What’s the difference between these two pictures? Hint: It’s the same guy.
His name is Hal Elrod, and in the picture on the left, he is dead. But the picture of the jumping, happy guy on the right was taken way later. So what’s the story? If I gave Hal 3 words to sum it all up, I know exactly what they would be:
The Miracle Morning.
After being hit by a car and declared dead for 6 minutes, spending 6 days in a coma and being told he would never walk again, today Hal is a top keynote speaker, bestselling author, helps and teaches thousands and oh, he also runs ultra-marathons.
How do you go from being dead to that? First, you have to wake up – and that’s exactly what Hal did. He woke up and faced a new morning. Day after day, after day. Eventually, he developed the Miracle Morning – a 6-step morning routine based on the best habits he could find in books, in others and himself.
The Miracle Morning is now not only a bestselling book, it is also the biggest lesson Hal has to teach. Today, you will learn how to create a life-changing morning routine.
Note: If you want a little more background information and a short summary of the book first, I just published one here. I also added it to my long list of book summaries and extracted even more lessons here.
Hal used the Miracle Morning to get out of $50,000 in credit card debt after losing his house in 2008. Successful people like Pat Flynn use it to not waste their willpower on unimportant decisions – which is kind of important when you want to make $143,524.43 a month, like he does. For the past 5 months, I too have used it to make sure I get on my most important task first thing in the morning.
Today I’ll show you how to implement the Miracle Morning routine in 6 steps, exactly the way I use it to start my day and work. We’ll even add a bonus step to make sure you tackle your most important work right in the morning too. When I showed Hal this article, this was his reaction:
So, while all credit goes to Hal, I’m confident this is the best source to develop a Miracle Morning routine on the web. Thanks to him for writing such an awesome book.
This blog post is a 4500+ word beast. For those of you in the fast lane, cut to the chase by downloading my 7-part Miracle Morning toolkit.
It includes my own 3-page summary of the book, a daily checklist, a template for your own Miracle Morning, 2 bonus videos, studies and, for the first 5 people only, a 30 minute coaching call to help you set up your very own, customized Miracle Morning.
Thanks to my friend Dena for offering that!
College all over again – a prerequisite
A little caveat here. In order for this to work, you will have to get one thing right. A step zero, if you will.
You have to wake up early.
It’s not called the miracle lunch hour for a reason.
If you’ve been following this post series on productivity, you should wake up early by now, if not, here’s a quick recap of what we covered already:
That said, let’s get to it and answer one of the most pressing productivity questions you have:
“How can I get started on my task list and not be constantly distracting myself?”
(credit to my buddy Willem for pointing out this question to me, he’s a fellow productivity coach)
The answer is called the Miracle Morning.
What is the Miracle Morning?
The Miracle Morning is a 6-step routine, which uses the concept of habit stacking.
Habit stacking simply means you pick a few habits that you want to practice, make a sequence out of them and then make the sequence itself a new habit.
For example, if you want to read while drinking your coffee in the morning, you can sequence the habits with a simple commitment.
“After I make my coffee in the morning, I will read.”
The sequence is created with the keywords “after I…I will”. This sequence is a very simple habit stack.
The benefit of habit stacking is that you can adopt multiple good habits at once, because you automate your behavior to do the entire sequence, which takes less motivation than practicing multiple individual habits.
It builds momentum fast.
The Miracle Morning is a habit stack, which consists of 6 habits: Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading and Scribing (writing/journaling).
Hal even created a very simple acronym to memorize the habits.
He calls them his Life S.A.V.E.R.S.
You can also think of it as a habit step function, that looks like this:
Note: Thanks to Sam Thomas Davies for pointing me towards this!
While Hal suggests practicing all habits for about 10 minutes each, thus creating an hour long morning routine, this habit stack can be adjusted for any schedule.
Anything between 6 and 60 minutes is fair game. You can practice different habits for different amounts of time and also switch up the order.
I will guide you through the steps in the order that I do them, and give you examples for both long and short variants.
We’ll add each step as a habit commitment to build your habit step function one by one, as you go through this post.
Step 1: Read
I start my day with reading. This is the exact view I get when I wake up:
I open the blinds and the window to let some fresh air in, drink some water and then return right back to bed and read on my Kindle.
(alright, I also brush my teeth and pee, if you must know, but THEN I read!)
The reason you should read right after waking up is easy: you won’t do it later, but if you do, it’ll turn into procrastination.
If you even remotely like books, it’s very easy to get lost in reading one. This is also a decision your brain can justify, after all reading IS a good thing to do.
On a good morning, I read for 20-30 minutes. This is by far the longest part of my Miracle Morning routine, which is another reason I like to do it first.
So put your Kindle or book right next to your bed and then write down the first step of your habit step function, for example:
After I wake up in the morning, I will read [one chapter in The Miracle Morning].
Write this down on a piece of paper right now. It should look like this:
As an alternative to an ebook reader or book, you can get Blinkist, an app that lets you read non-fiction book summaries (you get a free 3 day trial).
You could read one summary in the morning. Most of them only take 10-15 minutes to read, but you digest the core ideas of an entire book.
The 1 minute version:
If you’re REALLY pressed for time, just read one page of one summary (called a blink).
(just read this)
Every blink has one key point it drives home, so you’ll walk away with an insight you can apply right away, even though you just spent 1 minute reading.
Step 2: Exercise
The water, fresh air and reading activate your brain. Now you need to activate your body!
The point of this is not to do a full-blown workout or run for an hour. You just want to get some blood flowing.
You don’t need any equipment. Just pick 2-3 exercises and do a set of 10-30 of each, depending on how you feel.
Here are 10 exercises you can do with little to no equipment:
- Push ups
- Pull ups (we have this simple rack that hooks into the door frame)
- Jumping jacks
- A quick shoulder workout by raising your arms in different positions
- Diamond push ups
- Leg raises
- Bicycle crunches
- Mountain climbers
Pick yours and add it to your habit step function right now.
For example you could sequence this habit like this:
After I read in the morning, I will do [33 push ups, 22 jumping jacks and 11 squats].
Leave your window open for fresh air.
(my workout spot back at my parents’ house)
The 1 minute version:
Pick your exercise the night before or settle on one that you will always do and also set the amount. You can change it after a week.
For example: After I read in the morning, I will do a set of 33 push ups.
Note: I’ve recorded a quick workout video showing you how to do the 10 different exercises right so you don’t hurt yourself. Grab that with the bonuses.
Step 3: Affirmations
Next up are affirmations. Positive self-talk is a powerful tool, used by many professional athletes, actorshttps://youtu.be/M1W71fI1wCM?t=2m54s, successful entrepreneursSteve Jobs – “We’re here to put a dent in the universe.”, and even authorshttp://www.jamesaltucher.com/2012/05/love-yourself-as-if-your-life-depended-on-it/.
The good thing about this tool is that anyone can use it. Ordinary people like you, me, or Marshall here can benefit just as much from it:
(Marshall knows this works!)
Why does this work?
I’m sure you’ve heard the term ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’.
In ‘The Psychology of Winning’ by Denis Waitley, one of the 10 traits all winners possess is positive self-expectancy.
He says that in the long run what people expect tends to be what happens. Winners know that. They’ll say: I was good today, I’ll be better tomorrow. And then they will.
Life is a self-fulfilling prophecy and winners make the most of this truth.
But affirmations not only help you achieve your long-term goals. They also make you take action today.
In ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’, Susan Jeffers suggests empowered people don’t feel like victims and take full responsibility of their life.
They take action despite being just as fearful as everyone else, by changing their attitude.
Choosing empowering words, instead of limiting ones, makes you feel in control. This works because your subconscious registers whatever it hears, much rather than what might be the actual situation right now.
Just saying “I won’t” instead of “I can’t” or “Next time” instead of “If only” will boost your confidence and make you act accordingly.
Okay, so let’s get to the meat of it. What do good affirmations look like?
A good set of affirmations answers 3 questions:
1. What do I want?
This makes you tell yourself where you expect to go in the future.
2. Why do I want it?
This reminds you of the fuel that drives you on the way.
3. What am I committed to doing in order to get there?
This helps you know exactly what action you will take today to move forward.
Your set of affirmations should be 4-5 sentences long, and you should write them by hand. Keep them by your bed so you can recite them to yourself in the morning.
I keep mine in my night stand:
After exercising, stand in front of a mirror, look at yourself, and read your affirmations out loud.
Ready to add this to the habit stack? Write this down:
After I exercise in the morning, I will recite my affirmations.
The 1 minute version:
This IS the 1 minute version, it should never take you longer than a minute to recite your affirmations.
Note: As a bonus I’m including a video with this post that shows you step by step how I came up with my affirmations, in case you’re having trouble with that.
Step 4: Silence
As soon as you wake up you start thinking. A lot. I know my brain can go right into an overdrive of thoughts.
“Hm, I wonder how late it is. Feels like 6:30. I bet it’s 6:30. Good, that means I can start work at around 8. Hm work. What do I have to do? Oh, right, there’s that article due today, which I have to edit. Meh, I don’t like editing. Crap. At least I’m at home. Oh, right. Jens is around too, he wanted to have coffee. I’ll need to text him.”
That’s what the 30 seconds after I wake up look like sometimes.
A key purpose of the Miracle Morning is to reduce the stress in our lives through practicing silence for a few minutes each morning.
The book itself suggests meditation, but the point of this step is to find a ritual that will let you start your day relaxed and refreshed, as opposed to frantically chasing to-dos and having your brain in overdrive mode.
Here are 3 ways I found work well for practicing silence:
Number 1: Meditation
Sit upright on your couch, a pillow or even the floor. Wherever you can sit comfortably.
Close your eyes and focus your attention on your breath.
Breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
Take deep and slow breaths.
Develop a pattern. Inhale for 3 seconds, exhale for 3 seconds. Alternate it. In for 2, out for 4, in for 4, out for 2. Find what works for you. Then stick to that.
Repeat this cycle 10 times.
Tip: The biggest mistake people make when meditating is that they think meditation is only successful when you stop thinking. This is BS. No one, and I mean NO ONE, can stop their mind from thinking.
A successful meditation session helps you focus your attention on one thing. That’s it. It increases your ability to push away unwanted thoughts and focus only on the thing you want to give your attention to.
When I meditate, I like to create a mental image of an empty head, that I then try to “guard” from outside thoughts, like this:
When thoughts “attack”, I gently push them away:
Number 2: Shower
My weapon of choice right now. After experimenting with meditation for a while I found it didn’t work for me in the early morning, but in the process of tweaking the Miracle Morning, I found showering made a big difference.
Here’s a before and after of me this morning:
You can see the difference. When I sit down to work without a shower, I feel dirty, groggy and can’t seem to get rid of that “just got up”-slouchiness you usually feel right after leaving your bed.
I’ve been taking cold showers for almost a year now (I do cold-warm-cold) and apart from being a mental toughness challenge again and again it helps me clear my head and start the day refreshed.
The cold in the beginning makes you aware of your body. You notice all parts of it as they are hit by the cold water and it takes your mind off all other things.
The warm is the reward for pushing through the cold, it opens your pores and helps the actual cleaning process.
Finishing with cold closes the pores again and makes you really pumped to get going, I guess that’s due to the “I’m a badass”-feeling you get from it.
Tip: Most people will suggest easing into it by starting with cold water on your feet and arms and then moving up slowly. I found that makes me want to do it even less, because it’s more torture than “easing into it”. Turn it all the way to cold and jump right in. You might take a while to actually turn it on, but once you’re in (and in the warm part), the next time will be much easier.
Number 3: Sit in silence
Similar to meditation, but less of a practice. Just sit down, close your eyes, and listen to your surroundings.
Works especially well when done in nature, for example when I sit on our back porch, I can listen to the wind in the trees and the sounds of the birds.
Choose one of the 3 methods for practicing silence right now and add them to your habit step function, for example:
After I recite my affirmations in the morning, I will [take a cold shower].
The 1 minute version:
Close your eyes and breathe as you normally would, but just pay very close attention to it. Feel your nostrils flaring, your chest rising, and your heart beating.
The beauty of this 1-minute-meditation is that you can do it anywhere.
To my surprise I found it works especially well in really crowded places. For example I did this last year on my way to work in the packed subway sometimes, and it really grounded me.
Step 5: Visualize
Visualization and affirmations are like twins and you could almost wonder if they’re the same thing. Here’s where they are different:
Your affirmations usually make sure you keep your long-term vision in mind, and have an idea of what the end goal looks like at all times.
Your visualizations help you take the baby steps you need to actually get there. You picture yourself doing the work that you have to do today, in order to make progress.
Visualization is KEY in making sure you do your most important tasks right after the Miracle Morning. This is also why I do it towards the end of my routine.
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Pick a quiet spot for your visualizations. It’s important to have a specific place to do it, to give this part of the Miracle Morning a living space. I just like to open the window in the morning, stand at it and look outside, up to the sky:
Step 2: Go through your day in your head. What tasks will you tackle today? Let your thoughts linger a bit around each one and just imagine yourself doing the task.
For example, 45 minutes ago I imagined myself typing the words of this visualization step for my blog post. I thought of myself, sitting on my couch, with my laptop on my legs and typing in a Google Doc. Which is exactly what I’m doing right now.
Want to learn playing the guitar? Imagine yourself touching the strings and placing your fingers the right way for certain chords.
Building an app? Think of the coding interface and how you drag UI elements around or type lines of code.
Pick your visualization spot and add it to your habit stack:
After I practice silence in the morning, I will visualize my tasks [standing/sitting at your spot].
The 1 minute version:
As with affirmations, this won’t take longer than a minute in most cases, especially if you have a clean to-do list already. On days with lots of tasks or a complex assignment, maybe spend 4-5 minutes on this, but other than that don’t get hung up on it for too long.
I’m all for using scientifically grounded principles and there are plenty of studies about the benefits of using techniques like affirmations and visualization. But I find that while the science has been laid out and quoted ad nauseam, none of all these very informative posts have made me take action.
I want my blog posts to be in-depth, action-packed guides, that you can execute as you read along, which is why I decided to keep the science-name-dropping to a minimum. Nevertheless, I’ve compiled a bunch of studies related to these techniques that you can find in the bonus section.
Step 6: Scribing
Lastly, there’s writing. My favorite habit.
There’s a saying by Confucius:
“You cannot open a book without learning something.” – Confucius
The same goes for writing. If the above is true, then this is just as much:
You cannot write a sentence without learning something.
Here are 3 ways how you can write in the morning:
Number 1: Hal suggests dividing a piece of paper into two columns. Label one “Lessons Learned” and one “New Commitments”.
Then, spend 10 minutes coming up with 1 or 2 for each.
The lessons can be plain and simple, such as not to turn on the blender without the lid, or profound insights you got from talking with a mentor.
The commitments are best kept small and limited to the day, for example: “I will not pick my nose today” or “I will drink 10 glasses of water”. You can on occasion make bigger commitments, but don’t burden yourself. That’s what your affirmations are for.
The good thing about this practice is it reminds you of what you have already achieved while focusing on where you want to go.
Number 2: A gratitude journal. Simply list 3 things you are grateful for.
They don’t have to be big things. As a matter of fact, doing this will make you realize how much the little things, like hot water, coffee and a good bed really mean to you.
I do this using James Altucher’s ‘The Daily Practice’.
This is the habit that kickstarted my journey of self-improvement. I have listed 3 things every day since 2012.
Apart from showing you that the little things are really the big things in our lives, this will teach you that there is something good to be found in every single day.
Take it from a top 3 gratitude practitioner, that this is one of life’s best lessons 🙂
Number 3: The five minute journal. I haven’t used this and only learned about it recently, but Pat Flynn recommends it and it seems like a neat way to journal every day.
It’s a simple pen and paper journal which makes you answer a few simple questions each morning and each night, similar to the above.
A safe way to spend only 5 minutes journaling each day, yet get big results.
(it even has inspiring quotes for each day)
The 1 minute version:
For those of you in the fast lane, use what I call the 1-sentence-journal.
All you need is a sheet of paper, on top of which you write a question. Here’s mine:
The question I answer each morning is: “How do you feel right now?”
Doing the writing last not only provides a nice arc for your miracle morning with reading being the first, but answering this single question is like the “Set” part of kicking off a sprint race.
It makes sure you’re ready to go and tackle your work.
I’ll usually answer this with something like: “Today will be a good day, I can’t wait to get started!” or “Excited to work on X”.
But if something’s off and I don’t feel well, I can adjust my day, for example: “I’m tired and don’t feel on top of my game, so I’ll make sure to take plenty of breaks today”
Alright, time to complete your habit step function. Pick a way of writing and add this last one:
After I visualize in the morning, I will write my [insert way of writing].
The environment of inevitability
Boom! There you have it! Your very own, personalized Miracle Morning habit stack. It should look like this:
Tomorrow morning, after you wake up, you can make your way through it, step by step. Read each step out loud before you do it. After a few days you’ll have this behavior down and do it on auto-pilot.
By now I usually just go through the acronym SAVERS in my head a few times over to check if I have done everything.
If you line your Miracle Morning up the way I do, with visualization and the 1-sentence journal at the end, you’ll create an environment of inevitability.
This means that you create an environment that makes it inevitable for you to make progress.
Combine the Miracle Morning with your clean desktop MIT setup and all roads lead to Rome, or in this case, to productivity.
Some features of an environment of inevitability like this are:
- Simplicity, both in tasks and work space, because you have eliminated options and distractions
- The right location
- Pre-committing to things, taking decisions off the table and not relying on your motivation to do it, but on the schedule
Step 7: Do your MIT
After I finish my Miracle Morning, I will take care of my MIT.
Say these 13 words out loud.
Right after you finish your 1-sentence journal, open your laptop, fire up this timer and take care of your MIT.
25 minutes later you’ll be one step closer to your goal and one step closer to consistency.
Trust me, you really want to make this a habit. Habits are the secret sauce of success.
Note: Depending on how long your Miracle Morning takes, you might want to throw in step 6.5: breakfast. I usually just have a smoothie, a bowl of quality cereal and then sit down with a cup of coffee to start on my MIT. Some good ideas and recipes for breakfast, including whether to skip it altogether or not, can be found here.
The Miracle Morning: Recap
Let’s run through a quick recap of how you can set up your miracle morning right now.
Step 1: Read for 10 minutes right after waking up. If you’re short on time, just read one blink on Blinkist.
Step 2: Exercise using only your body weight, doing 2-3 different exercises. No time = do one set of one exercise.
Step 3: Recite your affirmations to yourself in front of a mirror. Read them out loud in the beginning.
Step 4: Practice silence, either through meditation, just sitting or taking a (cold) shower.
Step 5: Visualize today’s tasks, imagine yourself working on them. Pick a specific spot to do this at.
Step 6: Write into a journal, list 3 things you are grateful for, or use the 1-sentence journal to make sure you’re set and ready to go.
Step 7: Take care of your MIT during a 25-minute time block.
Take 30 minutes to implement the Miracle Morning right now and you’ll serve yourself the frog on a silver platter each morning.
Now you only have to eat it.
Nevertheless, even during those 25 minutes, there will be distractions, interruptions and all kinds of temptations, fighting for your attention.
Which is why we’ll talk about multitasking…
…in the 5th and last part of this series 🙂
As always, I won’t leave you hanging in the meantime, so grab this kick-ass Miracle Morning bonus package and START.
- My personal summary of the book ‘The Miracle Morning’ by Hal Elrod
- A checklist for both the long and the short version of your Miracle Morning, so you can check off each step for the first few days
- The habit step function template, so you don’t have to draw steps which are as ugly as mine
- A video where I show you the 10 exercises from this post so you can do them right. There’s even a trick to doing pull ups without having a pull up bar!
- Two articles with studies which show the effectiveness of affirmations
You can download all of that here.
PS: My friend Ted passed 5 of his 7 exams so far, I’m sure he’ll have aced the rest of them as well!