Mark Sisson’s Early Morning Routine
Morning is a sacred time for me. When our kids were still living with us, morning was the only time I had totally to myself. It allowed me to get the day started on my terms, set the tempo for the rest of the day. The kids are out on their own now, it’s just me and my wife, but the morning remains crucial to the rest of the day. Every morning is a blank slate. Every morning you get to start over, the promise and potential of the near future filled to bursting.
And so my early morning routine is the foundation of my day. Without it, the day just doesn’t “take.”
If you want to be “agile” and “intuitive” in your life, a morning routine helps. You need the foundation from which to leverage your talents and express your intuition and dynamic capacity. If your mornings are slapdash and all over the place, you’ll have trouble venturing out into the world and conquering your goals. A child needs security to grow. You need a morning routine to excel.
Here’s my early morning routine.
Go to bed between 10 and 11.
A morning routine starts with your nighttime routine. As I’ve said many times before, getting to bed at a good time—around 10, but no later than 11—while maintaining proper sleep hygiene practices so that you get enough sleep and wake up with energy and vitality is essential for a good morning. So your morning routine begins the night before. You have to get a good night’s sleep if your early morning routine is going to help you.
Wake up at around 7.
I wake up around the same time every day—mostly because I’m so religious about getting to bed at a good time. Seven o’clock is my typical wake up time. This allows me to get to bed between 10 and 11 and still get all the sleep I need. I’m in bed by 10, and usually earlier, but I’ll read in bed. Sometimes I go out fast, other times I stay up and keep reading. A 7 AM wakeup gives me breathing room at night.
Waking up at the same time every day is essential. For one, you don’t need an alarm. You just wake up because your body knows, and it’s much easier this way. Two, waking up is the start of your routine. Everything hinges on wakeup occurring at the same time. If you wake up at 5 one day and 8:30 another, it’s difficult to plan any kind of consistent morning routine.
Get sun in my eyes.
Sun exposure early in the morning—sunrise, ideally—helps your circadian rhythm hew to the rhythm of the day. It “tells” your internal clocks that it’s morning, that it’s time to get moving, that it’s time to build and go.
I’ve always made it a point in my adult life to live in places that get ample sunlight year round. Earlier in my health journey, this wasn’t a conscious decision. I didn’t know about the intricacies of circadian rhythm and natural light exposure, but I knew I liked sunlight, liked being warm, and liked spending time outside. So before I even knew what it was doing for my health, I was getting sunlight every single morning.
This doesn’t mean stare into the sun. Don’t do that. It means be outside with your face directed toward the sun, indirect light piercing your eyes and acting as a circadian zeitgeber that sets your clock. Also, you don’t have to have visible sunlight. The clouds can be out. It can be raining or even snowing, and the sunlight will still get through to your circadian clock. The point is getting outside to get full natural light.
Have coffee, heavy cream, and a spoonful of sugar.
Then I brew my coffee. Always in a stainless steel French press using fresh ground beans, always with heavy cream and a spoonful of sugar. Yes, plain white sugar, to cut the bitterness. Often I’ll take my coffee outside in the sunlight.
Do Sudoku, the NY Times crossword, and read the paper.
Although the science on “training the brain” with crossword puzzles and math games like sudoku is inconclusive, I don’t care. I notice a big difference when I do the games and when I don’t. There’s something missing when I don’t do it. A fluidity, a sharpness of thought. My writing and creativity are all worse on days I don’t get to the puzzles.
I also read the paper. Yes, the physical newspaper made of paper. Everything about the newspaper experience—the crinkle, the way you have to *pop* it to straighten it out—is soothing and it’s still my favorite medium to read the news. “Don’t believe everything you read” goes without saying, of course. I consider this an essential part of my morning routine.
Engage in a little friendly competition.
The latest addition to my morning routine is a friend and I started a competition about six months ago. We do it every day. Every morning, we play the word games World, Quordle, and Sedecordle.
We do all three each day and score them to see who gets the lowest score. The base score is arrived at by adding up the numbers in Quordle. Then, you get to subtract or add points based on your scores in Sedecordle and Wordle. In Wordle, you subtract however many guesses you have left. So, one point for every guess remaining. With Sedecordle you get to subtract three points for every guess remaining, or you add one point back for every word left on the board. You have to understand the games, but it is pretty challenging.
At this point in my life, it is counterproductive to compete on a physical level with anything significant at stake. This is the new challenge. This is the new competition. It’s a great way to begin the day.
Eat breakfast, or not.
Most days, I fast til 1 PM (after my late morning workout). On days I don’t fast, I’ll have something light. Lately it’s been soft boiled eggs or scrambled eggs with kale in butter. I eat breakfast if I’m hungry and feel like eating, usually while doing the mental games. I fast if I’m going deep into work mode and really trying to hit flow state.
Get “easy” work wins.
I’ll do the nuts and bolts stuff for a half hour to an hour: answering emails, taking or making calls, checking social media to see if I need to respond to anything. These are things that don’t take much active brainpower. You simply have to “do them.” I’ll often do a quick scan of Twitter or Instagram to get a “bird’s eye view” of what might be transpiring in the world, what people are worried about, what fitness or nutrition developments are coming to a head.
Getting these easy wins out of the way sets a good tone for the rest of the day.
Take a 15 minute movement break.
After emails and calls, I step outside for a quick movement break. This is to get the blood flowing to the brain, warm up my body, lubricate my joints, and prepare for the real work to come.
- Sometimes it’s a quick jog down to the beach for a plunge and swim.
- Sometimes it’s a quick jog down to the beach for a few short sprints.
- Sometimes it’s 15 minutes on the slack line.
- Sometimes it’s just a few sets of trap bar deadlifts, push-ups, and pull-ups.
The point is to get some light physical movement, preferably outside, before the real mental work commences.
Deep creative work.
When I write articles, I’ve already done the research the day before or days previous. I have a mental skeleton of the post erected in my mind, with tabs and links open to all the supporting evidence, so all I have to do is write. Flesh it out. Thus, it becomes an exercise in creativity that I can flow through, rather than having to stop every five minutes to check my work and read studies. Of course, if the situation calls for it I’ll stop and read research, but I do my best to avoid that so I can focus on the writing itself.
If I don’t have to write any finished pieces, I may go for a walk with my phone and bang out a rough draft using voice to text. Voice to text is invaluable for me—great way to jot down thoughts and ideas, which walking often stimulates. I’ve “written” entire posts and Sundays with Sisson newsletters on walks. I’ve come up with business ideas that turned into business realities. I keep working as long as it keeps flowing. It might be two hours. Might be one. Might be four. But it usually lasts at least two hours.
Movement, training, and play.
Usually I’ll go to the gym, both for training and socializing. Get a quick, hard, efficient 30-45 minute strength training session, hang out with the regulars, banter a bit, catch up. It’s a good atmosphere to push yourself while keeping things light and fun. I’m not doing any PRs (personal records) at this point. I’m just getting in to hit my muscles, strengthen my bones, and gird my connective tissue so I can keep playing and staying active doing the things I truly enjoy. Anti-aging.
The social aspect is just as important as the physical aspect. I spend so much time on devices that I need that face time (not FaceTime).
If I don’t go to the gym, I’ll go for a paddling session or hit the fat tire bike on the beach. I’ll often do this with my wife or a buddy, again getting that social time. Whatever I do, the block of time after my deep work time is for staying active—both physically and socially.
After that, I break the (usual) fast with lunch and get on with the rest of my day, which often looks very different day to day. But that AM morning routine leading up to lunch is non-negotiable and rarely changes.
What does your early morning routine look like?
If you’d like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!