Photo: Kevin van der Leek Photography / Getty

Structure isn't always the solution. 

Jamie Vespa MS, RD
July 28, 2017

We've all heard it: "What you do first thing in the morning sets the tone for the day." For some people, this could mean going to the gym at 6am or setting your intentions for the day by writing out a to-do list. For others, maybe it's spending an extra hour in bed sipping coffee watching the morning news.

As a self-proclaimed "morning person" and someone who also thrives off structure, my morning routine had always been something so central to my day that I wouldn't let anything interrupt it. Up at 5:30, in the gym by 6, home by 7:30, eat breakfast, shower, answer emails, and be at work by 9. If anything were off about this sequence, my whole day would feel off. This sort of structure was my safety net and I was a slave to it.

While I had convinced myself that being a robot to this routine was setting me up for a day of success, in reality, it was stifling me. If I slept like crap I'd still begrudgingly drag myself to the gym and feel like a zombie during my workout. But hey, at least I made it there, right? If I forced myself to wake up early on mornings that my body was begging for more sleep, my motivation and creativity would suffer at work. My "healthy" morning routine was forcing me to ignore my intuition and live in a way that actually wasn't healthy at all.

As a dietitian and someone whose personal life, hobbies, and career revolves heavily around food, I feel like I'm always preaching about the importance of eating intuitively, but resting, exercising, and most importantly, LIVING intuitively has been the most challenging. When you allow yourself the flexibility to make decisions based on how you feel, this sense of self-awareness can transcend into so many other aspects of your daily life.

Now, my morning routine only includes one variable: waking up at least two hours before I need to be anywhere. This gives me time to center myself and tune into exactly how I'm feeling physically and mentally. If I feel energized, maybe I'll hit the gym or go for a walk. If not, I'll linger in bed, drink coffee, stretch, and start the day slow. Either way, I give myself permission to start the day in a way that feels naturally invigorating and rewarding. Mindfulness is a powerful weapon and it's those things you do where your mind is quiet that really sets the tone for the day.

If you're also a creature of morning habit, I challenge you to give up your routine just one morning this week in favor of something that makes your soul happy. Sometimes taking a break from the rigidity of routine can be the healthiest thing we can possibly do for ourselves.