Master the morning.

I am not a morning person.

It’s hard to underscore how much of an understatement that sentence is.

Here’s how mornings have typically gone for me before I started my 2018 project. It doesn’t matter how many hours I’ve slept, I wake up thinking, can I just go back to sleep? And I’m a little mad. Not at anyone or anything, just a general state of being mad.

My brain doesn’t function. I can stand in my closet for 15… 25 minutes staring at my clothes and realize no conscious thought has passed through my mind in this time. I usually hit snooze for anywhere from 30-60 minutes and then mutter curse words under my breath while I tell myself, “skin, teeth, hair, clothes, makeup.” I don’t want to talk to anyone, I don’t want the lights on, I don’t want any noise. Just let me make peace in myself with the fact that I had to wake up.

Basically, it’s not a great way to start the day.

As I started thinking about how I wanted to ground myself for my project, I wanted to start the year with developing better habits, establishing the foundational steps to making everything else work for my 2018 project. And this starts with revolutionizing my morning routine. I need to Master the Morning, rather than let the morning master me. And my January focus took shape.

As I thought about how I wanted to spend my mornings, how I wanted to approach the start of my day, I focused on building a morning ritual grounded in my top two principles: 1) turn to God, and 2) discipline is a muscle.

For the month of January, my daily morning ritual would be: wake, devotional, pray/meditation, scribe/journal, move. To do this well and with intention, I need an hour. So how do I squeeze another hour from the day?

Pretty much all research on the topic says establishing a regular sleep rhythm helps to get adequate sleep. And I had to get adequate rest for my brain and body to function, so revolutionizing my mornings would start with revolutionizing my evenings. I needed to get control of my bedtime.

I’m a night owl. Always have been. If my natural body clock wasn’t subjected to a world order controlled by early birds, it would be bedtime at 2 a.m. and wakeup at 10 a.m. But that’s not an option. So I have tended to struggle to fall asleep before midnight, sometimes much later, while still waking up early for work, and then spend most of life sleep deprived.

Since I needed to pick a bedtime and a wake time that I could realistically expect myself to keep, I decided on 11 p.m. and up at 6 a.m. I use the bedtime setting in my iPhone alarm clock app, and I listened to all the music for waking and picked the most soothing, least annoying tone to my ear.

Then I defined my non-negotiables—start winding down at 10 p.m., in bed and lights off at 11 p.m., no hitting snooze, and no going back to bed. I wake up and get out of bed with the first alarm and even if I still do a lot of staring into space and wishing I were back in bed, no getting back in bed.

So far, at three weeks in, it’s made a drastic difference in my ability to start my days peacefully and with intention. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I don’t get into work any earlier, but I get there more focused and ready to dive into whatever is on my plate.

I’m not perfect, but I have gotten up with the first alarm every morning and I don’t go back to bed. Even if I’m groggy and mad, which I am. I sit in the same spot on my couch and move through my morning ritual. I did find that jumping straight into devotional and meditation was causing some head bobbing, so I’ve made adjustments.

Currently, I wake, start coffee, stretch, pray for my intentions, get coffee, read my devotional, pray and journal, and then move. Usually a walk. You know, if it’s not raining.

Pursuing Purpose: My 2018 Project.

I love the New Year. I love resolutions. I love talking and thinking and puzzling and planning. Everything about it, I love it all.

At New Year, we mark what has gone before, honor the journey that has led us to the present moment, and hope for the growth ahead.

And if you’re like me, you make a plan.

Obviously, you can start any time, but I like the forced reflection that the turning of the calendar brings. Recognizing the unrelenting passage of time. The push forward, ever forward, whether you want to go or not.

Typically, I reflect on resolutions and look at approaching the year ahead in broad themes of how I want to be. And then I ladder up small specific goals to those themes.

Since 2012, turn to God has been at the top of my list. It still is, but my approach this year is different. Less free form, more methodical. It’s a project.

My bestie and I decided to start a long distance book club last fall. We listen to books on Audible and then discuss on the phone. We read The Happiness Project, and an idea germinated—what would a project like this look like for each of us?

The author’s project started because she wanted to be happier and wondered if it was possible to change habits and actively pursue happiness. As she notes, research shows happiness is a largely dispositional proposition. Basically, each person has a happiness range, and my general disposition is a pretty happy one. So I don’t really need a happiness project.

I’m more of a seeker. And what I am pursuing is purpose.

Purpose feels intangible, almost ephemeral. We all talk about it a lot, but there’s not a lot of substance to what the it is. But all current research points to needing a sense of purpose to engage your intrinsic motivation, find flow, and achieve a sense of fulfillment.

So how do you find this purpose? And once you do, once you can clearly articulate it, how do you pursue it?

I don’t have answers to those questions, not yet. That’s the work ahead of me.

What I liked about The Happiness Project is the author’s organized approach. Be clear about your priorities, set goals, and map actionable steps to those priorities and goals with a monthly focus on one area.

So on January 2 (because we all deserve a day to recover from NYE), I began my 2018 project. A name for it doesn’t feel like it’s fully materialized yet. And rather than get hung up on a name, for now, it’s just my project.

12 months focused on my priorities, pursuing my goals, and grounded in principles that I articulated for how I want to live and be in the world and in my interactions with others.

My priorities are:

  1. Faith.
  2. Family. Friends.
  3. Love.
  4. Art.
  5. Fulfilling work.
  6. Creating beauty.
  7. Living generously.
  8. Travel. Adventure.

Every month will have a different focus area. My intention is for each of my month-long focus areas to be building blocks that develop better disciplines and habits to achieve my overall goals. For example, in January, I’m working to Master the Morning because developing a better morning routine is foundational to achieving the rest of the project.

My bestie is doing her own project. And hers looks different from mine.

I may annoyingly love the New Year and New Year’s resolutions. But it’s because of the promise it holds, the questions it begs… Will you grow? Will you go forward changed? Will you take paths to better yourself? Will you do the hard work?

Some years we need a rest, but that’s not 2018 for me. It’s time to go deep, know myself better, and do some work.

And if you are on a similar journey or are interested in getting started on your own, I would love to have a conversation about what’s working and what’s not. Mutual encouragement and learning is an amazing thing. There’s never a bad time to start.