I’ll make a confession: New Year’s Resolutions give me anxiety.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m the biggest believer in self-improvement, investing in your own growth, and building better relationships.
But for me, New Year resolutions just don’t seem to be the best way to achieve these worthy goals: less than 25 percent of people actually stay committed to their resolutions after just 30 days, and only 8 percent accomplish them that year.
In my personal experience, setting resolutions like “getting rid of my anxiety” or “stress less” can quickly turn into an exercise of self-criticism on what we should stop doing. Count me out! None of us need to feel additional pressure to “feel better” faster, nor do we deserve to feel shame for the mental health struggles we are all enduring.
We do deserve to feel empowered, inspired, and even joyful as we work on our innermost selves. Rather than trying to avoid or detract any “bad behaviors” you may have picked up over the past year, consider adding small but powerful shifts to your existing habits. These little victories build positive momentum and motivation, helping you continuously make choices in support of your wellbeing. It’s the best kind of domino effect.
To hit refresh on how you feel this year, there’s no better place to start than resetting your morning routine. Those early hours are the first opportunity to connect to your mind, body, and breath, setting yourself up for a positive day full of creativity and healthy relationships. After reworking my morning routine countless times, I’ve learned that small behavioral and mindset shifts early in the day make a huge difference in how I feel and show up for myself — and others.
From adding meditation to your morning routine or simply hitting snooze, here are my favorite ways to make the most of every day and step into 2021 with a little more mindfulness.
1. Practice meditation daily
There is a Zen proverb that says “If you don’t have time to meditate for 10 minutes every morning, you should meditate for 20 minutes.” But why would we wake up earlier just to sit in silence? A regular meditation practice in the morning can help you cultivate a lasting sense of calm and mind-body connection.
Meditation is its most simple essence is the practice of focusing on and returning to the breath, untangling and gaining distance from the constant stream of thoughts that may cloud the mind and cause stress. Just like your body gets stronger through consistent training and exercise, your mind can dramatically improve its performance, calm and clarity with regular practice.
So instead of immediately picking up my phone or starting on a stressful task, every morning I make sure to begin my day with meditation. By intentionally witnessing my thoughts and practicing non-judgment awareness, I’m overall less anxious and less reactive to small annoyances or issues throughout the rest of the day.
2. Add a personal goal to spend 20 minutes outside
Getting outside is a great way to disconnect from screens, distract yourself from the news and practice mindfulness. It’s been proven that spending time in nature can help reduce chronic stress, improve creativity, and connect to the world around you. If you struggle with staying present, there are so many ways that nature can help bring you back to the here and now, whether it’s listening to the birds or simply observing the clouds in the sky.
Spending time in nature can also help us cope during hard times. There’s something incredibly powerful about connecting with the outdoors during times of heightened uncertainty and stress. When I’m feeling especially unsettled, I like to return to the same spot in my neighborhood as a reminder that my emotions are temporary and this circumstance will pass. When you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, spending time in the outdoors can help you keep a healthy perspective on life. No matter what challenges you’re facing, know you’re part of a resilient world that has weathered hardship before and will weather what comes next.
3. Add a gratitude practice
I’m definitely not the first person to recommend working on your gratitude. The truth is gratitude is a science-backed practice that can literally change the brain to make us happier, more peaceful, and kinder.
Actively practicing gratitude is one of the best ways to counter and override our brain’s negativity bias, rewiring our brains for lasting happiness. As psychologist Rick Hanson has said, “The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences, and Teflon for positive ones.” While our minds can pick up and focus on negativity with no work on our part (thanks to our innate survival mechanisms), we have to work doubly or triply hard to notice and really feel the good in life.
Guided journaling directly improves health and happiness by training our brains to focus away from worrying about future problems and toward actively embodying happy experiences and positive emotions. A simple gratitude journaling practice can actually increase levels of optimism by 5-15 percent, which means thinking about what we’re grateful for can help us think more positively overall.
Try to begin every day like this: right before you open your eyes, think of 3 things you’re grateful for (you can include your warm, cozy bed or your coffee awaiting you!). Write them down and then start your day knowing you’re not only thinking of your to-do list, but also training yourself to spot joy and meaningful moments.
4. Connect with human beings
Now more than ever, it is extremely important to take time to connect with people you love, co-workers, strangers, whomever. Loneliness isn’t simply painful; it can be deadly: the mortality risk associated with chronic loneliness is higher than that of obesity and equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
Human connection is what inspires, changes and sparks us for the better. As the day goes on, we feel more drained and less motivated, so make time in the morning for a check in call or text with a loved one to fill up your cup.
Community has a special healing power. At Liberate, we foster a safe, supportive group setting to practice mindfulness together, and we’ve found connecting over our shared struggles can be transformative for mental well-being. By using Zoom, we spark meaningful conversations between participants, deepening our reflections on where we are in life and where we want to be. I’ve been incredibly moved by the vulnerability and compassion of our community members, as well as feedback of how much better participants feel after sharing with others working toward similar well-being goals.
When human beings can safely and openly come together to exercise our mental well-being together, we all get closer to our best selves.
When you’re experiencing depression, anxiety, or generally just wake up feeling tired, exercise often seems like the last thing you want to do in the morning — but it’s key to starting your day on a positive note.
Give yourself the space to start small (the key to building sustainable habits). Choose a doable duration and gentle intensity, even just starting for 5-10 minutes at first. This will help challenge the intimidating idea that exercise only counts if it’s a long and intense workout. You’ll be surprised at how quickly sessions of 5-10 active minutes of movement can build up and help you to feel more awake, revitalized and clear in body and mind.
PSA: exercise shouldn’t feel like a dreaded formal workout. You can try out different forms of movement for different benefits: typically, group exercise keeps you engaged and is more energizing (even over Zoom!), while individual exercise is more contemplative and stress-reducing. Anything from gentle stretching to learning a TikTok dance to walking your dog counts.
If you are still intimidated, don’t worry. New studies suggest that even a single workout can have beneficial effects on your immunity, so thank yourself whenever you do have the chance to move your body. And most of all, Elle Woods truly said it best when she said, “Endorphins make you happy.” Being active releases feel-good endorphins, which are brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being and reduce the brain’s perception of pain.
6. SLEEP IN
You officially have permission! Sleeping in can absolutely count as a part of a mindful morning. Sleep is one of the foundational elements of taking care of our mental health, although it’s often the first to go right out the window when our schedules get busy or we start to get overwhelmed.
Sleep and mental health conditions go hand in hand. Anxiety and depression can disrupt our sleep, and lack of sleep can affect mental health. If you’re especially struggling or even a little bit down, you deserve to give your body the opportunity to rest and restore. Sleep has a major impact on our brain’s ability to function well during the day as well as our emotional regulation. If you’re already feeling frazzled or blue, a poor night or week of sleep can worsen both your mood and mental capacity.
Add more mindfulness around your sleep habits by asking yourself the following:
How often do I wake up feeling refreshed?
Am I giving myself enough time to unwind before bed?
Do I allow myself to wake up gently, or do I immediately dive into my phone?
Remember: Resting isn’t unproductive — it helps you to build up the strength to show up fully for you and your community.
Your morning routine should feel joyful, personal, and fulfilling for you. Take this time to connect with your mind, body, and maybe even other human beings. Elbert Hubbard said, “Be pleasant until 10 o’clock in the morning, and the rest of the day will take care of itself.” At Liberate, we say, “Begin every day with expansion and empowerment, and the rest of the day will take care of itself.” We resolve to create intentional mornings and we hope you’ll join us.
Explore this list in any order, and join a Liberate class to deepen your practice.
Follow us at @liberatestudio for more mindfulness tips.