“Having a morning routine is all about starting your morning with intention. And kind of bringing these morning wins with you into the rest of the day.” — Benjamin Spall
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Benjamin Spall (@benjaminspall) is the co-author of the book “My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired.” and also is the co-founder of the mymorningroutine.com website, with accounts of various morning routines followed by a huge variety of people. He and the Commander talk about the importance of morning routine to start the day, from the casual routine to the more intense versions.
- Even when people miss their routine, they often make it up later in the day
- Sleeping enough is just as important as getting into a routine. So it’s better to have a shorter routine than to be getting up at 5 to fit it all in.
- Morning rituals can be short and need to be tailored for yourself and your own schedule
Listen to this episode to hear how different but necessary the morning rituals are to get you ready to make the most of your day.
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Hey folks, this is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for joining me today. Super-appreciate it. As you know, I do not take it for granted. We have a billion, million, kajillion things vying for our attention. More podcasts popping up every day. How do you know what to listen to?
And the fact that you’re listening to this is humbling and I won’t waste your time. So thanks again. I’ve got a wickedly cool guest today who’s near and dear to our heart. Benjamin Spall. Author of “My Morning Routine.” Or actually co-author of “My Morning Routine.”
You all know if you’ve been following Unbeatable Mind, how important the morning ritual is for Unbeatable Mind. To win in your mind before you step into the battlefield of the day.
So Benjamin has focused on that and written a bestselling book about it. How cool is that?
Anyways, before I kind of introduce Benjamin a little more formally, I want to remind you that our Burpees for Vets initiative is cranking along. I’ve passed 70,000 burpees myself. We’re into August, we started in January. Our goal is to do 22 million burpees to help veterans who are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress. So we can suffer a little because they’re suffering a lot.
We want to help raise awareness and raise money for these men and women who have served us so selflessly. And now 22 a day are committing suicide. I just can’t sleep at night without doing something about it. Many people… and some of you listening here have jumped in and helped. We’ve had high schools help out. We’ve had Jesse Itzler’s tough group has raised 10 grand for us. We’ve had the Spartan community jump in on this and do a 30 day challenge.
You can participate by either sponsoring someone like me. Go to burpeesforvets.com. You can sponsor me for my initiatives. I’m doing 100,000. I’m donating 10 cents a burpee. You could put, like, 1 cent a burpee. Whatever you want.
Or you can start a team–which is what these other folks have done. Anyways, more information at burpeesforvets.com. And if you have a question, send an email to my executive director–this is all through the Courage Foundation which I started a few years ago to help these vets. Executive director is Jon Atwater. [email protected].
Thanks for your help. Appreciate it.
One last thing, we hold a bit Unbeatable Mind event every year. Next year we’re going to hold two, but this thing is like an annual thing that happens in December. It’s called the Summit. We already have 150 people coming. We only have a few spots left. This is a pretty cool event.
It’s more focused on motivation, inspiration and learning from experts than it is just learning the Unbeatable Mind model. If you want to do that, check out unbeatablemind.com and our online training or coaching.
But this is really about coming together, reviewing your year, planning to knock the ball out of the park in the next year. Meeting peers who are committed to integrated development and whole mind thinking. And optimizing their success.
We don’t have a whole lot of places or spots left. So go to retreat.unbeatablemind.com. And I think there’s still an offer left to join us that is at a discount. Which will go away, of course, when we fill up. Or before.
Okay, phew. Enough on that. I’m not a great promoter. You know that. But I gotta do it.
So Benjamin Spall, you are from New England… or England right?
Benjamin Spall: Yeah, I’m from Old England.
Mark: (laughing) Old England. Right. The original.
Benjamin: (laughing) The original England.
Mark: (laughing) Right. Across the pond. I don’t hear much of an accent. Have you eradicated that?
Benjamin: I’ve lived here in San Francisco for about 3 years now. My wife is from here, so she’s probably the person I speak to the most. So I think it kind of eradicates it a little bit.
Mark: Yeah, I still hear a tinge of it.
So you came to the US a few years ago. You’re a writer, that’s your full-time profession it sounds like, and now obviously a blogger and an author.
You write for The New York Times, a nice balanced newspaper I might add–along with the Huffington Post. New York Observer. Entrepreneur. Business Insider. Wow, you’re a busy guy.
You founded the web blog-slash-portal. Whatever you want to call it. And “My Morning Routine” in 2012 which this book came out of.
Tell me, where did this idea come from?
Benjamin: Yeah, so the initial idea back in 2012 was along with my now co-author and co-founder. We were both really into productivity and time management and kind of habits. And at around that time I had just read the book, “The Power of Habit,” by Charles Duhigg…
Mark: Great book.
Benjamin: Yeah, it’s a great book. And Michael my co-author came to me and he had this idea of kind of interviewing people about the habits that they do every single day. And even though it’s hard to believe now, because morning routines are spoken about so often nowadays.
But back then people weren’t really speaking about morning routines. So we quickly realized that if we were to ask people about their daily habits, it might be more interesting just to say, what do you do every single morning?
And so yeah, we started out with that. And we started out with just a few friends… we had to convince some friends to be our first interviewees. But it’s really gone from there. Every single week since the end of 2012 we publish a new routine. And then a couple of months ago we released a book. Which is half routines from the website, and half all these brand new people that we got in touch with to just ask them what they do every single morning.
Mark: Right. Cause you needed some named profiles. Like Ariana Huffington. Whatever. That makes sense.
So before I get into what you learned and what some of the habits were and everything–let’s talk about your life. What was life like in England? How did you become a writer? And what are your morning routines?
Benjamin: Hmm. So yeah, the first time that I decided that I wanted to be a writer was my first year of university in the UK, just outside of London. And I was doing a marketing degree. And my lecturer, my teacher, she really complimented me on my writing. And that was the first time that the idea of writing–and because there was a marketing element–copywriting. Really came to me.
So after university, I went for a few smaller jobs, and I eventually landed on freelance copywriting. Which was quite helpful when I was coming to the US to see my now-wife because I could kind of copy write in between.
But yeah, it was just constant writing and then I would like write for companies. I’d write for smaller publications. And then when we got the opportunity, a couple of years ago, Penguin got in touch with us about writing this book. That was obviously a huge opportunity.
But it wasn’t given to us on a plate. I had to write a proposal, which was a big job in itself. A big book proposal.
And then we had to actually get it accepted. And since then, the whole process of writing the book, putting it all together, and you mentioned the New York Times and certain other publications. Writing for them to help promote the book.
It’s been a huge undertaking, but it’s also been incredibly rewarding to actually get this information out there. And also, be allowed to write for these places. To help promote the book.
Mark: That’s pretty cool. Is it something you’re making a living with now? Is this your vocation? As well as your avocation?
Benjamin: I’m making a living writing, but not just through the book. I still have copywriting clients. I still work in the kind of corporate world with the writing as well.
Mark: I see. And you’re married living in… Did you say San Francisco?
Benjamin: Yeah, that’s right. 3 years now.
Mark: Any kids?
Benjamin: No, not yet.
Mark: So how old are you right now?
Benjamin: I just turned 30.
Mark: Oh my God. Young pup. Just kidding.
I feel… just to reference I feel like I’m 30 90% of the time. I can hang with my SEAL trainees physically, I’m doing 100,000 burpees this year. I just don’t feel like I’m aging. I can’t say that I look like I haven’t aged. But I do feel a kinship although I’m 55.
Maybe that’s my ego speaking, but who knows?
Benjamin: Well, I certainly noticed it with this book, I have to say the last few months getting out, my grays have been popping up like never before.
Mark: (laughing) Yeah, I’m sure. Writing a book is like giving birth. It is hard, hard work. Even though, as you know… you went with Penguin. Having Penguin come to you is extraordinary. Most people don’t have that opportunity, so you created that obviously with your creativity and your skills.
But self-publishing everyone thinks, “Yeah, now I got all these tools to self-publish.” And that is true. But it’s still hard, hard work. I’ve done both. I’ve done major publisher and self-publish. And I don’t think I spent any less work on the major publication.
In fact, it’s been more work on the self one, because I can update it and revise it and come up with extensions to it. So it becomes more of a business ecosystem. Which is what’s happening with you I’m sure.
Benjamin: And a part of accepting the Penguin offer was obviously cause of who they are. But also it’s just such an interesting experience to be able to work with all these people and have all these people on your side. And rooting for your success.
So even if the book itself hadn’t gone well, the actual process of doing it would have been so much fun. And so informative.
But luckily the book is going very well, and we’re continuing to promote. And yeah, it’s a really fun journey, and it’s certainly a journey in two parts. Because the actual writing process couldn’t be more different from then having to go out and promote it. Which is a whole different beast.
Self-Publishing versus Traditional Publishing
Mark: That’s a whole different beast. You know and since we’re on this topic, there’s probably people listening who are wondering–“Hey, I want to get a book out.” Or are in the process. And I had a long discussion with David Goggins about publishing with a major publisher versus self-publishing.
If you have a platform–and you can kind of back and forth me on this–but I think that if you have a platform, then–a big platform, like Goggins–then self-publishing is the way to go because you’ll just earn a fortune and you can put the muscle behind all this or more public relations and promotion than a publisher will ever do for you.
Benjamin: Yeah, I totally see that. And definitely people–unless it becomes a million, 2 million copy bestseller, people generally don’t make that much money from a book. Many people don’t make any real money from a book when you think about the time spent, and the years spent to put it together.
So that’s totally for sure.
Mark: Yeah, my “Way of the SEAL” book which is selling more copies now than when I launched it in 2012–I make like a fraction of what I make on my self-published “Unbeatable Mind” book. It’s like 5… I don’t even know. I split the royalties with the co-author that the publisher demanded. And she really did make it a better book. And so I split the 15% with an agent and my co-author. So that leaves like 5% for me.
Compared to 70%. Now the caveat to this is… this is the “however,” comma part. If you don’t have a platform or your platform isn’t well-developed where you know you’re going to sell 50 to 100 thousand self-published books, then getting a major publisher is really the right way to go. Because it gets you out there. You get the esteem of having the Penguin name or St. Martin’s name. Whatever it is. Random House.
You’re going to get a lot of exposure. You just have to be aware that they’re going to focus on it to get the book out the door and for about a month and 3 days after that. Then you gotta do the rest.
Benjamin: That’s exactly right. And I was actually speaking with Ryan Holiday a couple of months ago here in San Francisco.
Mark: Great guy.
Benjamin: He’s great. I love his work. But we were speaking and it was about a month before my book came out, so he asked me how it was going and such. And he said to me–because we’re actually with the same publisher. He was talking about publishers in general. He said to me “You really need to push it yourself. You need to be the one going out there and getting publicity. And when publishers see that you’re doing this, they’ll help. They’ll really push because they’re seeing that you’re pushing. But you can’t expect for them to give it to you on a plate. Because so many books are published every single week. They’re going to put their efforts towards the people that they think are really working hard to make it a success. So you really have to push it. You really have to work.
Otherwise you’re just going to struggle.
Mark: Yeah. If you think you can block out the time, get it done, then fire and forget. Go back to running your business, or go back to whatever it was you did. Then forget it. The book won’t… it’ll get buried. It’ll still feel good to get it out there…
Benjamin: That’s exactly right. It’ll be on the “New Releases” table for a week or two, but then it’ll go into being a one copy title. And in order to not let that happen, and in order to get that publicity for longer, you really, really have to work for it.
And we’re lucky that there’s so many podcasts, there’s so many places where you can promote your work. And where you can promote the message and actually help people to see that information. It’s kind of… it’s not a laziness I expect, cause many people have jobs where they have to work. But you just have to take advantage of what is available to you.
Mark: Yeah, and I could see so many offshoots from this that’ll then become self-published where you can earn 70% royalties. I can see the workbook. I can see the daily routine, the evening routine. I mean I’d be already working on all these things. Of course, that’s my style. And then I get bogged down. And have to go back to one thing.
Anyways, let’s talk now about first we chatted a little bit before we started, but where did this idea come from for My Morning Routine? To do it as a business, and content play?
Benjamin: Yeah, so the point of the website was always a side project for us both. Michael’s in design and UX and coding and such. I’m not entirely sure. He understands that much more than me.
And I’m in the copywriting side. But it was always a side-project for us, and we would interview one person every week. And it was probably a couple years into having the actual project of having the website that we decided to monetize. And we’re still doing that now. So we have a sponsor every few weeks. And they’ll sponsor kind of the news and such.
But it was never an enormous business, and we never really planned on it being that way. So when the book came along, it was almost as if the book and the website can kind of promote themselves. So we’re promoting the book through our website and we’re promoting it through different platforms as well.
But the book itself–it has the same name as the website, and it links to the website on many different pages. So it kind of is a circular beast. We’re actually getting many new website readers now who come from the book. So it’s really worked out in that way.
Mark: That’s pretty cool.
Start the Day with Intention
Mark: So I wanna get into talking about what the morning routine… what you learned, what some of the most interesting ones were. But before I do, I just want to… this is more for you and for the people who are listening who haven’t participated in Unbeatable Mind or maybe haven’t read my book–“The Way of the SEAL,” or “Unbeatable Mind”–where I talk about my morning routine prescription. But for us, we have a very specific prescription for a morning ritual. And the premise is that we’ve got to win in our mind before we step foot on the battlefield. Mentioned that earlier.
And that each day is a lifetime opportunity. A) it’s a lifetime to fulfill your mission a little bit better. B) Its plausible–I come from the warrior arts–it’s plausible that this might be your last day. So you want to prepare for it. You don’t want to just get up and go. You wanna prepare for it.
And so we have a specific routine. That includes some of the things I saw in your book. And includes other things which I didn’t see discussed at all. It was really interesting, so it kind of reinforced for me a) I’ve been doing this and teaching this since 2007. It’s gratifying to see it being talked about in a broader discussion.
But also how far I think there is to go in this. Because there’s so much richness. And a lot of the morning routines that I read were just like, “Yeah, I get up and I have my tea. And I protect my quiet time.”
And all that’s really good. But there’s that however comma. “Hoo, boy, we got some opportunity here,” you know?
Anyways, so that’s just my perspective. I don’t want to go through the morning routine unless… we could maybe later on. When we contrast and compare to some of these others.
Benjamin: Yeah, no. It’s funny that you say that. Because we specifically mention kind of in the book that having a morning routine is all about starting your morning with intention–which is kind of what you were saying–and kind of bringing these morning wins with you into the rest of the day. And I do take your point about some of the routines are definitely more active, and kind of more thoughtful than others. And much of that was on purpose. Cause we really wanted a very wide… I don’t know, we wanted to cast a wide net of the kind of people that we interviewed.
So for the most part we did that. We got pretty much equal in gender. Pretty much equal on where people are from and stuff like that. And we really wanted to really make it relatively equal in terms of how active or inactive certain routines were. And that was partly more of a looking at the mass market. We wanted people to realize your morning routine, it can be incredibly intricate. You can run. You can meditate. You can do all these different things.
Or you can just get up slowly, have some tea. Maybe sit down quietly, but you may not even necessarily need to do that. So there’s definitely… as you go through the book, and you mentioned you did… there’s some routines that you’re like, “This is crazy. This is intense.” Like General McChrytal’s for example.
Or you might go for other ones and you’re like, “Hunh, this is incredibly easy. I want to do more than this.”
And that’s kind of the point. That was kind of on purpose.
Mark: Yeah. And I think you were generally… I liked that you weren’t trying to be prescriptive or didactic. You have to do this or do that. You were just basically being more biographical and allowing people… Successful people just say, “Hey, this is what I do.”
Which is kind of cool. And you’re right. General McChrystal, being a SOF guy that was kind of my routine for years. Get up, go for a run, you know? The hard one right? And then eat a healthy breakfast and whatnot. And I don’t do any of that anymore. It’s really interesting.
And so these routines will change as you change and as your life changes. I’m more like Susan Pivot or Sharon Pivot… I forget her first name, but the Buddhist monk/instructor, you know? Who gets up and writes and meditates and reflects and does a certain kind of ritualistic practice. Which can also be very powerful.
But then others which were kind of interesting were I’m a super-high-powered, on the go executive, so sometimes just waking up is good. And sometimes I have to wake up way earlier, and I didn’t get enough sleep. But I at least need to do these two things. Have a cup of coffee and read the newspaper. Or just hang out with my kids.
Benjamin: Yeah, we have that question that’s at the end of nearly every single routine in the book and on the website, which is along the lines of “What do you do if you fail to follow your routine?”
And many people told us, if they fail to follow–which is often getting up late, or having an issue with the kids or something. If that happens, they’ll try to at least do one or two key things and that could be meditating. That could just be having a short run. Just something they can get in really quickly.
And people say that even though that isn’t their actual routine, it’s significantly better than nothing. And it really helps them kind of get back on track with their day.
But to your point about it not being particularly prescriptive. That again, was really on purpose. Cause we were kind of sick of all these books and articles that kind of say “You have to get up at 5 AM. You have to do this. This is the way it has to be.”
And I can see why people… I wouldn’t say “fall” for it, but I can see why people are drawn towards these ideas. But we really…
Mark: They want the answer. They want the hack. The hackers are making a lot of money right now, because they’re telling you, “Do this, do that. Do this, do that. And you’ll have 40 years of Zen…”
Benjamin: Exactly. Yeah. And while we definitely… our attitude was like, “Okay, you need to give them some ideas.” So we definitely were like, “Try this for sure. Try meditation. Try yoga. Try working out. At the very least try it.”
But we were saying you don’t have to do this. You don’t have to get up at this time. You may work a night shift, you know? Your morning may be 5 PM.
So we just basically didn’t want to be dicks about it. We wanted to really tell people, this may not work for you, but try it anyway. And if it doesn’t, that’s okay. Try something else.
Mark: Yeah. That makes sense.
And based upon your research, how important do the people you interview think the morning routine is to their life and their success.
Benjamin: I guess this wasn’t surprising, cause everyone in the book, you could say is self-selecting. Even if we approached them, they kind of agreed to the interview. But yeah, it’s just incredibly important. And we found that more and more successful people we spoke to… the executives, the generals, the people further and further up, the more likely it was they do have a morning routine that’s really kind of health focused in terms of their bodies, their minds.
Get Enough Sleep
And also what we found that was kind of surprising is that the more successful people were, the more likely they were to get enough sleep. And of course, that could partly be people who are less fortunate, who need to work longer hours, they may not get it for that reason. But many of us think of executives not getting much sleep, because they’re working so hard. But in reality we found that so many people just really focus on sleep. And we spoke with Bill McNab who at the time was the CEO and is now the Chairman of Vanguard. And he actually told us something along the lines of, he actually focuses on his sleep a head of his morning routine.
So even though his morning routine is incredibly important to him, if he wakes up and he’s still a little bit sleepy, he will get some more sleep because he know how important that is to him.
Mark: Yeah. I’m the same way. Sleep is first. Sleep is really the out… it affects everything. I call them the 3 pillars. Sleep, Nutrition and Movement. And you include exercise in movement, but it doesn’t have to look like exercise. It could be play, it could be dance, it could be sport. You know what I mean?
All of those are forms of movement, but those three have like equal ability to affect your energetic and systemic balance. If any one of them is off, it’ll throw the others off, and you’re out of whack, so to speak. So if sleep is going to be off, you’re already starting at a deficit. So you might as well balance that as best you can, and then find your movement and nutrition balanced throughout the day.
Benjamin: Yeah, I was actually recently speaking at a conference in New Orleans, and afterwards people were coming up to me and kind of asking how they could improve their morning routines. And every single one I would speak to, I would say, “Okay, what time do you wake up?”
And they’d say, “Oh, I don’t know. Like 4?” And they were going to bed at 10 or 11. And I said to them, “Well, like, the problem here is you can’t really have a morning routine if you’re just tired the whole time. And you’re like chronically tired if you’re doing that many days in row.
So it was kind of shocking. And so many of them I just had to say to them, “Get some more sleep and then come back to me. But right now, that is what you need to focus on.”
Mark: You know, not everybody is a morning person. I mean, Benjamin, some people just have to work late. They got the night shift, or they’re in a band. Or they’re writing late.
And then other people–I’m thinking like Ernest Hemingway–super-successful people would like write all night with a scotch in their hand. And they’re not waking up at 6 AM. But they do have some sort of time during the day that would be akin to a morning ritual, don’t you think?
Benjamin: Yeah. That’s exactly right. And I have to say when we refer to morning routines in the book and on our website–we’re referencing the time between you waking up and either leaving your home, or transitioning to the next part of your day.
Mark: Even if that’s 8 o’clock at night.
Benjamin: Exactly. Yeah. So if you work a night shift, your morning routine might start 3, 4, 5 in the afternoon. And that’s fine. It’s just that kind of space, that time, before you have to get on with the rest of your day.
Mark: Right. Okay, so you did 300 people for this book and you’ve done a lot more on your website.
Benjamin: It’s 300 for the website, just over 300. And then in the book, it’s 64 full interviews. And then there’s a bunch of kind of quotes from other people’s interviews.
Mark: Oh, that makes more sense. Cause the book would have been like 600 pages long then.
Benjamin: That would be a super-big book.
Mark: (laughing) This massive tome like a Tim Ferris book.
Okay, so what were some of the most insightful themes that ran across most, if not all of the people. Besides that they had morning rituals.
Benjamin: Yeah, I think the most important theme–and I really try to push this message to so many people–is that you really need to keep your routine short and easy to accomplish. Especially in the beginning, as you’re forming it. As it greatly increases your chances of actually sticking to it.
And we found this time and again when speaking with people. But to give a simple example is if you want to start running. You don’t generally… you don’t go to the gym, you don’t generally workout, but if you want to start running one week as part of your morning routine–if you get up and decide you’re going to run for an hour. Or a very long distance. First of all, you’re probably not even going to make it the first day. But you’re certainly not going to want to do it the next day.
And it could be the same with meditation. If you don’t really meditate, you decide that you’re going to meditate for half an hour, that’s going to be pretty tough. Even if you have thoughts going through your mind, that’s not going to be an easy thing to do.
So what we’ve found with speaking to people, for this book and for everything else–is you really need to keep it short. So if you decide to run, you could just run around the block. Or say I’m going to figure out a route which is about 5 or 10 minutes, and do that every day for a week.
And the same with meditation. You could decide to meditate for just 2 minutes if you want. Or just 5 minutes. Something really, really short. I personally meditate for just 10 minutes and it feels right. I could do it for longer, but 10 minutes feels right for me.
And over time, you could choose to increase these things. If you’re really, really enjoying the running, or really enjoying the meditation, you could choose to increase either of these things, or both of them, or anything else that you want to bring into your morning routine.
But you really do need to start small, otherwise you’re just going to give up at the first hurdle.
Mark: Yeah, I love that. That’s really true of any habit. So you’re talking about if someone doesn’t have the habit of running, don’t try to go all in and become a marathoner in one week. Just crawl, walk, run is the term we use in the SEALs.
That makes total sense.
And to be fair, you don’t have to start something new to have an outstanding morning ritual, right? There’s some people who have been doing the same thing for years, and I noticed others really started doing something new when their life changed or they moved. Or they got married. Or they had kids, or something like that.
Benjamin: Yeah. No totally. We speak about that in the book. And so many people think they don’t have a morning routine. But pretty much all of us do. Pretty much all of us have this thing when we get up. Many of us, the first thing we do is just go to the bathroom. So that’s the first thing. But so we all have something we do first thing in the morning.
Another example is many of us get up–or we may not even get up–we may just reach over and grab our phone and hold it inches from our faces.
Mark: And check our email. (laughing)
Mark: That would be called the difference between an ineffective morning routine, and an effective morning routine.
Benjamin: That’s exactly right. Many people told us they do this, but pretty much everyone who told us that they do that, told us that they don’t want to do that. And they felt bad that they do that. And it doesn’t make them feel good.
So you can replace that.
Mark: Let’s pause there. The one caveat to that is–and this is very real–is there are certain executives and professionals, they have to check what happened in the other time zones. Especially people who are in global organizations, you know?
So they’re more stressed if they don’t make sure that there’s not a response that’s required from them. Or whatever.
Benjamin: No. 100%. And the same is true… it can’t always be done that way. And for example for the last maybe year and a half, I’ve kept my phone in the kitchen. So I put it there about an hour before going to bed. If I can get away with it, I don’t actually turn it on. I have it on airplane mode overnight. If I can get away with it, I don’t turn it off airplane mode until I either leave the house or I sit down to work.
But sometimes, if I have a call, if I have a meeting in the morning or before mid-day, sometimes I will just check it. Just to make sure nothing has shifted, nothing has changed.
And of course, if you have an assistant, you can have a different system. Maybe they could text you, or I don’t know… a way that you wouldn’t have check your email, for example.
But sometimes you do have to check it. But I have to say, personally, the days where I don’t check it until I either get down to work or get on with my day that feels so much better to me.
Mark: Yeah. I agree. I do check my email, but not first thing in the morning. I go through my core ritual that I have. Which may or may not include my 300 burpees and some sort of Tai Chi-slash-Chi Gong. And then I’ll check it.
But sometimes–if I’m planning on doing that movement practice elsewhere–then I’ll get into the email and I’m kind of a zero-inbox guy. I know everyone’s got their different email… So I’ll…
I have a friend named Brian Johnson who runs a company called Optimize. He’s just fanatical about eliminating all distractions. And he won’t touch his phone more than twice a day or three times a day. And he shuts it off, and locks it up like in a safe. (laughing) He’s awesome like that.
And I can’t even get ahold of the guy. I’m like, “Hey, Brian.” And three weeks later I’ll get a response. “I’m back on email.” It’s awesome.
I can’t do that. I’m a zero-inbox guy. But in the morning, I agree with you. Let’s say I’m travelling or something and I lose my mind and I check my email first thing. It never goes as well.
Benjamin: No, it never goes as well. I was actually speaking about this idea with my wife last night. Talking about how everything is a minor level addiction. Whether it’s Instagram, or Twitter. And sometimes I’ll be on my phone and I’ll just see myself refreshing my Twitter feed.
But nothing good is going to come of that. I’m not going to suddenly see a revelation in a tweet.
Mark: (laughing) You’re not going to solve the world’s problems…
Benjamin: Exactly. I’m not going to be like, “Oh, here’s how we fix everything.” It’s just not. It’s just… there are so many better things I and other people could be doing with that time it’s just this minor level addiction that we kind of all have now.
Mark: So what were some of the other common themes that you found? Other really good common practices that you saw cross the different populations that you interviewed?
Benjamin: Yeah, so even though we try not to be prescriptive, we really, desperately recommend is working out. And one thing that we… a caveat that we did put… is that we spoke with so many people that workout in the morning, but we also spoke with a lot of people who work out either in the afternoon or kind of the early evening. And for the most part we found that it didn’t really affect the quality of their morning routine… affect the quality of their day when they did that.
And so generally… I personally workout mid-day. Pretty much every day that I can. And for me that works perfectly. For me cause I do a lot of writing work, it works for me to work rom half 8, 9… Get a lot of writing in and feel very accomplished… and then workout.
Whereas other people prefer to workout before they start their work. So in general we found we kind of promote working out in the morning, we definitely suggest trying it out if you don’t normally do it. We just say if you can work out at any time. Get the blood pumping. Just get a little bit of a stress in your life, you know? The good type of stress.
If you can kind of do a little bit of that every single day, or at least every single weekday at least… that is highly recommended and from the people we spoke with, pretty much nobody–apart from a few people that were joking–pretty much nobody said they don’t get anything out from working out.
Mark: Yeah, I can’t imagine not being getting something out of working out. (laughing) Like, it’s basic human need I think. I think it’s as important as eating. And there’s days where I’ve chosen to work out instead of eat. In fact, that’s my lunchtime ritual is to workout and not eat. It’s been that way for 30 years.
And then I was interested to note that not as many people… I thought in this day and age that with all the research on meditation that pretty much everyone would say they had some form of meditative practice. But I do think that it’s still such a unique habit for those of us who are over 35 or 40 that a lot of people just haven’t been able to integrate into their daily life. Or they say, “Well, I get it while I’m on my run.” Which is partly true, you know what I mean?
Since I teach meditation I know that’s a partial truth. It’s not the whole truth.
Benjamin: Yeah, I know what you mean. We’re in this little world where it feels like everyone’s working out, everyone’s meditating, everyone’s doing yoga. But in reality, like I said… we got a cross-section of as many people as we could for the book. In reality these are still relatively new ideas. To us it feels like everyone uses Headspace…
Mark: Well, we’re in California. Everybody is working out and doing yoga.
Benjamin: That’s very true. And we’ve actually noticed that when we walk around downtown here, yeah, everyone is looking and eating pretty healthily right now. But no totally… these ideas of meditation, and these ideas of the importance of working out. Even though many people kind of understand them, a lot of people aren’t doing it. And definitely even for our book and on our website for sure, many people answer our meditation question when we simply ask people if they meditate… many people answer it saying they would like to, but they just haven’t got round to it. Or they’ve tried and they’re not really sure.
And to be honest, my ten minute mediation practice has only been with me for about 6 months. I used to do it… several years ago, I used to do it more consistently, but I kind of broke out of the practice. Which is kind of… it goes back to my point of just keeping things incredibly short. So I think I started with 10 minutes when I came back to it. And stayed there.
But you could start with just 2, 3, 4, 5 minutes and just really see if it works for you. And that’s such a short amount of time. I really don’t see how someone couldn’t find that time.
Mark: Yeah, it really is a no excuses practice. You don’t need any barbells. You don’t need to change your clothes. You don’t really need to do anything.
In fact, a lot of times, when I wake up, I’ll just sit up after I drink my water and use the restroom, I’ll just sit back in bed and just begin to breath. And then that drops into meditation. That starts… I guess the ritual starts by putting my feet on the ground. First thoughts in my head. Then the bathroom. Then the water.
But then that all just happens automatically. And then I get into the breathing and the more structured things.
Benjamin: Yeah, I’ve found for sure that’s definitely some days where it might be 4 or 5 PM, and I’ll just think to myself, “Ugh. I don’t have the time to meditate.” Then I just kind of look at myself, and I’m like, “How important do you think you are that you don’t have 10 minutes to meditate?” Like, think how much time we waste every day? Kind of back to that Twitter point.
I waste way more than 10 minutes every day. I think I can find those 10 minutes to meditate.
Mark: No question. Speaking of that, so you’ve been doing it consistently for 6 months. What’s the difference for you? How would you relate the quality of your life after meditating just for 10 minutes for the last 6 months? Let the listeners know how it’s affected you.
Benjamin: Yeah, honestly, only a couple times in my life have I really got into a state of–I don’t know if Bliss is the word, but really going into the kind of form of meditation that people assume all meditation is. A lot of the time, I’m kind of just going over stuff in my head.
But to be honest, even that is incredibly helpful for me. Just really reorganizing my day, reorganizing my life. Figuring out what I need to do that day that helps with my more long-term goals. So I have all this written down.
I have all my long-term goals, I have my daily tasks and goals written down. But it’s easy to go off track. It’s easy to think, “Okay, I’ll just respond to these emails instead of actually doing something that will help me several years from now.”
And meditating just for 10 minutes a day it really allows me to take that time and to think. What should I do after meditating? What the first thing? What’s the most important thing I can do today that will help me in 1, 2, 3, 4 years from now. And that’s definitely the most important thing that I’ve got out of it.
Mark: Yeah I love that. It helps you organize your mind so you can focus on the right things, for the right reasons. And in the right sequence, right?
Benjamin: Exactly right. And we’re always… So many of us are always just looking at a computer screen, and even though our minds might be slightly idle, we’re not doing that organizing during that time. We kind of just need that quiet. In my case I’ll listen to like water or something in my headphones. Just that quiet time, even if it was just 10 minutes, to have that and it’s been wonderful for me, honestly.
Mark: That is nice. And I notice that a lot of the people recommend or talk about drinking a fresh glass of water or more. I remember one guy–I forget his name–said he drinks like 3 full, 8 ounce glasses of water. Which is great because you know I’ve been recommending that for years. Cause you wake up and it flushes all the toxins out of your mouth and your esophagus and your stomach. And then rehydrates you. You get really dehydrated at night.
It’s like topping off the battery. It stimulates your electrochemical system and wakes you up. Boom.
Assuming a lot of people have figured that out. That you interviewed.
Benjamin: Yeah. I actually started doing that recently as well. I would always drink water in the morning, but I’ve more recently started really paying attention to how much I drink and drinking more of it. And it is kind of funny, because about a year ago, or a little over when I was speaking with my editor about how the book was coming along and kind of the direction it was going she mentioned to me, she says, “Some of these are a little repetitive.”
And that has been said to us since. But I think a lot of the point of that… and we kind of want some of the same ideas to come up time and again, because even though I’ve been doing the website for 5 and a half years, there are many ideas such as drinking water when you get up. Or putting your phone in the kitchen overnight. There are many ideas I had to hear again, and again, and again until I finally did it.
And so even though we don’t want the book to be annoying… it’s not that repetitive… it’s just a couple times same idea may come up. We just wanted people to think, “Oh, this person’s also doing this. This person’s also doing this thing.”
And to see that these are ideas that we’re wanting you to latch onto and we want you to actually do. So once again, it’s not prescriptive. We’re not saying definitely do it, but we’re saying you’ll most likely benefit from these things.
Mark: Yeah, right. I think I heard people need to hear things like 7 times before it starts to land. Zig Ziglar–one of my favorite quotes from Zig was “Repetition is the mother of mastery.” And hear things again, and do them… that’s where habits come from. Habits is basically repetition, but I love your point is you gotta repeat something that’s repeatable. Running a marathon every day for most of us is not repeatable. I would say there’s very few humans in that category that could do that.
But drinking a glass of water every day. That’s a no-brainer. That’s simple and it has a big effect.
Benjamin: It’s not like just going to the gym. If you go to the gym and you pick up the biggest weight there… especially myself. That’s going to be stuck to the floor. I’m going to think that’s part of the furniture.
But if you go in and you start with the smaller weights… the 10 pound or you really start small, and then like build up… of course, that is what’s going to work. You really have to start small.
Mark: Yeah, and when it comes to movement and exercise, even going to the gym can be a big block for a lot of people. It could be really inconvenient. It could be too expensive. You don’t have the time.
And so what we recommend is just moving. You got a living room space. You can do pushups, sit-ups, burpees, squats. Run in place. You go for a walk. You don’t need a gym. Exercise is really excuses-free, because you got your body and you need a space the size of a yoga mat basically, right?
Benjamin: Yeah, we actually had a lot of people talking about that. In the book we have a chapter on different environments. Which is basically people explaining how they stick to or slightly modify their morning routine when they’re travelling. And yeah, many people mention kind of using the furniture in the hotel room… the chairs or something just to give yourself something that you could do some exercises on.
Mark: Yeah. That is awesome.
So the common themes were most people are… everyone you interviewed of course has a morning ritual. And of course were all very successful.
Some of them look different than others. Some of them have a lot of structure like Susan Pivot’s meditation practices and General McChrystal’s kind of like morning runs, cleanse, prep for the day. Which he’s been doing for years.
And others are really fairly simple, you know? Get up and have a cup of tea and read the newspaper with my wife kind of thing, in silence. That’s also a beautiful practice. But they’ll do it every day. Or be present with the kids. Get them off to school. Then maybe go to the gym.
But the bottom line is exercise, fresh water, and I read also that it’s just a simple, hearty breakfast was a common theme.
Waking up early enough, but getting enough sleep, right? If you can wake up early–most people’s jobs require that anyway–but not just randomly sleeping in, but having kind of a routine about that.
Benjamin: Yeah. And one thing that came up quite a lot as well is… I’ll give you can example of Biz Stone. Biz is one of the co-founders of Twitter. And a year or so ago he rejoined the company, and he’s here in San Francisco as well. And he mentioned that every single morning, he just plays with his son for an hour. And, of course, you know, it’s your kid. So that’s not the craziest thing in the world.
But he talked about how happy that makes him, how happy that makes his kid, of course. And just how he likes that time to actually feel like a kid again. Before he then has to drive into the city and work as an executive.
And I just thought that was a beautiful point, just to actually have that time with your kid when they’re young, and to really just slowly move into your morning routine. And many people spoke about spending time with your kids. Spending time with your spouse in the morning. Just to have that quiet time, and really have that connection in the morning.
Mark: I love that. And that also points to how your morning routine or ritual will change as life changes. Mine is a 23 year-old guy in New York was different that me as a 26 year-old Navy SEAL, which is different than me today, obviously. It’s evolved. Some things had to drop off, people came into my life and that kind of thing.
Benjamin: Yeah, and your routine, like you say, it will change. It’ll adapt over time. We just mentioned… I think we mention this in the conclusion. Just make sure if your routine is adapting and changing, make sure that you are making these changes and that you want these changes to take place. Make sure it’s not environmental or someone else kind of changing stuff for you. Make sure it’s really what you want to do.
And then if you do make these changes, don’t feel bad about it. That’s part of life. Everything’s changing. And if something isn’t working for you so much, or you want to try something else then do that. Don’t feel bad about it.
Mark: Yeah, and develop the self-awareness or reflection to see what’s working and what’s not. And to be adaptable.
Benjamin: Exactly. Exactly right. If you’re not adaptable to it, then it’s not really going to work out well for you.
Mark: Right. Awesome. This has been fantastic. I really enjoyed speaking with you, Benjamin. I highly recommend the book. It’s easy read. It’s one of those things you’ll flip through and just read different people. But then I wanted to go back and read the whole thing through and through. So I read pretty much almost all of them.
So well done. The book, “My Morning Routine,” and that’s the website that you have, right. Mymorningroutine.com?
Benjamin: That’s right.
Mark: Okay. And the book’s obviously available at Amazon and all the bookstores. And what’s next for you guys?
Benjamin: Yeah. I mean, right now honestly, we’re just promoting the book. You know, seeing how it does and really kind of just enjoying it. Enjoying being able to speak about it. Enjoying being able to write about it. And just yeah… really excited to get into more people’s hands. Because we really think it’s a great collection of interviews, for one… but it’s just a really helpful message especially when you contrast it to all the overly prescriptive, kind of crazy stuff that’s out there nowadays. It’s just a real nice way of thinking. It’s easier than you think it is.
Mark: Yeah. Well said. I love that.
All right. Well thanks again. And if you’re in San Diego, look me up. And I’ll do the same in San Fran. And if we can do anything for you, then reach out to Allison. Love to support you.
Benjamin: Yeah, this was really fun.
Mark: Likewise. All right buddy. Good luck with everything.
Benjamin: Great to speak with you. Thank you Mark.
Mark: Thanks. All right folks, that was awesome. Benjamin Spall, co-author with Michael Xander of “My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired.” You know how important this is to us at Unbeatable Mind. Morning ritual which we do prescribe. Although we prescribe also that you adapt it to your life and your situation. And be very flexible. We do prescribe that you have one. Let’s put it that way.
It’s super-important. It’s winning in your mind before you step foot on the battlefield. You have to have certain things in effect.
Every morning. That’s your foundation. Three pillars of proper sleep, great nutrition–I had my Ample this morning and that fuels me up healthily for the day–and movement. But also what is your purpose? What are you driving for today? What’s your main target?
And then spend some time in silence either with Box Breathing, meditation or visualization or some combination of all three.
So enough said on that topic. Once again, thanks for listening. Hope this was useful to you and your time was well spent. And I really appreciate you and everything you’re doing to make the world a better place.