One Change at a Time Sleep

One Change at a Time: Morning Rituals

I have been sharing regularly for a while now about making one change at a time to improve your health and well-being. But one thing I haven’t talked about yet is ways to help work those changes into daily routines. One of the best ways to make changes stick is through a process called habit stacking. In this edition of “One Change at a Time,” I am going to talk about the health benefits of consistent morning rituals and how you can use your morning rituals to help you add healthy changes to your routines and develop them into habits.

Morning rituals are the things you do, almost on autopilot, when you get up for the day. For instance, you might start your day by going to the bathroom, then brushing your teeth, getting on the scale, and getting into the shower, followed by making a cup of coffee. Morning rituals are the things that we don’t really think about until something throws them off, like a coffee maker that goes on the fritz or no hot water that morning. When those rituals get thrown off, it just seems like your whole day is off. Interestingly, that feeling of being off is not a modern issue. In studying all sorts of rituals, from morning rituals to spiritual ceremonies, over hundreds of years, anthropologists have learned that the predictability and consistency of rituals help us as humans reduce anxiety in times of stress. One ritual expert described them as “buffers against uncertainty and anxiety.” Sports psychologists encourage rituals when training elite athletes because the associated stress reduction improves athletic performance.

There are more benefits beyond stress reduction from having consistent morning rituals. Consistent morning rituals help us prepare for the rest of the day by setting a relaxed, unrushed mood. Morning rituals improve productivity throughout the day, give control even when things are out of control, boost energy levels, combat forgetfulness, and improve confidence. Surprisingly, consistent morning rituals have even been shown to improve relationships!

One of the more interesting facets of morning rituals is that they can help us add healthy changes to our routines through a technique called habit stacking. Habit stacking takes advantage of how our brains work at the cellular level. Whenever we develop a skill and practice that skill over and over, as time passes, our brains hardwire that skill by creating special pathways in the neurons (specialized nerve cells) of the brain to speed up and, in some ways, automate those skills. A good example is how we learn to walk. When you see a toddler learning to walk, at first you can almost see how they are thinking about every step, but after a few weeks, they don’t think about the individual steps anymore. If you think about yourself, after years of walking, that motion has become so hard-wired that it’s almost impossible to describe how you take a step, even though you walk all day, every day. Just like we learned to walk, then run, then skip, and then jump, habit stacking builds on existing habits and rituals to create additional skills, which then become additional hard-wired pathways in your brain.

For instance, you’ve decided a healthy change you want to add to your routine is to eat a healthy breakfast. Your current morning ritual may include making a cup of coffee and checking the weather and overnight news while you sip your freshly brewed coffee. You could start adding one small healthy option to your routine by putting a tub of yogurt in the fridge next to the creamer you use for your coffee to help you remember to eat the healthy yogurt. A similar option would be putting some high-protein, high-fiber, low-sugar granola bars in the same place you keep the coffee pods or filters, and the next time you reach for the pod or filter, you’ll also reach for the healthy granola bar. Adding small, healthy changes alongside existing habits will remind and support the behaviors you want to develop and will help you do the new behaviors more consistently while hard wiring them into your morning ritual.

As you work toward improving your health, please remember to leverage your morning rituals. Make sure you are doing your morning rituals consistently for the stress relief and other benefits of daily rituals, and also to use those rituals to habit stack even more healthy behaviors.


Carol Cates

By: Carol A. Cates, MSN, MBA, RN
Chief Nursing Officer
Odessa Regional Medical Center



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