash and go through that stream-of-consciousness.
Jen: So I mentioned that I've been asking my clients about their morning routine, and my group classes tend to have eight or nine people per session. So we'll stand in a circle, and go around the circle, and people share. So there's always a prompt of the week, and so for a while I was doing this, "What's your morning routine?" and what was really jarring and unfortunate is that in all of my classes, over half of the people responded that the first thing they do is check their phone - over half, so this is like the overwhelming majority. And essentially what that boils down to is FOMO. This idea that like, something important has happened while you were asleep; like the chances are nothing that important happened while you were asleep. And the other thing that I think it's born from is this need to be needed, like checking your email lets you know that somebody needed you, or somebody wanted something from you, or to connect with you - it makes you feel important. And I think it's very, very dangerous to make the first thing you do in the morning; well, I guess I call it "the daily scroll," like the idea that you would do a morning scroll every morning, and instead of giving yourself, especially if you're a creative person, instead of giving your own ideas room to grow, that the first thing you would do is implant other people's ideas in your head before you've given yourself the space to have a moment for yourself. This is why my shower is so important to me, because I know I'm going to be taking in someone else's ideas in the podcast, but first I need to get my own ideas in check.
Peter: Right, and that's the writing for me, it's like I think boils down to that one is a very proactive way of starting your day, of being like, "Well, I'm going to set my own intention and I'm going to start off by," like you said, "giving myself space to have unique ideas or my own thoughts or you know, space to meditate with no other thoughts that have interrupted my day so far." Like I feel like that's a very proactive way to start your day, and I think you and I both do that, and from what I've garnered in my research, a lot of people who are, you know, very highly-regarded creatives or entrepreneurs or senior executives or whatever, they all have a very similar pattern, I think, which is this idea of having proactive space. The opposite of that is, to me, what you described is you are reacting literally from the second that you wake up, you are reacting to what other people are saying, you are reacting to what emails are telling you, you're reacting to what Facebook or Instagram are showing you, and so like, how can you break out of that mud of reaction the rest of the day when your intention from the minute you woke up was to react to things? And I think that just makes this idea of creating proactive space in, in the day later, like later in the day, so much harder. So that's kind of the reason behind, I guess, my obsession with morning routines, is this idea of, you know, if you win the morning, you win the day. I've heard people say, "But this idea of starting with a proactive process..."
Jen: I've never thought of it as proactive space versus reactive space, but when you say that it, it clicks in a very deep way for me. So thank you for that. What I found to be really interesting is when we're going around the circle and people were sharing their morning rituals and I think they could, like, sense in me that I was like, "What are you people talking about? The first thing you do is grab your phone?" the excuses and the justification and the illogical logic that came as an explanation for why people check their phones first thing in the morning is just amazing. But what was really funny is that I repeated back some of the things that I heard, and when people heard their own excuses reflected back to them, they were like, "Oh gosh. Yeah, I'm definitely never checking my phone first thing in the morning again because I don't need to know what the weather is like in my - in the town where my parents live. Like I don't, I don't need to know that first thing in the morning," or, "I don't need help adjusting my eyes to the light and using my phone as the way to adjust to light," or, "I don't - I don't need to see what's the latest political twitter situation so that I can make sure that I know what to talk about at the water cooler." Like these are not legitimate reasons to check your phone first thing in the morning, but many people have created this excuse, and that justification allows them to continue this really destructive behavior, which I'm telling you, listeners, our dear beloved listeners, all of the science, all of it says don't do it. If you like science, put your phone down.
Peter: Don't argue with science, guys. It's science.
Jen: And that is The Long and The Short Of It.