Why Are We So Obsessed With Morning Routines?
In a perfect world, we’d all wake naturally at 5:00 a.m., exercise, stretch, meditate and drink our morning tea—all before getting ready for the day. We’d make (and have time to eat) a protein-packed breakfast or an Instagrammable acai smoothie bowl, or stop in for a cappuccino and not take it to-go. We’d never scroll through our social feeds while still in bed, searching for outfit inspiration or clicking around in a futile effort to rub the sleep from our eyes. We’d listen to an educational podcast on the commute in, or work our way through a novel while riding the subway.
Oh, and we’d all be in the office before 9:00 a.m.
We’ve all read articles extolling the benefits of waking up early or establishing a morning routine that’s perfect for you. There’s no shortage of editorial features discussing the routines of successful, creative women around the world. How do they do it? we ask. Usually these routines involve meditation, or yoga, or quiet time to yourself, or not checking your email when you wake up. They’re certainly aspirational—and who’s to say they don’t work? But what is their impact in the larger narrative of American productivity? Are morning routines just an insistence in packing every moment when there’s already so much routine in our daily lives?
I decided to try three of the most popular morning habit for myself. New to freelance work, my body and mind is still very much on a nine-to-five clock. Would a morning routine set the day up for success, or encourage a bad habit of rushing?
Routine #1: stretching
I like to think of child’s pose as an extension of sleeping. Now, when I stretch in the mornings, I open my curtains to let in sunlight and sit on a rug in my bedroom. No yoga mat, no sequences. After creating a routine of it, I have to admit stretching every day is objectively good advice. It makes you grateful for your body and more attuned to how you’re actually feeling.
Routine #2: working out
For years now, I’ve said to my friends: “I’d love to be a morning runner, but I just can’t do it.” My joints are creakier in the mornings; I’m slow to wake. Plus, I love running after work is done, when my body is warmer and more pliable, when my mind has tangles and problems to deliberate, elaborate personal and professional fantasies to entertain. I wondered whether running before work would be too much of a high. So, I tried it. I laced up my sneakers first thing and ran to Prospect Park, surprisingly uncrowded for a weekday morning in Brooklyn. Afterward, I start watching the clock. I’m digging into my usual “work time,” and begin to feel guilty. But by the time I round the corner home, I’m too hopped up on endorphins to get any work done.
Routine #3: cutting phone use
Raise your hand if you’re on your phone too much. (Me, too.) When Apple introduced the “Screen Time” setting in their latest iOS, I called it kismet. Screen Time limits how often I can be on certain apps per day, and sets “downtime,” during which I’m encouraged to disconnect from my phone. I use Instagram a lot to keep up and connect with friends back home, but the hour-by-hour breakdown is scary. My newest morning routine is to pare down my phone use to the essentials, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. each day. One of my biggest takeaways from trying all these routines? The distraction of your phone, however innocuous, will keep you from doing other things you enjoy more.
Participating in these activities feels harmless in the moment, but I worry our cultural fascination with morning routines adds to the noise of “having it all” and “doing it all,” particularly for groups who are already time-starved. Women and people of color have been shouldering the burden of “work-life balance” while raising families and building their careers at a systemic disadvantage for centuries. To wave the magic wand of an efficient, unhurried morning routine when the issues are much deeper rings false.
Routine doesn’t equate to success. The reality of morning routines is that they’re a luxury, and trying all of these techniques, even, is a privilege. Perhaps our cultural obsession with morning routines is helpful. Perhaps it’s an exercise in mindfulness, or a way to achieve short term goals on a daily basis. If instead we cherry pick what’s important to us personally—for me, that’s a quick stretch and a mandatory coffee, but for you, it could be the extra 10 minutes of sleep—then we begin to change the cultural expectations around routine.
I want to hear more stories about buying a $5.00 latte with an extra shot when you’re already running a little late. I want to hear about the routines where you stay in bed until the last possible moment, where you apply your makeup in the office parking lot. Let’s talk about dropping your kids off at school. Or, let’s hear more from the people who make their own hours, work in dedicated spurts, even if that means midnight. Tell me about having a coffee with your partner and being in the opposite of a mad dash.
Let’s celebrate our personhood, our messy pieces—the unproductive sides of our mornings.
Caitland is a writer and editor based in New York by way of Tallahassee, Florida. She recently traded in her 9 to 5—and the ability to sing the Dolly Parton song—to freelance. In her free time, she runs Prospect Park, and stops to get coffee on the way to get coffee.