I used to be someone who prioritized productivity in the morning, measuring success by the number of boxes I could tick off in every category from fitness to meditation to work. These days, it’s all about focusing on the feeling. If I need more sleep, I sleep. If I feel like I want to get ahead on work, I work. If I want to do a 7 a.m. workout, I’ll do that. Bottom line, no day looks exactly the same—and it feels good that way. Once I shifted my mornings from “What should I do?” to “What do I need?” everything changed.
An ideal morning looks different for everyone, and there isn’t one single formula for a successful morning routine. Since there are so many different ways to start your day, the key is figuring out what works for you and ultimately sets you up for success personally.
Whether you have one thing you always do (like run to the coffee maker) or an entire routine, starting off the day with some type of ritual that helps you feel more grounded can help set the tone for the rest of the day. To help figure out how to tweak your morning routine to feel a bit more joyful, I consulted expert Michelle Wax, happiness coach and founder of the American Happiness Project. According to Wax, a small but powerful thing you can do is start your day with a bit of introspection. You don’t have to write in a journal, (but if you want to, go for it!) but all you need is a few minutes to ask yourself a few questions, like the ones she explains below for a sunnier start to your day.
3 questions to start your day on a positive note
“The first thing I do is ask myself three questions that allow me to start my day off on a positive note,” says Wax. “I ask myself these questions before looking at my phone—or even brushing my teeth—so that I’m starting my morning on my own terms, instead of giving my energy to other people, the news, or social media right away,” she says.
1. What can I look forward to today?
Even on the most daunting or stressful days, you can usually find one thing to look forward to. It can be something small like dinner with a friend after work or cuddling with your dog after a long day. “This allows me to focus my mind on the good things that will be happening today,” says Wax. Thinking of a good activity trains your brain to be a bit more optimistic, especially if there is something more stressful on the calendar.
2. What has the potential to stress/worry me today, and how will I choose to respond to it?
Stressful thoughts tend to lead to more negative emotions, so taking control of how you feel first thing is one way to start the day on a more positive note. If you wake up worrying about something stressful, you can flip the narrative and decide how you’ll respond, instead of avoiding the potential situation.
“This allows me to get ahead of any potential stress, and decide how I will respond to any stressful situations that unfold, anticipated or unanticipated,” Wax says. “This puts me back in control instead of responding impulsively or reactively.”
3. How do I want to feel at the end of the day, and what do I need to do (or not do) to make that a reality?
Do you usually feel exhausted or depleted at the end of the day? If so, Wax recommends thinking backwards. Visualize how you want to feel at the end of the day and reflect on the steps it will take to get there. “This allows me to set the intention for my day and decide what needs to happen to ensure I feel this way at the end of the day,” she says.
Once Wax answers the questions above, she keeps the rest of her morning routine pretty simple and short. “I typically do a guided meditation for 10 to 15 minutes before making coffee and going for a walk outside,” she says. “While on the walk, I’ll listen to a podcast or positive content to help strengthen my mindset,” she says. (Two of her go-to listens are Ed Mylett and Your World Within.)
Again, happier mornings aren’t about sticking to a strict schedule or committing to something you won’t do. “I intentionally don’t beat myself up if I do a super-short walk one day, or decide to skip a meditation. By keeping morning routines simple and straightforward, it removes the sometimes-daunting aspect of it,” says Wax. “As long as you start your morning on your own terms, that’s the most important component to start the day on the right note.”