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The impossible ritual

more percent efficient

Every successful individual knows this one secret. It’s a secret that will make you a million dollars, or however much money you want to earn. It will make you famous, too, and everyone will wonder what keys you possess to unlock the life of your dreams. This secret is… Their morning ritual.

Obviously, I’m joking. The thing is, even though every “success guru” wants to tell you that following “this one morning ritual” is the key to your personal success, there are too many competing opinions to choose from. Even if somewhere, out in the wide expanse of the cosmos, there is a magical morning recipe for success and happiness, it’s not likely that a) you or I will ever discover it or b) if someone does discover it that they’ll want to share it. Unless this great pioneer is as selfless as the Dalai Lama, he will likely keep the Shangri-La of daily rituals for himself and his progeny.

Nonetheless, while it may be a logical fallacy to assume that one behavior singlehandedly influenced any person’s level of success (my roommate is a statistics major and I’m sure he would be ready and willing to remind me that “correlation does not imply causation”), it cannot be denied that the mindset of success is clearly a driving force behind how moguls build their empires, both in business and in life. And I also believe it is common knowledge that how you start your day has a profound influence on your mindset for the subsequent hours.

In 2013, Mason Curry published the book Daily Rituals, a volume wherein he examined the daily rituals of more than 160 philosophers, writers, artists, composers and leaders throughout history. However, despite countless hours of research and analysis, he was unable to crack the DNA code to creating the elusive “perfect routine”. Instead of wrapping up his tome with a summary of key points or lessons (as self-improvement authors are wont to do) his anthology ended with a quote from the novelist Bernard Malamud on the subject. “There’s no one way,” Malamud told an interviewer, “there’s too much drivel on the subject… Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.” If this is indeed the case, and I agree that it is, then we can stop reading the clickbait articles such as “What 9 Self-Made Millionaires Do Before Breakfast” and “What Time do Top CEOs Wake Up?” for anything more than inspiration about what to include in our own personal wakeup.

I have already explored the idea that “if I just add all of their routines together, I’ll have a winner.” In the course of the past two years I’ve personally taste-tested a lot of morning recipes. I’ve tried waking up at 4:30 a.m. for an extended meditation followed by a workout and a hardy breakfast. I’ve tried doing daily flexibility exercises while listening to podcasts about success and productivity. More recently (more from necessity than desire) I’ve tested the opposite end of the spectrum by waking up whenever my exhausted body allows and jumping right into coursework or hurriedly dressing myself to rush to class. (Pro tip: this last is always a bad idea and will never bring you peace of mind or satisfaction.)

Still, no matter how hard I try to squeeze every different life coach’s formula into one daily routine, I’ve found it to be impossible. It’s important to craft the first hour or two of your day into something special and consistently productive, but trying to jam too much into that time frame will burn you out, make you unhappy and begin your daily journey with stress instead of positivity. With that in mind, I still believe that there are several vital ingredients to include in any morning routine that is intended to create longterm happiness, motivation and productivity. You must do things every morning that motivate you, that move you forward incrementally, that inspire you and that you can do consistently.

Before you can implement any of these suggestions, though, you must make the first hour or two of your day sacred. For me, no academic work can despoil the sanctity of my morning by intruding before 9 a.m. (or whenever I’m done). I reserve that time for self-improvement and pursuing personal projects. If you let yourself be distracted, you’ve lost before you even got a chance to start.

Once you’ve committed to developing a killer daily routine, think about things that motivate you. For me, that means going to the gym and lifting weights. I come back after an hour of throwing heavy things around and feel like I can look myself in the eyes and say, “No matter what else happens today, you did something that your future self would thank you for.” Next, consider habits that won’t make a difference if you practice them once, but will have a large impact incrementally over time. About a month ago I read an article by James Clear, author of an extremely popular self-improvement blog, about how he’s reading more than 30 books every year. “I usually wake up,” he writes, “drink a glass of water, write down 3 things I'm grateful for, and read 20 pages of a book.”

Reading 20 pages may seem small now, but consider this: most people probably only read 4 books per year (the average in 2015 was 12 books, but 4 was most highly reported number and the average was likely impacted by far-flung outliers). Small habits like daily reading could plausibly lead to you reading 8 times as many books as the people around you. After you’ve made a list of activities that fit the above specifications, do your best to narrow them down to a couple that you can, first, look forward to and, second, can accomplish consistently. Just as reading 20 pages one time won’t allow you to increase your library of “books finished”, choosing daily routines that you won’t be able to consistently handle is a recipe for stress and failure.

If you choose to do things daily that you will spring out of bed to accomplish, that will take you forward in small, incremental steps and that will motivate you to do your best, you can tear up Mason Curry’s Daily Rituals book and incinerate it in a column of fire (don’t actually—it’s a fabulous read, so maybe gift it to a friend or a homeless person or something.) and stop worrying about whether your days will be successful. Sometimes, starting the day on the right foot is all you need to make the rest of your hours the best they can be. 

Jack Dolinar is a Trinity sophomore. His column, "more percent efficient" runs on alternate Fridays.


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