Picture this: it’s 2009, somewhere in the pits of suburban New Jersey, and a girl [though at this hour of the day her gender renders rather opaque] with a bad case of bedhead and an even worse attitude is asleep in bed. 6:30 strikes and a blaring alarm goes off on the bedside table, while another, mobile one rolls across the floor and starts banging repeatedly into a dresser like a terribly challenged, blind dog.
There is no movement from said bed. The girl is me and I am apparently in my all-too-common-at-the-time state of very deep sleep. Ten minutes later my mom barges upstairs to begrudgingly walk through our regular pattern of bitching back and forth at each other until I get my ass out of bed and slog through getting dressed. A daily occurrence, the bulk of my high school mornings began with anger and unhappiness. I was crabby, tired, and incredibly hormonal. Even if I went to bed early I awoke feeling as if I didn’t get a wink of sleep, and the steps I took after arising did nothing to remedy that.
Breakfast was a rarity then. My mom would occasionally try to resolve this with a plate of sliced fruit shoved under my nose while I focused on more important pursuits like straightening my hair. Though her attempts were well intentioned, I usually relied on coffee or an extra-sugary chocolate-chip muffin from the school’s cafeteria instead. Not exactly nutritious by most people’s standards, but at fifteen through eighteen I had other things on the brain (most notably: trying to understand boys [mission: not yet accomplished], the joy-depleting world of the SATs, and figuring out how to achieve that cool-girl-allure of my elders.)
As a bordering-on-psychotic clotheshorse, getting dressed every day was attacked with a sense of life-or-death vigor that usually left me feeling pretty shitty about myself, and wearing something rather uncomfortable or weird. It’s no surprise that I now gravitate towards simplicity, and though this has made my life significantly more pleasant, my perfectionism is still, for better or worse, intact. But back to the bedlam: within minutes my floor was covered in the entire contents of my previously organized closet and I was running back and forth between the mirror in the hall and the piles amassed on my floor like a chicken with its head snapped off. Downstairs, the murmur of Good Morning America and the calm conversation between my mom and brother echoed as an antidote to my AM insanity. Of course, they noted how ridiculous my behavior was frequently, but in typical teenage girl fashion I felt strongly that they “just didn’t understand.”
Once I was finally decked out in whatever confusing ensemble I deemed okay for the day, I would rush to my car with a few passing words to the fam, and drive maniacally to school, hoping to be on time, just this once. Putting my life [and everyone else’s out there on the road] on the line daily usually didn’t pay off, resulting in an abundance of late passes and subsequent afternoon detentions for, quite simply, not having my shit together. The absurd efforts I took to get dressed were also futile, as I rarely felt comfortable with my sartorial choices—though that was mainly because, like most high-schoolers, I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. But I’m not telling this tale for the sake of opening that Pandora’s box—there’s therapy for that.
This retelling is purely for the sake of celebrating the blessings of a healthy morning routine, a pattern that I adopted in the last few years and treasure more than anything else throughout the day. Just ask my family—if you fuck with my sunrise habits, there will be consequences. My relatives happen to find this obsession to be a little extreme, too, but I see it as one of life’s greatest luxuries, and if you can in any way afford it, I highly suggest doing so.
I can’t pinpoint when exactly I changed into a morning person, but I know that it was in my sophomore year of college, around the same time I began to value a healthier lifestyle. This meant less blacking out, late-night snacking, and emotional rollercoastering, more studying and conscious consumption, coupled with a newfound love of exercise. With a newfound passion for schoolwork [doing it really well, rather than simply subpar, that is] I suddenly had more on my plate, so establishing quiet moments in the morning for my random thoughts and my side interests became crucial. It was how I set a positive tone for the day, one that was much less chaotic and frazzled than my previous MO.
I now wake up early to make time for a full breakfast: usually cereal with almond milk chock full of fresh berries, and a cup of hot coffee. I read through my favorite blogs and websites, some informative, some frivolous—it’s a moment free of obligations, meant purely for enjoyment. I try not to deal with e-mails, text messages, or phone calls until after this peaceful period. Beginning the day with such a pattern is a necessary comfort for me, one that I can always rely on while the rest of the day often tends towards the enigmatic. I also enjoy writing most at this time, when my thinking is “fresh,” and the jolt from coffee has my creative blood flowing.
There is a lovely aspirational aspect to the early morning—as people often say, “today is a new day,” and it is in these early hours when that simple quote seems to have the most potential. No matter what happened yesterday, or even just last night, you can always start over the next morning—it’s about setting the right attitude to make way for the right actions. In my earlier years, I didn’t realize what a game-changer this could be, so I started my days feeling flustered and annoyed, with anxiety trumping attentiveness. Now I know better, and I make every effort to privilege this time in my schedule. It doesn’t always work, and even with the routine in tact, not every morning is a glorious hotbed of joy and creativity—but more times than not, it has significantly contributed to the contentedness of my days.
Alas, not everyone is a morning person (a friend recently joked that he wakes “at the crack of noon”), but regardless of when you rise, I suggest trying on a new routine for size and seeing how it transforms your day. This will take different forms for everyone: you may like to go for a jog first thing, read a certain newspaper at your favorite café, or perhaps clean your apartment to the tune of your favorite music. Since I’ve already dabbled in a few clichés today, I’ll end with another: it really is the simple things, and this concept of a mindful morning proves that.
For specific pointers, check out this recent piece by Pamela Johnston for The Huffington Post, titled “5 Things You Already Did Wrong Before 9 A.M.” A lot of lists in this vein tend to be corny or redundant, but I think the majority of her advice is spot-on. If you need a little breakfast inspiration, check out the drool-worthy recipes over at Simply Breakfast. And please feel free to share your own morning routines or general advice in the comments, I’m a sucker for this information.