Why Are We Obsessed With Morning Routines?

A look at the why’s and my personal experience

Photo by Íris Juana on Unsplash

I may be in some algorithm-based content echo chamber, but is it just me or does everyone seemed to be obsessed with the idea of ‘the perfect morning routine’?

It’s like everywhere I go across the internet there’s someone telling me how amazing it is to have an established morning routine; in particular, a ridiculously early one. As I type into YouTube now there are all kinds of different morning routine rituals for various types of people, or even seasons, like “morning routines for school,” “men,” “summer,” “couples,” “productive,” “2020,”… the list goes on.

And the kicker? These videos get hundreds of thousands of views. That’s not even including the thousands of pages of Google results from articles and books written on the subject.

So when did we start taking this stuff seriously?

The earliest study I could find on Google Scholar that mentioned changing morning routines to become more beneficial was written in 1985 and was written explicitly about trying to get troublesome children ready for school on time. After that, during the 1990s there was a growing interest in sleep habits and morning routines of those who suffered from various types of disabilities and sleep disorders (if you do click through, be aware that the language towards disabilities is quite dated) such as this one from 1991, this one from 1992, and this one from 1998.

Fast-forwarding a little, content on morning routines seems to have exploded since 2010 (such as research into the positive effects of smart mirrors in the morning, as well as books in the self-help aisle). There are so many touted benefits of ritual-like morning routines now it’s almost hard to keep up.

The Message of Success

Amidst the mountain of content, there seems to be a running undercurrent of “you must do these things to be successful.” While I personally find this kind of message to be rather prescriptive for something niche — for example, not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur — it also doesn’t do service to other factors that are likely to contribute to someone’s success, whatever definition they have for that is. What works for Elon Musk or Richard Branson isn’t likely going to work for someone with an entirely different lifestyle or needs.

My Experience of Morning Routines

Despite the dismissive tone I’ve used so far, I did decide to try it all out for myself to get some personal experience. I mainly just wanted to “magic” myself some more hours in the day to pursue some of the hobbies I’ve been cultivating, such as writing and painting. So naturally, the first thing I tried was the concept of “the 5 a.m. club.”

Thinking logically, if I woke up earlier, that would mean I’d have more waking hours to do stuff. Wrong. I suffered from burnout, hard. When I realised that I needed to go to bed earlier to give myself the necessary amount of sleep, I started losing out on time with my family, which wasn’t ideal. And while I did find that I was less distracted and therefore a bit more productive during the early hours, this benefit didn’t outweigh the costs for me.

So I pushed the waking hour to a more manageable 6:30 am and this seems to work far better for me when beforehand I wouldn’t be waking up until perhaps 9 or 10 am (I worked part-time in the afternoon/evenings). At the same time, I was also figuring out a regular ‘full day’ routine as opposed to just a morning routine that was more tailored to my needs. That took a couple of months to figure out through experimentation.

The Takeaway

I find that the more I obsess over the lives and routines of other people, the less I think about what truly matters and works for me. And while I understand and have experienced some benefits from the idea of an early morning routine, the main benefits came from simply being more intentional about what I was doing with my time and planning my days accordingly.

From what I gather, it seems that our obsession with it all comes from a desire to self-improve, which is lovely. However, in the case of the ‘morning routines’ trend, it seems to sit on the foundation of making other people feel bad about their lives, which isn’t so lovely.

For me, taking a more holistic approach to what ‘success’ looks like to you and building your life around that is far more healthy than trying to emulate another person’s version of success. Plus, some people really aren’t morning people.

Resources

Besserer, D., Bäurle, J., Nikic, A., Honold, F., Schüssel, F., and Weber. M. (2016). Fitmirror: a smart mirror for positive affect in everyday user morning routines. In Proceedings of the Workshop on Multimodal Analyses enabling Artificial Agents in Human-Machine Interaction (MA3HMI ’16). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 48–55. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3011263.3011265

Espie, C. A. and Tweedie, F. M. (1991). Sleep patterns and sleep problems amongst people with mental handicap*. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 35, 25–36. doi:10.1111/j.1365–2788.1991.tb01028.x

Hudson, A., Vincent, J., Wilks, R., and Drabman, R. (1985). “Beat the Buzzer” for Early Morning Dawdling: Two Case Illustrations. Behaviour Change, 2(2), 136–142. doi:10.1017/S0813483900008950

Segal, R. (1998). The Construction of Family Occupations: A Study of Families with Children Who Have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 65(5), 286–292. https://doi.org/10.1177/000841749806500506

Stores, G. (1992). Annotation: Sleep Studies in Children with a Mental Handicap. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33, 1303–1317. doi:10.1111/j.1469–7610.1992.tb00951.x

Alexander Boswell is an aspiring transgender writer that wants to help make the world a better place. He has a Master’s Degree in Marketing that specialised in Consumer Behaviour but writes about a range of topics with personal perspectives.

Aspiring Polymath | Freelance Writer | Business PhD Candidate | He/Him | alexanderbboswell.com

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