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Want a Better Day Tomorrow? Try this.

by Steve Troutman on June 7, 2016

Before my feet touch the floor in the morning I’ve already put in the work to bring awareness and intention into my day. I make an active choice to wake up on the right side of the bed by doing a simple check-in with myself. “Not enough time” is not an excuse. There is no “too small.” Even if it’s 5 minutes… that’s enough to make a difference.

Once I committed to showing up and practicing this simple check-in each morning, noticeable changes in how I felt and the direction of my day took place. I’m hoping that by sharing this with you, you’ll at least consider testing it out yourself.

Before my feet touch the floor, I’ve contemplated and journaled about things such as:

  • How I am enough as I am right now. I’ve dialed into the fact that I am in the process of becoming a better version of myself, not because I should or have to but because I want to. My pursuit isn’t driven by a sense of inadequacy but rather by a sense of curiosity, self-love, and interest in fully participating in and maximizing my life.
  • Why I want to become better than I was yesterday. I’ve reminded myself of how rewarding a life rooted in experimenting and learning far outweighs a life of perfection and judgment.
  • Being careful not to confuse learning for failure. It’s okay to mess up. Not everything is going to go as planned. Obstacles will arise. I am not my setbacks. Setbacks are merely things that I experience. I choose to see them as important opportunities to recalibrate and learn.
  • Rather than getting swept up in the current of automaticity where I’m solely focusing on what I lack, I’ve put in some time recognizing what I have and what I’m grateful for.
  • What I plan on doing well today in realistic terms. Rather than focusing on how much I have left to do relative to my goals, I’m focusing on what’s next.  What’s truly attainable today? I think in terms of effort rather than achievement.
  • I’ve made an oath to fully participate in the day that’s before me and to prove my worthiness not by comparison to others but by intentional effort that serves my values and goals.

Without showing up to my journal each morning, it’s very easy to slip right into the groove of automaticity. Life has a way of pulling you in undesirable directions when left to the “tide of the day.” I’m sure it sounds a little crazy to you… journaling for a bit each morning can’t possibly have such a profound effect.

I dare you to give it a try, though. What do you have to lose? A few extra minutes of sleep? Isn’t it worth trading a tiny sliver of time in exchange for potentially living life more fully and intentionally? This is a worthwhile ritual… I’m telling you.

What Are Keystone Habits?

I’m not exactly sure where the concept of keystone habits came from. I first heard of the term in Charles Duhigg’s phenomenal book, The Power of Habit. In it, Duhigg explains:

Some habits, in other words, matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives. These are “keystone habits,” and they can influence how people work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything.

Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers.

And…

When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly. Typically, people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. It’s not completely clear why. But for many people, exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change. “Exercise spills over,” said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. “There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”

I’ve found that for many people, practicing intentional thinking in a journal – especially as part of a morning ritual – acts as a keystone habit. Once the lever is pulled, other habits downstream of it tend to positively shift. It creates the conditions by which a growth mindset is born. It’s as if you’re programming your brain through repetition to start interrupting some of the recurring negative thought patterns that rob your momentum and make you feel lousy.

At a minimum, it helps set the tone for the rest of your day.

Action Steps

  1. Keep your journal on your nightstand so there’s little effort to getting started each morning.
  2. Use whatever format suits you… electronic or paper.
  3. Again, there’s no “too small.” Start where you feel comfortable and confident. Ease into this skill. If it’s 5 minutes to start… great. Go with it. Many of my sessions are 5-10 minutes. Showing up consistently is more than half the battle.
  4. Rather than freely writing whatever comes to mind… start by consistently answering 1-5 questions. Seriously, if this seems like a daunting task… start with a single question. Under each question, list out 1-3 answers. Some example questions include:
    1. What will I accomplish today?
    2. What am I grateful for today?
    3. What will I do to make today great?
    4. Write a single affirmation in present terms that defines the person I want to be 5 years from today.
    5. What proof do I have today that I am capable and awesome?
    6. Fill in the blank with something that honors your best you. I’m someone who _______.
  5. Experiment. Don’t feel locked in to any one or handful of questions. If you’re not feeling a given question after testing it out for a week or two, switch it up. I’ll typically keep a given question until it stops resonating with me. The “what will I accomplish today” question has been a constant pretty much since the beginning. Other questions turnover much more frequently. Long story short, I’m flexible with it, changing it up as appropriate.
  6. Be honest and real. While this exercise doesn’t demand a lot of time, it does demand truthfulness. Answer your questions from your heart.
  7. If you really feel that this is having an impact on you, consider adding another brief session in the evening before going to bed. While my morning session tends to be more preemptive in nature, my evening session tends to be more reflective… where I’m asking things like “What did I learn today,” “What went well today,” “What limiting belief do I want to start questioning more,” and “What will I do differently next time X happens?”

That’s that. I’d love to hear your immediate reactions, so feel free to reply. And if you do wind up giving this a go, definitely share your experience with me. I’m constantly refining my system and how I communicate this to clients.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jess June 8, 2016 at 5:32 pm

Great article, Steve. Very practical and concise. I am looking forward to adding some of these questions.

Reply

Steve Troutman June 8, 2016 at 9:19 pm

Thanks Jess! Keep me posted please.

Reply

Rachel June 7, 2016 at 11:58 pm

This is wonderful advice, I’m going to start right away. Thank you.

Reply

Steve Troutman June 8, 2016 at 5:24 am

Awesome Rachel! Please keep me posted on what you learn. And be gentle with yourself while first starting out. It takes some getting used to. If you’re finding it too difficult to do consistently, scale it to meet you where you’re at. Like I said in the article… even answering one question is meaningful.

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