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The (super enjoyable) Japanese secret to becoming a morning person


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Photo: Stocksy/Leah Flores

In an ideal world, your morning routine would always set you up for a kickass day ahead. But if you’ve got a packed to-do list, it’s all too easy for less-than-inspiring tasks to infiltrate your a.m. hours. Reading the (often depressing) news headlines from bed, meal prepping a perfectly balanced desk lunchdecluttering your apartment before your friends come over at night—no wonder you might be feeling drained before you even leave the house.

That’s why, if you truly want to fall in love with your mornings, it’s important to cultivate feel-good habits that lift you up first thing. According to Ken Mogi, neuroscientist and author of Awakening Your Ikigai, tapping into that sunrise magic is as simple as creating habits that reflect your “ikigai”—AKA your purpose in life.

But wait a sec: What if you have no clue what your purpose is? According to Mogi, it doesn’t necessarily have to do with your vocation—it’s more about finding what lights you up inside. That process usually involves five major pillars: starting small, accepting yourself, connecting with others and the planet, finding joy in little things, and being present.

A habit that ticks off one or more of these boxes will deliver you one step closer to a life led by your ikigai—and it’ll set you up for a happier day, especially if you tend to wake up on the wrong side of the bed. “It is crucial to realize that moods can be changed through small joys,” Mogi says. “The fact is once the context is changed, your brain will adapt to that new context and moods can change in a short time.”

So if you consider the snooze button to be the best part of your morning ritual, it may be time to rethink your routine. Here, Mogi shares a few places to start. (And yes, brownies might be involved.)

Read on for 3 Japanese-inspired rituals that will help you reclaim your mornings *and* tap into your ikigai.

Japanese secret to becoming a morning person
Photo: Unsplash/Jackson Hendry

1. Get moving—but listen to your body

Up until recently, the Japanese population often kickstarted their days with a series of calisthenic movements known as “Radio Taiso.” Even though you’ll mostly only see the elderly participating nowadays, this morning sweat ritual still reps all five pillars of ikigai.

The most important part? There’s no right or wrong way to do it—it’s all about what makes you feel good in the moment, even if that’s taking a break. (Unlike a lot of Western fitness classes, where it’s easy to feel like a failure if you’re not keeping up with the instructor’s cues.) “Some [participants] are out of step with the music, while others are chatting briskly while moving their arms and legs,” Mogi explains in his book. “Some just join in the middle of music, while others might leave before the end.”

So if barre class in the wee hours of the morning makes you want to crawl back under the sheets, push it to the p.m. and find a form of morning movement you do love, whether it’s a stroll through the park or some gentle yoga in your living room. That way, you’ll stride into the office feeling energized, rather than depleted.

Ikigai Japanese secret to becoming a morning person
Photo: Unsplash/Mariana Medvedeva

2. Have an indulgent brekky

You know when you pack a really yummy desk salad, then think about it non-stop until it’s time to chow down? Mogi says you should bring that same, next-level joy to breakfast if you want to attain morning-person status.

“No matter where you are in the world, if you make a habit of having your favorite things soon after you get up (for example, chocolate and coffee), dopamine will be released in your brain, reinforcing the actions (getting up) prior to the receipt of your reward (chocolate and coffee),” he writes. It’s basically the Pavlov theory in action, except in this case, the bell is your alarm clock.

As for what’s on the menu, that’s up to you—but the more enticing the breakfast, the better. How about keto brownies, a lavender blueberry smoothie, or this GF crumble?

Ikigai secret to becoming a morning person
Photo: Unsplash/Joshua Sazon

3. Take time for connection first thing

Raise your hand if you usually only pencil your friends in for a TB on the weekends. (Same.) But in the spirit of ikigai, what if you started your workday with a 20-minute coffee date with your BFF instead? It’s all the rage in Japan, where commuters play “shogi” (Japanese chess) in the mornings as a way to vibe with their fellow workers before the daily grind begins.

Alright, alright—in the US, it can be hard to get people to commit to plans before 9am. But even something as simple as texting your S.O. or calling your mom will guarantee that your early hours start with a love-fueled ikigai high.

Originally published on March 6, 2018; updated on June 6, 2018.

If your “start small” joys usually include a strong cup of joe, here’s how to biohack your AM cup. Plus, a caffeine-free moringa latte recipe you don’t want to miss. 

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