This past month, I've spent a lot of time thinking about intentionality and the power of a good routine. When my alarm went off this morning, the familiar Monday grogginess set in, and I debated skipping Sculpt to sleep in for another hour. After lying there half-awake for 10 minutes and performing the classic cost-benefit analysis (if I get up and go now, I'll feel better after; if I lie here and sleep, I get to…continue sleeping), I decided to suck it up and go.
Post-workout with my iced caffeine hit in-hand, I turned on The Daily podcast for the drive home.
I realized, as I drove back toward the sunrise-lit Dallas skyline, how much I really enjoyed my little morning routine. Sure, it means I get to work 45 minutes later than I used to, but that two-hour window in the morning where I exercise, drink coffee, make my bed, and clean my ghost kitty's litterbox is the time of my day where I feel most like myself.
Today was a great example of this, since I really didn't even want to get out of bed—let alone at 6 a.m. for a workout. I think it speaks to the power of a routine, and I wondered on my way to work why I felt so much like ME when I was going through that nearly meditative sequence of events.
I read once that routines are great for people with anxiety, but I think it goes far beyond that. Not to completely disregard a key piece of my interview with Ali Anwar in which he stated there's no concrete recipe for success, but most successful people I know are extremely routine-oriented. There's power in consistency for your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing.
Solid routines quell anxiety. They reinforce self-esteem and identity. They provide a framework for your day so you can perform as optimally as possible in the other areas of your life that really matter by simplifying and enhancing the seemingly meaningless parts of your day: those little windows that often get treated as negligible throw-away periods, like the time when you first wake up, the time you spend in your car commuting, and the time right before bed.
You learn things about yourself based on your behavior. In other words, your actions essentially dictate how you feel about you.
There was this sign in my 7th grade classroom that read, "Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your character." While this was undoubtedly an attempt at inducing Catholic guilt and encouraging a bunch of 12-year-olds to not be little pieces of shit, the sentiment stuck with me. Your actions decide who you are.
Of course, your identity is comprised of more than just your behavior, but think about it—it HAS to be a big part of it, right? If you're not your actions, then how else do you qualify yourself as a nice person? A smart person? A funny person? If you can't pull in your hobbies, the way you treat others, or the words that come out of your mouth, then how do you define and defend those characteristics?
Routines give you a consistent indication (to yourself, every day) of your priorities. There's an element of comfort, too—this little string of habits is there for you every day to set the tone. And while some people are more habitual than others, I think everyone can benefit from establishing and maintaining a great one.
Here are a few of the key staples I've found to deliver the most impact, through trial and error, in my own life. I feel compelled to disclaim here that I am cognizant everyone is different and is served by different things; I intend to share the things have become game-changers in my life that you might be interested in trying if you're (a) stuck in a rut or (b) feel at all tempted to institute changes that may affect you positively.
Wake up early and exercise before work.
I know, I know, we've been over this one. But it bears repeating because I really think it makes such a difference. I listened to a podcast the other day about this very topic, and there's a health nut/guru named Aubrey Marcus out in California (the health nut holy land) who swears by the following: wake up, sweat, expose your body to light and fresh air, then finish off your shower with a cold water burst.
Here's the pseudo-science: when you hit a workout or some other form of movement first thing in the morning, your metabolic rate jacks up early. You start burning fat immediately, especially if you don't eat beforehand (intermittent fasting), and get blood flowing to your brain and throughout your body. By exposing yourself to sunlight and fresh air afterward, you're balancing your Circadian rhythms. The light sends signals to your brain that it's time to get going, and sets the stage for great sleep that night.
The cold water thing is a little hellish, but there's supposedly some great benefits. I do this from time to time and—bonus benefits—good for your skin and hair!
Speaking of skin—there are few things as important to how your skin looks as a consistent skincare routine. I'm telling you, it works wonders over time. Here's my favorite that combines the best of the boujee with drugstore staples.
Need some help waking up early for a workout? Here are some #tipz. If nothing else, I think waking up early by itself is huge. I know people's creative energies work differently; some people hit their creative peak late at night. But I've listened to and read a lot about the benefits of waking up early, and I think anyone can train themselves to become a morning person. There's something special about that time of day when very few people are awake and all is quiet before you have to go out and face the world.
It's impossible to not feel great about yourself when you get a big jump on your day. Nothing makes you feel more like you have your shit together, I promise you.
And since I'm plugging exercise, I want to talk about my absolute favorite leggings. No matter how many different kinds I try, these remain my favorite pair. The fabric is softer and thinner than the Wunder Under fabric (if you're familiar with Lulu, you know the Wunder Unders are rather thick).
While that's great for holding in your waistline and 'lifting,' if you 'nawm sayin', these pants are so soft and comfortable. They're called the Align pant, and they're the 7/8 length which is perfect for petite women because they hit right above the ankle bone on short gals.
I ran the Dallas Half Marathon in these in December and really didn't have much chafing to speak of between my legs. There was a little, but I was impressed that I could run 13.1 miles in these pants comfortably.
While obviously expensive, if you want to invest in one solid pair of leggings, I really think these are a good investment. If you want a thicker material, the Wunder Under is a cult classic. These are great if you're self-conscious about your midsection because they're high-rise (like the Align pant) and thick enough to smooth over areas that may make you feel self-conscious in skin-tight workout clothing.
(And for those of you who have never tried Lulu before, buy two sizes larger than normal. I typically wear a size 0, but I wear a 4 in Lululemon.)
Make your damn bed.
This takes 2 minutes and has been scientifically proven to increase your productivity throughout the entire rest of your day.
It's one of the smallest, easiest, yet most impactful decisions you can make every morning to send a signal to yourself that (a) you have your shit together and (b) it's time to #werk. Plus, you'll sleep better at night climbing into a clean, well-made bed.
Like I said, it reinforces those characteristics about yourself that, whether or not they come naturally, I think we all want to feel. There's a reason they make you do this in the military—it's about self-discipline and taking pride in your belongings and environment.
And besides, setting yourself up for good sleep is probably the single-most influential thing you'll do on a day-to-day basis. The whole "I only slept 4 hours last night!" bragging is so bizarre to me. Sleep improves pretty much every aspect of your life—it supports weight loss, decreases cortisol levels and stress, is the time when your skin renews itself (among other things), improves cognitive functioning and creativity, and balances your emotional well-being.
Have you ever gotten really emotional over literally nothing because you were tired? I know I have (the classic 'crying over Queer Eye' Sunday exhaustion is the perfect example), and waking up well-rested is sometimes the single determinant of how you're going to approach your day. While a cozy, comfortable, neat and clean bed doesn't guarantee good sleep, it sure as hell helps.
These "1800 series" sheets that are softer and more breathable than Egyptian Cotton and made of microfiber fabric that's twice as fine as silk. I love the whole silk sheets trend; I do believe that silk pillowcases are probably better for your skin than microfiber from a wrinkling standpoint, but silk has to be dry-cleaned. I change my pillowcases weekly (as you should, to keep bacteria at bay). There ain't no way I'm budgeting for weekly pillowcase dry-cleaning. That's a level of extra to which I aspire, but cannot yet attain.
Sleep aside, making your bed is the quickest way to make even a messy room feel a little more pulled together. Conversely, even a clean room looks disheveled when the bed isn't made. If you're not a neat freak like me, you may be wondering, why the hell do I care how my room looks? And to that, I offer this quote: "Our home should inspire us to go out into the world to do great things and then welcome us back for refreshment."
Again, it goes back to taking pride in your space. This is where you LIVE! Shouldn't it be a place that's clean, inviting, and inspiring? A few months ago I covered how I made my bedroom (what I think is) a beautiful space that I love spending time in, on one hell of a budget. To this day, my favorite items are the pink bench at the end of my bed and the mirrored front vanity.
Hydrate early and quickly.
This is why routines are effective: the parts tend to fit together and support one another. If you start with a workout, you're likely to get 12-16 oz. of water in before 8 a.m. as a result of exercising. If you try to drink another 12-16 oz. while you get ready and on your commute, you're already fully hydrated before you even step foot into work, which gives you a true mental and physical edge (you're more likely to eat smaller portions of better food throughout the day if you're hydrated).
I'm a big fan of giant water bottles like this one that hold up to 32 oz. of water. Strive for at least 64 oz. of water daily, but really, it's best to go for between half an ounce to an ounce per pound of body weight.
So, if I weigh approximately 105 pounds, I should try to drink between 52 and 105 oz. of water per day. This is a lot, to be sure, and my coworkers joke that "Katie's second desk" is in the women's restroom since I have to pee so frequently, but HYDRATION IS WORTH IT, folks.
Another reason I like water bottles like this one: no straws. Since the straws harbor bacteria on the inside (#pleasant), you have to clean them more frequently. You don't really have to worry about washing water bottles with big open mouth pieces like this one. Plus, it's 32 oz., so you don't have to get up to refill it every 10 minutes like 12 or 16 oz. bottles.
Aside—I met someone on Friday night who told me he reads my blog (holy shit) and that he 'drinks a lot of water now.' My heart soared.
I will admit, though, I have since stopped tracking my water intake. I noticed it was stressing me out and turning into a little bit of a negative if I hadn't hit certain hydration benchmarks by certain points in the day (just typing that sentence sent me reeling into a first-world oblivion), so now I try to focus on listening to my body and drinking water almost absent-mindedly throughout the day instead of being really regimented about it.
Pay attention to the vibe you're setting for yourself.
It sounds obvious, but I've noticed when I listen to super emo music on the way to work or while I get ready in the morning, I end up being in a funky, downer mood. Sometimes I just want to listen to one throwback song, then find myself sucked into a late-90s vortex of grunge pessimism. If I'm ever feeling anxious or hyperemotional, I've found podcasts and audiobooks are excellent replacements for music in the morning when your brain is still super impressionable.
I listen to The Daily podcast religiously on my way to work, and it gets my wheels turning about the most significant current events in that day's news cycle (it also keeps you #woke as hell). Maybe The Daily isn't for you—maybe it's a different news podcast, or a "Stuff You Should Know" episode, or an inspirational binge on "How I Built This."
Maybe it's a true crime series that grips your attention and focuses your mind on something compelling (although I've also learned the hard way that going too hard at the crime docu-series can also put your mind in a dark place). Whatever it is, listening to something that's informational and entertaining (infotaining?) is an incredible way to simultaneously ground and inspire you, or just entertain you and put you in a good mood.
It's weirdly calming to listen to someone talk for 45 minutes to an hour about a topic you find interesting. You'll find your mind wandering, but in a good way.
Truly, I believe the benefits are subconscious. You may not realize your mood and performance are enhanced by exercising at dawn, getting outside for some fresh air, making your bed, and hydrating yourself, but it's a little like doing preventative maintenance on your car. If you ignore warning lights and bad signs, you'll be fine for a little while, but eventually you'll be saddled with an expensive and obnoxious service that could've been avoided (or in human terms, a severe meltdown in which you completely lose it).
Please let me know if you end up implementing any of these habits! Like I mentioned before, they're small things, but they create such a dramatic difference—a whole lotta juice for a really small squeeze. Nobody's perfect; nobody has the perfect routine every single day.
But creating a strong foundation for your day ensures you have a much better chance of building something great on top of it.
Although tempted to name this something cliché like #GIRLBOSS, this section features all my obsessive-compulsive productivity hacks & candid conversations about career development.