How to Use the First 20 Minutes of Your Morning to Transform Your Day


“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

You may have heard people share their morning rituals. Hal Elrod has his well-known Miracle Morning, for example, and just about every productivity podcast guest has their own (I’m looking at you, Tim Ferriss).

The idea is to repeat a set of habits each morning that boost you into an ideal mental and emotional state. Many top performers use a morning routine to ensure they can perform at their peak productivity day in and day out.

I too have found a morning routine to be essential, but my reasoning is a bit different. Rather than focusing on productivity, I center my routine around happiness, energy, and joy.

My goal is to celebrate each and every day and show up as my best self.

The result often leads to productivity, but it’s about much more than that. Just as we shower and brush our teeth, a morning ritual is a kind of mental and emotional hygiene that can move us into a state of positivity and gratitude.

It’s helped me to be happier, laugh more, worry less, take myself less seriously, and keep perspective on what is truly important in life.

And do you know how long my morning routine takes?

Just 20 minutes. Yours could be even shorter.

How a Morning Routine Helped Me Find a Balance Between Healthy and Easy

Chances are you’ve faced this dubious question: Is the stress of being healthy actually worth it?

Experts tell us to hit the gym, pause for a mindfulness practice, cook meals, and say no to constant temptation, and all of a sudden our desire to look and feel our best results in a laundry list of chores.

It can feel like we put in so much effort and yet are always falling short — we could always run a little bit further, eat a little bit better, or meditate a little bit more. Not to mention that one vice or habit that we can’t seem to kick (mine has been soy lattes for months now).

I’ve certainly had moments in my journey where the self-imposed pressure created so much stress that I ended up doing more harm than good. But over the years, I’ve begun to dance with life and strike the right balance between being healthy and living well.

Because if what you’re doing makes you miserable, that’s not healthy. The end goal is a vibrant, abundant, balanced life rich in health, happiness, energy, connection, laughter, and joy.

I get there through the practice of a morning ritual, which has shifted my perspective and helped me stay connected to the bigger picture.

The 4 Essential Elements of A Life-Changing Morning Routine

A morning ritual is highly personal, and it may take some time for you to develop the routine that’s right for you. After years of trial and error, I recommend the four elements below, as I’ve found them to be the most effective in creating a marked improvement in well-being.

It’s super important to me that my routine is fun, and so I allow it be fluid and change things up when it starts to feel dull.

Here’s my current ritual, which you might use as a starting point to adapt as you see fit:

1) Meditation (10 minutes)

As I’ve written before, meditation is the single most transformative practice — it can improve immune function and memory, increase focus, and even physically change the structure of the brain — that I’ve ever adopted. I start every day with meditation, and my morning routine includes a minimum of 10 minutes.

Many people struggle getting started with meditation. If this is you, start with just three minutes per day or use the Headspace meditation app for an accessible approach that will guide you through a session.

2) Fun Yoga (5 minutes)

I follow meditation with a five-minute boost of fun yoga. I put on some music that I can’t help but dance to, and do a strange combo of yoga and dancing around for five minutes. Yes, it’s extremely nerdy, and yes, it’s incredibly effective.

Don’t underestimate the power of your favorite song to put you in a great mood. This combined with a short burst of morning exercise and movement gets the endorphins flowing and is guaranteed to make you feel great.

3) Gratitude (3 minutes)

Gratitude is going mainstream and just like meditation, it has a rapidly growing body of research supporting the efficacy of the practice. Here’s an overview of recent research from the Harvard Mental Health Letter. I follow the meditation and yoga with a couple minutes of giving thanks for the many blessings that daily life presents.

Some people keep a gratitude journal, or simply take a few minutes each day to write down three or four things they’re grateful for that day. It’s a fantastic way to keep track of the good things in your life.

And while it may sound and feel hokey at first, it’s so worth it.

4) Affirmation (2 minutes)

The final element of my routine is an affirmation. I came up with and wrote down a statement about how life is a short, precious, and fleeting affair, and that all experiences are beautiful and precious opportunities to grow. This statement resonates with me; certainly the one that lights you up will be different.

I read it in the morning as a close to my ritual. I’ve found that it helps me worry less about the challenges of work and life, and helps me to appreciate the small beautiful moments in life, like the changing color of the leaves that mark the seasons or the wonderful texture of an avocado.

But affirmations don’t have to be something you’ve written yourself. Find a simple, positive, confidence boosting statement that resonates with you, and repeat it each morning.

Start Now: Create Your Morning Routine

When establishing a morning routine, the first thing to consider is how well it fits into your life. Don’t let your morning routine balloon into a two-hour epoch that you never end up starting because it’s so immense.

Keep it simple, and take the small steps approach.

Add in just one element of your routine this week, and once that becomes a habit, add in a new element the following week.

Not sure where to start? You could use my routine as a guide, or you could choose something that sounds the most interesting or fun. Maybe that’s:

As with all healthy habits, the most important (and often most difficult) part is to simply begin. To help you get started, I created a free PDF that will you walk you through the steps of creating your morning routine in just a couple minutes.

And finally, don’t wait. Do this right now so you can bring more balance and happiness into your life.

Pick a day to start your morning routine, and put it on your calendar.

Because who knows, that date could be the start of something worth waking up early for.

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  1. Love this article! Thanks for sharing. I like to spend my morning drive first giving gratitude to the universe (or insert name of prefernced higher love here) and then in affirmation of self, family and life path. “Nerdy dance yoga” I’m totally going to laugh about that one later!

  2. Kris Weller says:

    This is marvelous–thanks!

  3. Thank You! Thank You!! Thank You!!! for this reminder to keep is short, sweet and simple. I realized recently that I’ve taken so many great courses and workshops over many years and then I try to incorporate all of their morning rituals into my day and then I have the entire morning filled. ha ha ha ha ha ha This is so simple and adds fun to the day. Keep up the good work!!!

  4. Brian Howard says:

    Super awesome and similar to mine! Meditation starts my day, list 3 things i appreciate and am grateful for as well as my own Mond Movie that flashes affirmations on the screen with music I have selected. and always ” Something totally amazingly awesome is going to happen to me today” Thanks to Pam Grout for that line…..

  5. This post comes just to the right moment. I’ve been struggling to stick to my planned morning runs. There nothing major. 30 minutes for a light jog up and down the hill my house it’s on. My alarm goes off and staying in bed when is the battle. Maybe I need to mix it up

  6. Sandra, Italy says:

    Love this, will definitely ponder on a personal routine. However, couldn’t help thinking about my hubby: I start my morning with 5 minutes of stretching in bed and he’s already complaining it feels like having a horse in bed – Wonder what kind of face he’d pull if I started “yoga dancing” round the bedroom! ?

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this information. I can honestly say that your information has spurred me to ardently work towards a plant based lifestyle. Thank you for the inspiration!

  8. This is a great and useful post. I’m not a runner (bad knee injury, ugh) but I often read your blog/emails for inspiration on other levels, and this one really helps. I’ve always struggled with mornings, they’re my worst time of day; so this gives me hope that I can make them better 🙂 Thank you!

  9. I think a morning routine is so important – my thing is exercise. It makes me feel good, inside & out. I often wonder how those who just get ready for work in the morning do it…maybe that’s why so many people like coffee!

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