My early-morning brain treatment

A few days back, I was mulling my morning routine and how to fix it. I tend to wake up aroung 5-6 a.m., which gives me an early start on the day. I often jump out of bed with lots of energy and feeling like I’m rarin’ to go. But then I usually get bogged down in some activity or another — checking email or writing or fiddling with some piece of information. I might wake up early, but I end up running late. And although I have lots of physical energy, I rarely feel mentally awake until much later in the day… sometimes not till 3 p.m. Not feeling mentally awake makes it difficult to get into the day, let alone enjoy my life as it comes.

I don’t much care for the feeling of a foggy head, first thing in the morning. It’s a part of my life that I guess I have to accept on some level, as my brain has been rewired to move more slowly than I’d like. But I really don’t care for  it, mentally or logistically. My team at work has a status meeting first thing each Monday a.m., and for the past couple of months, I’ve been either late or too rushed to prepare properly. That’s a lousy way to start a Monday. It has a crappy snowball effect on the rest of my day. And the rest of the week.

This will never do. I mean, honestly… it’s just embarrassing. For months on end, I’ve been trying to get to work early in the morning, on Mondays and beyond. No go. And work isn’t the only place this is a problem. For weeks on end, I’d been trying to get some very basic stuff done — contact the insurance companies who are handling my fender-bender from June (yes, it happened over a month ago, and as of two days ago, I had yet to finish the paperwork), give certain parts of the house a long-overdue scrubbing, take the trash to the dump, mow the lawn, and so forth. A collection of standard-issue weekend tasks and some extra outstanding things needed to be done — they’re not optional — but they have gone undone. Like I said, this will never do.

So, yesterday I told myself enough was enough, and I decided to try something different… something I have been meaning to do for many, many months. I decided to exercise first thing in the morning when I got up. Not after I had my cup of coffee. Not after I had my cereal and fruit. But first thing. Being somewhat neurotic about getting my coffee first thing, I promised myself I would at least put the kettle on before I started my workout. I promised myself I would turn the stove on medium, then exercise while I was waiting for my coffee water to boil. And (hopefully) to make getting my day under control a little easier, I decided I would devote the 20-30 minutes of my workout to thinking about what I had to get done that day… Thinking through the stuff on my to-do list, planning how I would get it all done that day. Basically mapping out my day.

I was skeptical, at first, thinking that getting on the exercise bike was going to be boring and drab and monotonous. But you know what? While I was pedaling away, my mind was waking up and getting into the day. While I was pedaling, I was going over the things I needed to do — things I didn’t really look forward to doing, like fill out paperwork, but had to be done. I thought through the act of doing each thing.

I thought about my paperwork — how I would take it step-by-step, first getting out the forms, double-checking the info there, filling in what was missing, making copies, signing them, adding a cover letter, and mailing them out.

I thought about my morning chores — cleaning and taking out trash and running to the store to pick up food for the dinner party we were having last night. I walked myself through each of the things I was supposed to do — and I threw in a nap for good measure. Pedaling and pedaling, I found myself not at all bored, but actually quite energized. And you know what? My brain was thinking better, first thing in the morning, than it had in quite some time.

By the time I got off the bike, I not only had a plan for my day, but I had thoroughly visualized overcoming all the tricky pieces that I thought might keep me from succeeding. I had a visual of my to-do list in the back of my head, and I had “road map” for all the different pieces of my day. I had effectively “choreographed” my day so that I had a pretty good idea what I could expect to get done (and what wasn’t going to get done), and I had a pretty good idea how I was going to handle things, when they came up. I had a common-sense plan for what order to do things in — do the messy chores before I took my shower, and then take a nap after my shower (hot showers always relax me and make me sleepy)… and wake up refreshed and with all my chores done before company came for dinner.

And you know what? It worked. After I got off the bike, I actually felt energized and awake. That’s rare. The blood pumping and the sweat I’d worked up, really cleared my mind. And as I got into my day, I found that I was able to not only get the really critical things done, but I managed to quickly take care of a few jobs I usually do at a fairly leisurely pace on Sunday mornings. That meant that I gave myself Sunday morning off, ahead of time… which meant that I could relax with our company on Saturday night, and not fret about staying up later than I would normally. My Sunday morning tasks were already done, so I would have more time to rest and relax, if I needed a Sunday afternoon nap (which I usually do).

All this, because I got on the bike and rode, first thing in the a.m., with the express intention of planning my day. Not only did I finally manage to exercise, first thing in the morning — which I’ve been trying to do for many months — but I also took command of my day — and my life. The exercise helped oxygenate my brain and it helped focus the kinetic energy I have in the a.m. into something I could use, that served me well.

For good measure, I did it again today. Once more, I felt myself waking up more, feeling clearer, and able to handle my morning tasks better than usual.  Something so simple — 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise (I do work up a sweat and get my heart beating faster) — makes a huge difference.

Best of all, I don’t have to stop my life completely to do it. Years ago, when I was working out regularly, I used to have to completely halt all my activity to go to the gym or go for a run. That was fine then, when I didn’t have as many responsibilities as I do now, but nowadays I’ve got so much going on, that just stopping everything to exercise isn’t an attractive option. But now my morning exercise bike ride can be part of my active life, part of my day, part of my “personal planning and strategy sessions” that help me live my life that much better.

I’m sure it sounds elementary to some people, and there are plenty of folks who already know this. But this “discovery” that I don’t have to halt my life and stop everything I’m doing to fit in exercise, and that the exercise actually adds to my productivity (rather than takes away from it), is something I’m really reveling in. It is good.

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