Skip to content

The math of morning routines

2 min read

Mornings are my favorite part of any day. When a morning goes well—by which I mean, when all of the pieces of my routine click into place—I tend to have a pretty good day. If I miss a step or two, though, it can throw everything off.

I listened to a podcast recently—I've been testing out loads of them lately, so I don't even remember which it was—that talked about building new habits around a "linchpin" habit. That is, you find the habit you're already doing, the one that's essential to your happiness, and you staple new habits to it. By doing so, you give the new habit a better shot at successful adoption.

Turns out I've been doing this without realizing it. For just about as long as I can remember—since high school, maybe? since before that?—I read something over breakfast. That's my linchpin habit: Reading while eating.

About four years ago I added keeping a journal to the equation. Since I was often having breakfast away from home in those days—those pre-pandemic days; I haven't been in a diner or a coffee shop since March 2020—I'd bring along a notebook and a pencil, and write a few pages while waiting for breakfast to arrive. Though I'd never succeeded at keeping a journal before, by attaching it to my pre-existing routine, I gave it a shot at working. And it did. I've just cracked the spine on a new notebook, my thirty-eighth since I began.

In a recent newsletter I wrote about the relationship between art and walking. I've been thinking about this awhile now. I don't move as much as I ought to. By day I design software; in my off-hours, I write stories. Both of these things keep me in a chair for longer than is good for me.

So I added a new element to my morning routine: A morning walk. As I describe in that newsletter, we live at the top of a punishingly steep (but beautiful) hill. There's no better way to break a new habit than to make it unpleasant, a lesson that isn't terribly unfamiliar to my software work: You try to establish some quick victories for a new user, see, in order to help them build a positive relationship with your software. I thought I needed to do the same thing with a morning walk, so I skipped the hill altogether and headed for a flat trail a short drive from home.

And it worked, or seems to have. In the mornings now, I wake up early, pull on my tennis shoes, and take a loop on the trail. There are few people on the trail at that hour, so I can let my mind drift without interruption. I'll listen to a podcast or music, think about novel problems I'm trying to crack.

When I'm done, I head home again, where I write a few pages in my current notebook, then make breakfast and eat it with a book in hand, and finally wander down to my study, where I log some words on my novel project before the day's design work begins.

So far so good.