When I reflect on 2019, I think “Action”. 2019 was the year I finally took action. The year I finally moved from theory → practice.
I love reading and learning, but I got stuck in the learning and never did much doing.
In 2019 I made the transition from “Ah, that sounds like a good idea” → “Ah, that sounds like a good idea...let’s test it out and see how it works for me.” Of everything I have tried and experimented with, these five practices had the biggest impact on my ability to create a good day.
And when does a good day start? The night before...
1. Install a Digital Sunset
A Digital Sunset is when you create at least one hour before bed when you don't use or engage with technology: no phones, no TV's, no tablets. Why?
We can't directly control the quality of our sleep, but we can take certain measures to set ourselves up for a night of quality sleep. I see Digital Sunset as the #1 practice to give ourselves that best shot. Still need convincing as to why sleep is important? Check out one of my favorite books from 2019, Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.
Three reasons why Digital Sunset optimizes sleep potential:
1. Blue-light suppresses melatonin.
Blue light, the type of light that comes from electronic devices, inhibits our ability to get a great night of sleep. Not spending time on devices in the hour leading up to bed allows us to store that sweet melatonin so that we're ready to sleep by the time we drop into bed.
Blue light has a different wavelength than that of white light (think of household lights). Research has shown that blue light exposure results in three times greater melatonin suppression compared to white light exposure¹. Melatonin is a natural hormone in the body that helps establish circadian rhythms and promotes the onset of sleep. Melatonin secretion begins to increase approximately two hours before a person’s normal bedtime to prepare the body for sleep. When a person is exposed to blue light during that time, melatonin secretion decreases which will result in them having a more difficult time falling asleep. Further, habitual exposure to blue light before bedtime can disrupt melatonin levels enough to alter a person’s circadian rhythm and consistently impair sleep quality².
All that to say, ditch the devices in the hour leading up to bed in order to optimize the quality of your sleep.
2. Freedom From:
Digital Sunset provides the space to have freedom from phone notifications, emails, and news alerts. Personally, I get enough of that throughout my day. Digital Sunset is a time I look forward to. A time where I can wind down and a time where I have the...
3. Freedom To:
Spend time with my girlfriend, read a book, dominate the dishes, or clean up the house. When my phone is present, I rarely think to open up a book. And I LOVE reading.
After closing the day in a relaxing and fulfilling way, I go to rest. Hopefully I get a great night of sleep. Regardless, I wake up and...
Without question meditation has been the most impactful daily practice that I have adopted since starting this journey.
In essence, meditation is awareness training. We train our bodies, shouldn't we train our minds? Within a session, this training has allowed me to cultivate the ability to simply notice thoughts and feelings when they become present and then return to the breath. Throughout my day it allows me to notice when I lose focus in a conversation or when working and then return my presence to what is most, or at least what is more important.
There are many different types of meditation and many resources to help you start your journey. Personally I’ve learned a lot from Sam Harris via the Waking Up App.
No matter the type you choose or how you decide to meditate, it's important to remember: consistency over intensity. It’s more helpful to meditate one minute for ten days straight than it is to meditate ten minutes every ten days.
Following my morning meditation I begin working on my most important creative task for the day. My confidence in what I create on any given day is highly correlated in my ability to...
3. Create Before Reacting
When I write, journal, or otherwise create before I pick up my phone or check email, I feel proud of the output. When I allow external inputs before I create, the output doesn’t feel as powerful (or worse yet, never comes to exist).
This practice has been difficult to install with great consistency - I'm still working on it. I’ve found it helpful to remind myself that phones and technology are pernicious. We're pickled to our technology: there are endless amounts of possibilities and emotions we can experience when we pick up our phone. Doing so before we're ready to handle whatever we might see is risky.
One unexpected text or email can derail our days if we react to it before we're ready. When I create first however, I've set the tone for the day and that gives me the ability to react more strongly.
Perhaps some examples are helpful here.
I wake up, meditate, and sit down to write. I struggle to create but I stay focused and eventually, I get some words down. I knew of a topic I wanted to write about but it morphed in a way I wasn't expecting. I feel energized by what I created. I feel empowered knowing that I had the discipline to do what I know makes me feel at my best: create before I react. I feel confident and ready for the day and whatever happens next.
I wake up, meditate, and then decide to grab my phone. The Bucks played on prime-time last night and I'm curious if they held strong in the second half. I see a friend texted that they're coming into town this weekend - love it! I excitedly respond. A work email came through last night...we've run into a bit of an obstacle, but I'm excited to start crafting potential pathways for a solution. I go back to the Bucks game. They won by a few points, so I check for highlights.
... ... ... 30 minutes later. I haven't written and my mind is feeling a bit scattered. I decide that I'll write later in the day.
Sometimes I follow through and write later in the day, but sometimes I don't. Luckily this time my distractions were all from positive inputs, but nevertheless I traded creation and writing for whatever my phone decided to give me that morning. I gave away the creative time where my mind and energy are at their freshest.
My encouragement? Create before you react to anything that isn't living. Create before you check your phone or open your laptop. Even if it's for a minute, try it out. Create a new dance, sketch a comic, or even use this space to...
4. Develop a Journaling Practice
There's nothing like the power and comfort of having a pen in hand and a blank journal lying in front of oneself. Journaling allows me to help release some mind clutter onto a canvas that then allows me to more easily process my emotions, plans for the day, and anything else that appears.
Journaling can and should be whatever you want it to be. If it helps to write it down, it’s worth writing.
There are three fundamental journaling elements that I have found to be the most beneficial for my daily practice:
Gratitude is powerful. It's easy to get wrapped up in what's next. Coming from a place of gratitude is always a grounding and powerful place to come from. Take one minute every morning or night and write down at least one thing you’re grateful for, big or small. Taking this one minute has had a profound impact on my well-being.
2. Setting an Intention/Target
What do I want to make happen today? Wouldn't it be cool if...? If all I did today was X, how could that make this day a win?
So what is it for you today? No matter what time you're reading this, what could you attempt to do to make the rest of the day a win?
Take an honest look at your day...how'd it go?
Celebrate what went well. Celebrate that you set a target and gave it your best shot, regardless of the outcome. Celebrate that you're setting aside time to reflect on your day. Celebrate yourself...you deserve it.
What needs work?
Is there anything that didn't go as you wanted it to? No worries, that's to be expected. How can you show up in a better way the next time?
What specifically will I do differently tomorrow?
After reflecting on the day and knowing what I now know, what one thing will I do differently tomorrow?
Maybe you skipped a workout today but your goal was to become healthier in 2020...therefore tomorrow you plan to...
5. Move Your Body
As we all know and have heard many times, exercise is important. Are you exercising yet?! If not, what does consistent exercising look like for you in 2020? Take a moment and write it down. Once a week? Awesome. More than that? Boom! Awesome.
Whether you already have a consistent workout routine or not, do you know what’s equally if not more important than exercise? Movement. Our bodies are designed to move. Yet more than ever, we find ourselves sitting down.
The fix? Move! Have fun with it. Whether you’re at work, home, or at a coffee shop, how can you have fun moving every 20 minutes? Dance moves? Burpees? Air squats?
Even taking a moment to stand will wake up your cells and bring energy to your mind and body.
You in 2020?
What practice would help you create consistently better days? Is it something above or something else you've been meaning to take action on?
Start today by taking action on that one thing right now. Then, do it again tomorrow. Make it easy to win and track your consistency. You got this, we got this.
Let's do this.
- West, Kathleen E., et al. “Blue Light from Light-Emitting Diodes Elicits a Dose-Dependent Suppression of Melatonin in Humans.” Journal of Applied Physiology, vol. 110, no. 3, 2011, pp. 619–626.
- Zisapel, Nava. “New Perspectives on the Role of Melatonin in Human Sleep, Circadian Rhythms and Their Regulation.” British Journal of Pharmacology, vol. 175, no. 16, 2018, pp. 3190–3199.