Sport: The Power of a Morning Routine

The importance of a morning routine is something that has become far more prominent in my mind and daily living over the last couple of years, solidified during the lockdowns over the past twelve months.

I’ve always gravitated towards routines, which I think being heavily involved in sport is a behaviour that has always been promoted and required. Particularly at a younger age, school years, the majority of days were, to a degree, fully mapped out, school followed by a couple of hours at home then training in the evening. Although I didn’t realise it back then almost the full day was programmed for me. On leaving school I then went to work in the day, followed by Judo most evenings to, eventually, being in Judo full time, which involved three training and one or two coaching sessions over the course of most days. Routine, and the discipline to stick to one, just came with the lifestyle.

It really wasn’t until the first couple of weeks of the first 2020 lockdown that I came to see that, with loads of time on my hands, how much procrastinating I can do. How much bloody time I can waste mindless scrolling on my phone. Brushing my bastard teeth felt like a monumental chore! I’ve touched on the conversation that I had with my friend, Brian McDermott, around that time in a previous post. Brian talked about how he finds the first 30 minutes of each day really important, how getting a good initial half an hour gives him the ‘best chance’ or ‘strongest opportunity’ of having a good day and to do well in training. 

That conversation with Brian really got me thinking and pretty quickly I began to see some of the really good habits that sport has enabled me to build. Training at Camberley Judo Club has typically always started at 10am. Many athletes, myself included, eat a hearty breakfast with plenty of low glycemic index value carbohydrates (energy foods that are absorbed and metabolised slower- porridge oats, whole wheat bread etc). I worked out early on in my full time training that I needed to be eating breakfast at least a couple of hours before the first session, something I’ve stuck well to throughout my full senior career. Breakfast was literally the thing that dictated what time the alarm went off. When I was doing a lot of dieting to get to 73kg I found water helped satisfy my hunger. I’d make sure that I always drank at least a pint of water while preparing breakfast, again a habit that I’ve continued. Just a point before moving on, I am not a nutritionist nor a dietician, I am just talking purely about my own eating habits, I have worked with professionals throughout most of my career and couldn’t recommend it more for anyone that feels they would like support in that area.

I found the first couple of weeks of lockdown pretty tough, the most obvious negative thing that I was doing was spending a lot of time on my phone. After reading this post by author Ryan Holiday I decided to not have my phone in the bedroom anymore, I’ve tried a few other tech related interventions but this is the one that I’ve found has stuck and has had the most impact. Those first couple of lockdown weeks I’d pick the phone up on awakening and it wouldn’t be far away from me for the rest of the day. Not having that option to ‘just check Twitter’ first thing prevented that. It definitely ‘freed me up’ to do some more positive things.    

Limiting the phone use in that period gave me much more time that needed filling. After a year or so of only really listening to audiobooks, physical reading was something I began to start with again. I was then asked by Stuart Tomlinson of the Warrior Collective to write a blog post for his website, which sparked an enjoyment for writing again, another positive activity for filling my time with and the very reason I’m writing this blog. Free time is all well and good as long as there are good things for me to fill some of it with, sometimes that involves me trying new things, which can make me anxious but, is very worthwhile in the long run. Finding good relaxing methods has been important too, not just sat in front of Netflix on my phone not really paying attention to either, which I can easily still do.

Anyway, back to the morning routine. I began to incorporate some mindfulness work a while back, something I was encouraged to do. None of this stuff is my own, all suggested to me by various people. I’ve then just tailored it to fit my day. I only did it sporadically for a long period but the lockdowns helped me to navigate a healthy and reasonable amount of time to dedicate to it. I am by nature an extremist so cutting this down to a realistic amount of time was a process that I had to go through, I found the writing of James Clear very helpful for this. I’m open minded but not by any means religious in the classical sense however, some of the mindfulness work I do is a bit like a form of prayer. Once I expelled the Richard Dawkins Junior persona from my mind, I quickly began to find this an extremely aiding practise, something I was  pleasantly surprised with. Off the back of advice of numerous people I found a way that this can work well for me. I like to kneel down, relax my body as much as possible, say what I’m grateful for in my life and how I’d like my day to go; to remain relaxed, be kind, accept things that are beyond my control, eat healthily, train sensibly and well, be a compassionate and professional coach etcetera etcetera. This sort of stuff takes 2-3 mins and seems to centre me pretty well. Psychologists often discuss visualisation techniques, I imagine this exercise is incorporating elements of visualisation in it.  I definitely have what’s known as a ‘washing machine head,’ my mind whirs and my thoughts can go all over the place, this exercise I’ve found helps me to keep me a bit more relaxed and in what I’m doing that day. I often then finish this up with a few minutes of meditation, sitting on a chair and just focusing on my breathing. Again, I’ve found that on the whole it helps me to concentrate better, particularly useful on the mornings (pre-covid) that we would be doing randori (sparring). Note, I don’t have kids so fortunately I’m seldom interrupted!  

A short daily reading I can find useful too, just before I start to get on with the rest of my day. I started a few years ago with the Daily Stoic, which has  become increasingly popular, there are plenty of others like this but I found this one to be a great starting point. A one page, easily digestible reading, per day.

Those are some of the elements of my first 30 minutes or so of my day, the order tends to change but I do my best to get them all in each day. Mindfulness, good nutrition and general preparation; shower, teeth brushing (FFS!) etc all included. I find I can still have crap days when I do them and on the days when I don’t do them I can still have a good day, I’ve only really been consciously doing this sort of stuff for a short while so I’m still navigating my own relationship with it all. I am definitely finding it all helpful over a broader spectrum of time though, I tend to have more good days when I stay disciplined with it. I do have a tendency to strangle things so for me ‘looser boundaries’ appear to be a better fit. Still, the power of a programme is a great thing.  

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