Benefits of early rising: How to start your day the correct way

Experts say that taking some extra time during your morning to slow down and perform set rituals is far more beneficial and can have a positive impact on your thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

Workday mornings are usually associated with one word: stress. We rush to wake up, brush our teeth, shower, and maybe – just maybe – shovel some breakfast down our throats before trying to make it to the office on time.

If your morning sounds like this, you’re doing yourself a disservice. The experts say that taking some extra time during your morning to slow down and perform set rituals is far more beneficial and can have a positive impact on your thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

Oprah Winfrey is said to get up at 6am and spend an hour in the gym as part of her rituals. Arianna Huffington starts her morning with 30 minutes of meditation. Barack Obama begins his day at 6.45am with a workout and then reads several newspapers before having breakfast with his family.

It is apparent that many successful people use morning rituals to help maximise their productivity and energy.

“If you read the biography of any person who has accomplished great things, you’ll find they all speak about morning rituals,” says Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director of Lighthouse Arabia in Dubai.

“Some call it the ‘holy hour’, others call it a morning ritual, but in all cases the person wakes up before the rest of the world, sets their intention for the day and starts it off in the healthiest way possible.”

If the thought of waking up earlier than usual makes you groan, consider this: research shows that those who are self-professed morning people report feeling happier and healthier than night owls.

In a study published by the American Psychological Association, more than 700 people were asked about their preferred time of day, as well as their health and emotional state – early risers are apparently the happier of the bunch.

“There is a correlation between people who wake up early and higher levels of productivity, better mood and higher self-esteem,” explains Afridi.

“Our body has a rhythm – the circadian rhythm – and it follows the rhythm of the sun. That’s why it’s suggested that you wake, sleep and eat with the sun’s pattern,” she says.

What are the benefits of morning rituals? According to the experts, they can help us to be more grounded, focused and mindful of our behaviour. Dr Thoraiya Kanafani, a clinical psychologist at the Human Relations Institute and Clinics in Dubai, says that morning rituals can set the tone for the day – so instead of a negative tone of hurriedness, they enable you to start off in a positive mood of tranquillity.

“Morning rituals help decrease stress, depression and anxiety while increasing our level of satisfaction, therefore improving our mental health. Rituals also assist in minimising mental fatigue because they allow the individual to take some time to relax before expelling energy and time during a busy day of decision-making,” explains Dr Kanafani.

If you want to achieve some goals – health or others – setting morning rituals can aid the process of trying to reach them.

Sultaneh Naeem, founder of Twig – a leadership and growth consultancy – likens morning rituals to a GPS system in a car that’s set to take us to a certain destination and explains how they bring a sense of calm and direction that can help us feel good about ourselves.

She also warns, however, that establishing morning rituals is not enough to ensure the desired outcome – you still need to do the work to get there. “When we focus on our intentions we have all the potential to get through, but we also need to make it happen,” she says.

So we know morning rituals have many benefits, but how do we go about establishing a set of our own? Kanafani says that to design morning rituals that work for you, you need to first consider what is important to you and what gives meaning to your life. Naeem suggests beginning with something you really enjoy and doing it for a few minutes every day. As time goes by, you can add another few minutes and so on.

“It’s about finding something that serves your health and gives you a sense of ease, joy and fulfilment. You can’t force yourself to like a ritual. Routine is important, but we can always shuffle things so our body does not get used to one thing,” she says.

Afridi recommends five basic steps to establishing a morning routine. She suggests waking up early, and, if you’re a parent, she says you should try to wake up 30 to 40 minutes before your children. She then recommends meditating for 20 minutes to anchor yourself to a higher and deeper purpose, followed by some goal setting.

“It is suggested that you set three goals in order to feel that you had a productive day,” says Afridi. “People can also use this time to organise their day so that they can be more efficient in all they have to do.”

Following goal setting, Afridi suggests doing some form of physical activity, such as yoga or taking a jog, to get the blood flowing and to energise the body. “After that, eat a healthy breakfast. Most people recommend drinking a green juice, as it’s very energising to drink a juice full of vitamins first thing in the morning,” she says.

Kanafani also recommends giving thanks, as it’s a good way to slow down and appreciate what you already have and what you want to create next.

She also advocates taking time out to savour nature in some way. “Enjoy your coffee outdoors or while looking out of the window. Watching a minute or two of the sun coming up gives an instant uplift to your energy levels and sets the tone for a positive start to the day,” she says.


Case study

Anna Roberts. Pawan Singh / The National

Anna Roberts, a 29-year-old managing director from New Zealand who lives in Dubai, has been performing a set of morning rituals over the past 18 months. She structured them with her business coach and they are based around her goals, which include achieving better health, having energy to focus on her business, and time to spend with her family and friends, as well as time to pursue her hobbies.

“I try to wake up between 6am and 7am. Breakfast is my most important ritual, as I’ve suffered with insulin and thyroid issues, so starting my day on the right foot is essential. Without good fuel I’m no good to anyone, so I make sure I don’t rush breakfast, which is usually scrambled eggs along with black coffee with coconut oil,” Roberts says.

“I then dedicate time to setting my schedule, as I need to be able to ‘see’ how my day is planned. I use a physical diary that sits on my desk for my to-do list and an electronic diary that’s synced between my iPhone and computer to manage clients and appointments.

“After working on my schedule, I love to read and do research. I catch up on news and current affairs from around the world. I subscribe to The New York Times as well as The Skimm. I also like to read biographies or personal memoirs for greater depth.

“If I happen to skip my rituals, I can’t find a rhythm. Having the chance to get my physical body focused by fuelling myself well, getting up to speed with my reading and research, and planning the day to focus on prioritising the things I need to achieve stops me from running around like a headless chicken. It’s a more sustainable approach than going hard for 18 or more hours with no day-to-day tactic through which to achieve your goals.”