Article length: 1,000 words
Reading time: 4-6 minutes
Life is full of decisions. Mostly miniscule, meaningless decisions. From the moment you rise to the second you sleep.
Unfortunately this can lead to decision fatigue, in which we deplete our willpower throughout the day by having to decide between so many options. This problem is only getting worse today, as there are infinite ways to personalize every purchase we make. How many pumps of hazelnut in your morning coffee? What podcast do I listen driving to work? What to wear at the gym? What documentary to watch on Netflix? It never ends.
These decisions can leave us feeling anxious, when left to the devices of multiple decisions we often freeze and choose nothing.
Decisions not only deplete us mentally, but paradoxically physically as well. Every student can attest to the feeling of physical fatigue after sitting in a lecture for three hours.
Having rituals is a great coping device to deal with decision fatigue. Specifically, I've found morning rituals to be the most powerful, as they ensure I'm starting the day in a good mindset.
Regardless of trade, productivity is a sought after trait. Rituals and rules allow us to have default responses to small problems and tasks, to preserve our cognitive energy for what really matters. Willpower is a finite resource and it depletes slightly with every decision made.
Automate the small in order to hyperfocus on the large
My Morning Ritual
To make this tangible I'm going to share my morning ritual that I've tinkered with for the past two months after reading about the benefits in Willpower and hearing Tim Ferriss talk about them.
Heat water for coffee - 1 min.
Shower - 5 min.
Get ready (hair, teeth, clothes, etc.) - 5 min
Grind coffee, place water in French Press - 1 min
Meditate while coffee is brewing - 5 min
Read non-fiction (non-fitness) while drinking coffee - 15 min
Make breakfast shake (16oz milk, 1 tbsp hazelnut peanut butter, 1 tbsp peanut butter, 1 C mixed berries, 1 full banana, 1 scoop whey protein) - 5 min
That's the ritual. I've made slight adjustments here and there (most recently trying to increase my time spent reading to 20 minutes), but I always start the first 30 minutes of my day like that. There is nothing more, nothing less. I don't listen to music. I don't check my phone. I don't open my computer. I do those exact things, in that exact order. Autopilot mode.
The exact ritual is not as important of the ritual itself.
These activities in these specific steps allow a few key things to happen.
- Feel refreshed and alive immediately by taking a shower
- A simple motor task of weighing water, beans and making coffee
- Allow hyperfocus on a specific idea during meditation. This can be something I'm grateful for, something I want to create or a super abstract idea, but whatever the topic I focus on only one thing.
- Reading for a minimum of 15 minutes everyday ensures that no matter what happens the rest of the day I've learned something. This is a great feeling to have immediately to start the day.
- The coffee and shake are quick ways to perk up and start getting calories in. I'm currently aiming to gain muscle, needing upwards of 3,300 calories a day.
Equally important as what a morning ritual does for me, is what it helps me to avoid.
Lethargy by starting the day stiff
- Having anxiety about everything that needs to be done today (often my focus point during meditation is repeating the phrase "There is enough time."
- Seeing something on social media that agitates me
- Receiving an unsettling email
The more positive momentum to start the day, the stronger you'll be able to take a negative hit later. Morning rituals are about controlling the environment to ensure positive momentum is being built. Don't take chances with email, social media or TV to start the day.
There are multiple mediums to help avoid decision fatigue and I've played around with many.
- Having a set three wardrobe sets and quickly deciding on one. No time and cognitive discomfort of matching X with Y. You can even go further and wear the same type of shirt every single day as adopted by Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburg.
- Preparing meals for the week. This makes nutrition super easy. Open the fridge, grab a meal, microwave, eat. No decision to be made.
- Nighttime ritual. Same thinking as a morning ritual. Pick the last 15-30 minutes of the day and always do the same few things. Stretch, watch Netflix, reading, drink tea watch Netflix, etc. Along with stress reduction, this can have a profound effect on sleep quality. I've been playing around with a nighttime ritual as well, but have found it more difficult, so recommend starting with morning rituals.
Building your Morning Ritual
The simple answer is that it doesn't matter. Find a few activities that can be automated, reduce stress and place you in a good space mentally.
Even the duration doesn't matter greatly. It can be as little as ten minutes or as long as an hour. As a general recommendation, start off with a small timeframe (5-10 minutes) and add as you go.
Keep track of the routine each day and how the rest of your morning felt. When you did A, B & C to start the day how much work did you get done? How was your mood? Now take out one of those things, replace it with something else and ask the same questions. Continue to add and subtract until you find the right fit.
You are now armed with a great foundation to begin a morning ritual. Take action now, write down the first 5-10 minutes of your day and start tomorrow morning. Let me know how it goes.
1. How WillPower Works: The Science of Decision Fatigue (Article)
2. Tony Robbins Podcast - Morning Rituals, Peak Performance and Mastering Money (Podcast)
3. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (Book)
4. How To: French Press Coffee (YouTube)
5. The Science of Simplicity: Why Successful People Wear the Same Thing Every Day (Article)