It’s Time to Kill the Idea of the “Perfect” Morning Routine (Because I Tried It, and It Doesn’t Exist)

Photo: Stocksy / Clique Images
A few weeks ago I started a new morning routine. Since I primarily work from home and can set my own hours on most days, I decided to live the (self-care) dream—and include everything I'd ever wanted to power-pack into my mornings.

Let me say up front: I had been compiling ideas for a long time.  So it was kind of a ridiculously long list. The idea was to do it for a month and narrow down from there. Confession: I lasted eight days. And in that time I kind of wrecked my life—or at least my sleep schedule, which took a hit because I had to find time somewhere for all these extra to-do's.

This was my regimen:

• Wake up and do a quick body-scan meditation. Do a "thank you" morning mantra, saying (out loud) everything I'm grateful for. 10 minutes.

• Journal longhand for three pages, using The Artist's Way method of writing "morning pages." 20 minutes.

• Clean up morning mouth by using a tongue scraper, then oil pulling with coconut oil for 15 minutes. Brush teeth. 15 minutes.

• Drink 8–12 ounces of water and head out for a workout. 90 minutes.

• Make the post-workout smoothie of my dreams: some kind of combo with greens, bananas, cacao, maca, and plant-based protein. 20 minutes.

• Next up: shower. But before getting in the tub, some dry brushing all over my body and an abhyanga oil self-massage—an Ayurvedic skin and health treatment that's said to be particularly effective when you're hot and sweaty. This is the step that really broke the (time) bank, thanks to all the towel arranging and cleanup afterward—to keep the bathroom from becoming a slippery mess. 60 minutes.

So, already I was clocking in at three and a half hours. And if I was going to the office or heading out to see anyone, add another 30 minutes at least, to dry my hair, put on makeup, get dressed and get out the door. Four hours, people. 

The thing is, I know better. As a Well+Good editor, I get a lot of information from a lot of experts on a daily basis—most of whom are urging us all to simplify. Kondo the hell out of our lives. But on the other hand, that constant stream of good advice I get during work hours also gives me ideas! Just from our morning routines coverage alone, there's so much a.m. inspo: There's Jennifer Aniston-inspired collagen peptide smoothies to ingest, facial massages to do, and of course: hot water with lemon to sip.

All of these are valid ways to start your day. But you can definitely have too much of a good thing. And so it all started to it made me think: Should we kill the idea of the perfect morning routine already?

morning routine
Photo: Getty Images/Emilija Manevska

Obviously, paring down insane good-morning ambitions is a logical first step. But what made me think that everything had to be crammed into the a.m. hours? This chorus of "start your day off right" advice could be...totally wrong. Who's to say that nighttime isn't the right time, for example, to do your important daily rituals?

"I learned that I could help myself get my morning routine accomplished by starting it the night before," says life coach Ashley Walter, founder and owner of Living With Ashley. "I lay out my outfit for the next day, I have my dog’s food in their bowls and up on the counter, I have my breakfast prepped and ready for me to either heat up or blend together (I love smoothies), and I have my daily list of to-do’s already lined up and ready to tackle."

This gives her time for her two non-negotiables in the morning: meditation and a workout. Ideally.

"I have learned to forgive myself when I miss a workout, when things change, when my meditation isn’t necessarily 'successful,'" Walter says. "Routine is amazing and once you get into it, really can improve your life. But, if it is making you more stressed because it is a place where you are always dropping the ball because it’s just too much, re-evaluate and forgive."

The most important advice she gives to, ahem, enthusiastic clients like myself (who are severely lacking in "less is more" chill) is to check in with yourself once a day. Mornings, nights, afternoons—whenever.

"The five-minute journal is a great way to download your day in a positive way and really get people away from negative self-talk overall," she says. "I think that the biggest issues I find with clients is that the self-care trend has them wanting to try 1,000 new things to improve their lives, but it is impossible to do so. That in and of itself stresses people out; the idea that they want to try something, but how the heck will they do it?"

The "how" of it all is the key question—since I had what seemed like unlimited time to experiment with a mega-morning routine, that was my main focus. It was such a dream to have time after years of putting in 10- to 12-hour days in offices. But once I solved for "how," the question of "why" became more important. Because if I'm using four hours to get the day going, I'm really cutting into the day—which is what all of this is meant to make better.

So, everyone in offices right now dreaming of living like an Instagram influencer, floating out of a fluffy bed into a gorgeous kitchen as the light streams through the windows just so. Consider the gorgeous morning routine just one more fantasy that we're buying (or at least clicking on).

I wish I could go back in time and tell office-drone me what it only took me eight days of freedom to figure out: You're going to want to use most of your time to live your life, not prep for it.

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