Mrs Alice Dabelstein, Head of Hirschfeld House
All over Brisbane, alarms go off each morning, prompting 1 400 or so Brisbane Girls Grammar School students to sleepily shower, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, grab — or forget to grab — their lunches and school bags and head off to school. Stress levels rise as they realise they have forgotten to charge their computers the night before; they haven’t packed the text book they’ll need for lesson two; and their school tie has somehow ended up without the requisite two badges.
Our mornings set us up either to be primed for creative insights and productivity, or to be numbed and mindless, merely trudging forgetfully through our day. Recent studies have shown that it is not how we spend our days that’s most important to our lifelong happiness and creativity, but how we spend our mornings (Nasser, 2010).
Morning routines allow us to stay creative and engaged more consistently. By disconnecting from electronic devices and all forms of media, reducing our choices, exercising, being thankful, and thinking with intention, we can set the productivity tone for the day. Morning routines also set the mood and are an easy way to inject joy into the day. Improved mood improves performance and productivity, which improves mood, which … you get the picture.
Positive mornings and days start the night before. Pre-planning, prioritising, organising and streamlining routines not only reduces stress, it also cuts down on the amount of analytical thinking we need to do first thing in the morning, which frees us up to think more abstractly and creatively. Benjamin Franklin aptly stated, ‘early to bed, early to rise, makes a [wo]man healthy, wealthy and wise’!
Here is a compilation of morning routine tips:
Plan something to look forward to
Research shows anticipation is a powerful happiness booster. It’s two for the price of one: you get happy in anticipation of the good thing and you get to do the good thing. It could be as simple as getting up to watch the sun rise, drawing a picture, going for an early morning swim, or reading a good book. ‘People prone to joyful anticipation, skilled at obtaining pleasure from looking forward and imagining future happy events, are especially likely to be optimistic and to experience intense emotions’ (Lyubomirsky, 2008). If we start the day with an uplifting activity, it centres us and sets a positive tone for the day.
Manage your mood — be mindful
The mood students are in when they arrive at school affects how they feel for the remainder of the day. Making time for mindfulness in the morning is one of the most important habits a person can form for the reduction of stress hormones, feelings of anxiety or depression, and as a boost for the immune system. It is important to stay disconnected first thing in the morning. This means no mobile phone or computer next to the bed, thereby eliminating the temptation to check emails or social media. For some teenagers this suggestion may seem life-threatening, but if emails or school work are time-sensitive, it’s worth getting up earlier so that you can focus first on calming tasks before devoting time to interpersonal communications.
One way of nurturing a calm and clear mind is to develop a grateful disposition. Gratitude helps us live in the present and this can have a positive impact on all areas of life. Expressing gratitude decreases stress levels and improves personal and professional relationships. Brisbane Girls Grammar School is a leader in this area, implementing mindfulness programmes which support the education of the whole student. As a part of the Year 8 Ethics programme, students create a Gratitude Journal. Writing in a gratitude journal for just a few minutes a day can double individual wellbeing (Emmons and McCullough, 2003). Calming music has a positive effect on mood and creativity. Switching off all other electronic devices and simply playing soothing music creates a place of peace and emotional balance.
It may be stating the obvious, but a delicious and nutritious breakfast will improve mood and focus throughout the day. This – coupled with a full night’s rest – is a crucial part of any routine. Students who miss breakfast will experience mood swings throughout the day. It is important to savour breakfast and take time to really enjoy it. Trendy media images of busy people grabbing breakfast on-the-go are not helpful. By spending the effort to appreciate the positive, we experience a greater sense of wellbeing.
Get up and move
Exercise stimulates creativity and purpose, not only because it gets blood flowing to the brain but also because it helps break up monotony. It is a well-known fact that exercise has the power to make both mind and body feel healthy. Exercise and other physical activities release endorphins — the brain’s feel-good transmitters — which in turn relieve stress, allowing a person to start the day rejuvenated, energetic and with a clear and calm mind.
Some of us identify as ‘morning people’ while others are anything but. Either way, it matters less what time we wake up than what we do with that time. Productive and happy students live life differently in a variety of ways, but perhaps none more importantly than what they do with their morning hours, when the universe is more likely to leave them alone.
Emerson, R.A., &. McCullogh, M.E. (2003). Count blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389.
Fox, J. (2014). The game changer. Queensland, Australia: Wiley and Sons.
Lyuobomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A new approach to getting the life you want. New York: Penguin Press.
Nasser, V. (2010). The psychology of happiness and well-being. Retrieved from http://www.lulu.com/shop/vali-nasser/the-psychology-of-happiness-and-well-being/ebook/product-17575640.html