What’s your morning routine? Since setting up as a freelance writer, I intended to use my new-found flexibility to get up early, hit the gym, and generally conduct myself like a glowing beacon of wellness. But instead, drunk on freedom (and, often, drink), I tend to get up at 9am and roll straight to my desk in my pyjamas, before eating crisps for breakfast and maybe showering at lunchtime.
I am, in short, the exact opposite of the women in My Morning Routine, a new book which details the rituals of successful people, from Olympic athletes to CEOs. Early rising, meditation, exercise and oatmeal are recurring themes. So, could taking on the habits of people who are more successful and - let’s face it - better humans than me help me find my morning mojo…?
My first power-start comes courtesy of Aiste Gazdar, founder of London’s Wild Food cafe. Aiste gets up around 5am, so on Sunday night I hit the sack at 10pm. Used to going to bed past midnight, my body refuses to shut down, instead insisting on doing a Buzzfeed quiz on which meme it would be. I eventually nod off at about 1am.
When my alarm goes off, I do not, like Aiste, “jump out of bed.” I drag myself upright, trying not to cry, to face the horror that is Aiste’s cold shower, “to make sure all my senses are fully awake.” Which is all very well, unless it’s freezing, you live in a single-glazed flat and you’ve forgotten to turn the heating on.
Afterwards, it’s time for “Mayan yoga and sun salutations.” 5am yoga classes in Walthamstow being few and far between, I download a beginners video on YouTube and quickly learn two things: I can’t cross my legs, and yoga really hurts. I do enjoy the ‘air’ pose though, pretending to be a tree, waving my arms and wiggling my fingers like leaves.
Next, Aiste meditates, and although I’m slightly distracted by the narrator on the Headspace app sounding exactly like Stewart Lee, a nice sit down is much more my thing. Aiste uses the rest of her morning to “learn to play instruments, read nonfiction books, study astrology or go for a walk in nature,” and because I live in an urban flat with thin walls and think astrology is nonsense, I settle down with comedian Rob Delaney’s autobiography (that counts as non-fiction, right?). It’s relaxing, but I can’t help wishing I was asleep instead.
By 9am, I’m starving. Aiste doesn’t specify what she has for breakfast, but I’m fairly sure it’s not leftover stuffed-crust pizza. So instead, I buy some cashew milk porridge with almond butter and fruit compote. It’s surprisingly nice.
US Olympic swimming gold medallist Rebecca Soni is, I’m unhappy to discover, another fan of waking up before 6am and eating a big bowl of yummy oatmeal. The night before, she lays out her workout gear, so when my alarm goes off at 5.30am and I’ve done ten minutes of meditation, I’m ready for “running, swimming, paddleboarding or yoga.” Again, I’m not sure where these people live, but paddleboarding or swimming aren’t really on the cards at 6am in east London, so I decide to go for a run.
The closest I’ve come to running in the last four years is the time I went to the gym, walked on a treadmill for 20 minutes, then gave up and went home - so in my current state, I’m expecting to have to walk most of my planned route. But by inventing a new type of run that barely scrapes walking pace, I somehow manage 6.6km without stopping. I’m sure my knees will be absolutely fine with it.
It turns out my knees are not absolutely fine with it, and by 7pm, I’m sitting limply on the sofa, left knee wrapped in a support, weakly ordering my boyfriend to make me pulled pork bagels. I’m not sure this is Rebecca’s dinner of choice, but I reason that, by this point, I’ve suffered enough.
International speaker Jenny Blake wakes up between 5am and 6am then reads non-fiction, with a candle lit, until the sun rises. Getting out of bed at 5.30am is much easier today, and I get through a good chunk of a book with my favourite Muji candle burning (log fire), before more meditation.
Jenny doesn’t mention breakfast, so I just assume it’s oatmeal again. With rebellion in the air, I stir in some chocolate frosting. Take that, health! For the first time, I notice I’m more energetic and alert during the day, and I don’t even need coffee to get me through.
The book includes some evening rituals, but when I ask WWJD, it turns out Jenny goes to bed at 8.30pm.
“I don’t have FOMO for night-time parties,” Jenny explains in the book. “I have it for the glorious mornings I might miss out on if I stay up too late.” This is ridiculous, as a) I haven’t even had dinner yet, and b) Cunk on Britain is on at 10pm. So instead I try Ariana Huffington’s ritual. “First, I turn off all my electronic devices, and gently escort them out of my bedroom,” she says. “Then, I take a hot bath with Epsom salts and a candle flickering nearby.”
Until now, I’ve somehow managed to avoid candle-lit baths, and it’s wonderful - unlike the lavender tea Huffington drinks afterwards, which is like drinking one of my nan’s cardigans. Fully relaxed, I fall asleep instantly, grateful that Huffington no longer goes to bed in her gym gear.
Sherry Lansing, who was the first woman to head a Hollywood film studio, has the kind of start I can relate to. She gets up at 7.30am, before reading broadsheets over breakfast. Then, Lansing says, “I run on the treadmill for 50 minutes and do weights for 40 minutes,” or does pilates. Tough choice.
Bouncing out of bed at 7.30, I grab some newspapers and head to a local cafe for coffee and sourdough while I wait for my pilates class. It feels very civilised, and much more productive than an extra hour in bed. A pilates class also irons out the last twinges I’ve suffered since Tuesday’s run. I don’t hit my desk until 11.30am, but I’m so energised that by 6pm I’ve completed my day’s work. My only regret is that Lansing doesn’t meditate in the mornings - I find myself missing my daily dose of Headspace.
My plan for the last day of the experiment is to make like decluttering guru Marie Kondo and get up at 6.30am, open the windows, burn incense, practice yoga and eat rice and miso soup for breakfast. But instead, thanks to a heavy night out, I’m back to square one. Rolling out of bed at 9am with a mammoth hangover, I wolf down a cheese and Marmite bagel, and hit my desk in my pyjamas.
It isn’t as much fun as I remember, and I feel genuine sadness at missing out on a peaceful early morning of exercise and meditation. What have I become?
I genuinely expected to hate this week, but I fully intend to carry on getting up earlier, and to squeeze in some meditation and stretching - if not a full workout - before work. I might not suddenly be promoted to CEO of my front room, but I’ll definitely get more done.
My Morning Routine, by Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander (£9.99, Portfolio Penguin), is out on 17 May.