By John Fawkes. Originally published in my private mailing list.
If you're like most modern professionals, your typical morning consists being jarred awake by a blaring alarm, taking a quick shower, wolfing down some eggs and toast, and a mad dash out the door to get to work on time -- and that's if you even have time to eat breakfast.
My days used to begin the exact same way. Now, I start my day by being gently woken up up a soft blue light. Then, I drink salt water and butter before heading outside and relaxing. Only after all that do I sit down at my computer.
The results of this new morning routine have been nothing short of astounding -- I wake up most mornings bursting with energy -- which I then used to write fitness articles peppered with Game of Thrones references. I sleep better at night. I've lost an inch off my waist. My libido is higher. I'm happier, healthier, and more productive than I used to be.
But you probably don't care about me, so here's what's important -- thousands of other people have adopted the same routine and gotten the same results, and you can too. Here's exactly what to do do, in the exact order I recommend:
1. Use a smart alarm clock, or none at all
Most mornings, I don't use an alarm clock app at all. Instead, I just let my brain wake up on it's own time -- as soon as it finishes dreaming about getting a back massage from Eva Longoria while playing a guitar with my telekinetic powers. Why don't I just massage my own back if I have telekinesis? I don't know; stop questioning my dream logic.
But when I want to wake up early -- or just make sure I don't stay in bed for an hour after waking up -- I don't use a traditional alarm clock. Instead I'll use one of the following:
The Sleep Cycle alarm clock app. I use this when traveling.
A Phillips light-based alarm clock like the one in this article. I use this at home, and find it more reliable than the app. It's small enough to travel with, though I usually opt not to.
Here's why they work: you sleep in 90-minute cycles. You'll feel more alert and refreshed if you wake up from the lightest phase of sleep. Your brain does this for you if you wake up on your own, but with regular alarm clocks it's a game of chance -- and being woken up directly from deep sleep can ruin your morning.
Both options wake you up at the optimal time, via different means -- SleepCycle uses your phone's accelerometer to sense what phase of sleep you're at. The Phillips alarm clock emits a light that gradually brightens over a half hour, nudging you into light sleep before using a gradually loudening sound to gently wake you up. Either way, the result is the same: you feel more rested on the same amount of sleep, and it's easier to get out of bed.
2. Take vitamin D
Our bodies produce vitamin D in response to sunlight. Unfortunately, since we started wearing clothes and working indoors, most of us are deficient in vitamin D, plus we have some gnarly tan lines.
The first thing I do upon waking up is take 5000 i.u of vitamin D, which helps with my vitamin D deficiency, but not the tan lines. Here's what this does:
Improves heart health, lowers triglycerides and reduces blood pressure.
Reduces risk of cancer, asthma, stroke, diabetes, and death in general.
Improves mood and energy and fights depression.
Sets your biological clock- most people do better taking it in the morning.
To quote Examine.com: "If there's only one supplement you're taking for your health and your diet is decent, it should probably be Vitamin D." I've seen people get the best results from 2000-5000 i.u. per day, taken first thing in the morning. Since vitamin D is fat-soluble, it needs to be taken with fat; I take it with fish oil, but you could also take it with your morning butter tea (we'll get to that in a bit).
3. Drink ice water
After I've taken my vitamin D and gotten out of bed, the next thing I do is head down to the kitchen and drink two glasses of ice water. I first learned about this trick from The Four-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. There are two things going on here.
First off, you're dehydrated when you wake up in the mornings. Dehydration causes fatigue, bad moods, and lack of focus. And, you know, death. One or two glasses of water in the morning will stop this from happening.
Second, by exposing yourself to cold temperatures, you burn fat by stimulating your body to produce more brown adipose tissue- fatty tissue that burns off energy as heat to keep you warm. And you can this simply by drinking ice water on an empty stomach.
4. Drink lime juice and salt water
Immediately after drinking my ice water, I move on to the weirdest part of my morning routine- drinking a cocktail of warm water, salt, and lime juice. I learned about this from Charles Poliquin and John Romaniello, and it tastes surprisingly good- sort of like a margarita, without the sugar, tequila, or drunken college girls to do a body shot off of. Here's the recipe:
4-8 oz warm water
1 oz lime juice- as fresh as possible
1/4 tsp colored (i.e. not white) salt. I use pink Himalayan salt.
The salt improves digestion and optimizes cortisol levels throughout the day- giving you higher energy in the morning, steadier energy throughout the day, and lower energy right as you're getting ready to sleep at night. The lime juice, according to Poliquin, has an alkalyzing effect that improves energy metabolism. I'm skeptical of that part, but lime juice does have other benefits- plus, would you rather drink salt water, or a margarita?
5. Drink coffee or tea- with fat
The next step in my morning routine is to drink a cup of tea- mixed with butter and coconut oil. Here's the recipe:
1 or more cups of caffeinated coffee or tea
2-3 tbsp of unsalted, grass-fed butter. I usually use Kerrygold Irish Butter.
2-3 tbsp of organic coconut oil
Optional flavorings- cinnamon, vanilla extract, unsweetened cocoa powder, stevia, xylitol. Nothing with calories and no artificial sweeteners.
Note that the total amount of butter and coconut oil is 2-3 tbsp each, regardless of how many cups you split that into. This cocktail really puts your brain into overdrive and makes it easy to get a lot of work done in the mornings. The saturated fat also fuels testosterone production, while the combination of fat and caffeine has a pronounced appetite-suppressant effect.
I'll typically have one cup at this point in the morning, and another an hour later while I'm working. More recently I've started mixing two types of loose-leaf tea in order to produce steadier energy levels, as in Tim Ferriss's recipe.
6. Take a walk
After downing a cup of tea, I head outside and take a walk through a nearby park- always for at least 20 minutes, and sometimes for as long as an hour. This is the single best way to clear your head before starting the day's work- and the combination of sunlight and being on your feet will set your biorhythm for the day so that you sleep better that night.
This can be hard to do if you're impatient to get to work, but the focus it gives you makes your entire day happier and more productive. If you're pressed for time, you can limit your morning walk to fifteen minutes- but don't skip it altogether.
7. Start working on a pre-loaded, high-value task
After getting home from my walk, I sit down at my computer and immediately start working on my most important task for the day, before anything else can distract me. I start with my highest-value task because this is the point during the day when my energy, motivation and focus are highest.
It's critical to start working the moment you get on your computer, which can make the difference between getting more work done in an hour than most people do in a day, and spending your first two hours browsing Facebook and reddit. An article by self-improvement blogger Tynan taught me a very counterintuitive tactic that allows me to get a running start on my work every morning- every day, I start on my main task for the next day, then leave it partially completed.
For instance, if I'm writing a blog article, I'll write the outline the day before. I might even start writing the article, only to stop mid-sentence. That night, I'll open up that window before closing my laptop for the night. When I open my laptop the next morning to that partially-written article, it's easy to jump right in and pick up where I left off- so I don't waste a half hour or more procrastinating on getting started.
8. Don't eat breakfast
You'll notice that nowhere in this routine do you see me eating. That's intentional. On most days, I limit my eating to an eight-hour window. Typically, that means I'll have my first meal between one and three, and my last meal around nine or ten. This is called intermittent fasting, and it has a lot of well-documented benefits- such as fat loss, improved mental function, and lower risks of chronic illness.
You'll probably be surprised to find that you're much more alert and active during the fasted state. That's because eating puts the body into rest and digest mode- aka food coma. To take full advantage of this, you should work on your most important and challenging tasks in the morning, and easier tasks after you've broken your fast.
Here's what to do to get the full health and productivity benefits of daily fasting:
If you're a man, limit your eating to an eight-hour window each day, fasting for 16 hours at a stretch. Break your fast sometime between noon and three.
Women often need longer eating windows- anywhere from eight to twelve hours. Find the shortest eating window that still makes you feel good. Break your fast as late in the day as possible so you can still take advantage of fasted productivity in the mornings.
If you want to minimize the dip in mental alertness that comes from breaking your fast, you can have a protein bar for your first meal of the day- then eat a real meal 2-3 hours later.
You can eat fat during your fasting period. As Mark Sisson explains, this doesn't break your fast in any hormonal sense- but remember that it still adds to your daily calorie total.
I'm not sure if I can skip breakfast- will this work for me?
It only takes two to three days to get used to skipping breakfast- especially since the tea curbs your appetite. You'll probably notice an obvious increase in energy, focus and productivity within two days. Longer-term, most people experience better sleep, fat loss, better moods, even more energy, and higher libido.
Try it for one week, and pay close attention to your energy levels. This has worked for thousands of others, male and female, young and old, and will almost certainly work for you if you stick to it. Optimizing your morning routine is one of the best things you can do for your health, productivity, and overall quality of life- and you can do it this week, and reap the benefits for the rest of your life.
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