A few months ago, I answered a question on Quora that asked what a perfect morning routine would be for a high school student. The question was in regards to an ideal 40 minute routine. But in retrospect, I don’t know of any teens who have that kind of time on a Monday morning. Ideally you would be looking at a routine clocking in at somewhere between 5-20 minutes.
It’s a rather interesting question because there are all kinds of lists on the internet citing the perfect routine to jump-start your day and win the morning; some of them with lists 20 steps long. I have tried one of these lists and it took me from 8am to 1pm to properly do each step in order to achieve the perfect morning. There are very few of us who have that kind of time every day, let alone a high school student. Most high school students are rolling out of bed, barely getting a breakfast, running their body under the shower for a half-minute and sprinting to their first period class (if they’re not scrambling to finish their homework from the night before).
What makes the question even more interesting is that the way in which the school system is structured leaves very little time for a teenager to properly care for themselves in the morning. According to studies done at John Hopkins University, teenagers are going through a “second developmental stage of cognitive maturation.” As a result they require more sleep than the average 10-year-old; somewhere between 9 and 9 and a half hours. The very fact that most schools begin between 8 and 8:30 conflicts with this inherent need. No wonder teenagers are struggling to find a morning routine that works (and subsequently falling asleep in first period math, a string of drool between their desk and bottom lip).
The aforementioned lists are geared towards adults between the ages of 20-50; entrepreneurs and go-getters who want to ‘win the morning’ and run their business to optimal success.
Does this mean that teenagers (who are arguably under a great deal of pressure, heavy work-loads and assignment deadlines themselves) simply don’t have enough time to worry about self-care in the morning? Are they to move from one day to the next, barely pulling themselves out of REM and carrying the baggage of the previous day forward? Is self-care and the ‘perfect morning’ only reserved for those in the work-force, Yoga teachers and social-media-enlightened-gurus?
Perhaps there is room in the busy morning of a teenager to fit in a small but effective morning routine that could help them ‘win the day’ and better attack the immense pressures, due-dates and responsibilities that face them at school. Even five minutes could make all the difference.
Most morning routine lists (however long) could be sorted into three simply categories, and the same could be done for any list applying to a teenager:
I’m willing to bet that most teenagers scrambling to finish their English essay or cramming in some last minute studying aren’t paying much attention to any one of these categories. Doing so could change the way in which they approach their day, the relationships they have, and their attention and focus throughout.
Speaking to the teenager reading this: later in life, devoting more time to each of these categories will become more possible; your schedule will change and you will find different pockets in the day in which you can adequately set aside time to work on your mental, physical and nutritional health.
So let’s instead develop a 5-10 minute routine that tackles these three categories in an accessible way that you could implement into your mornings going forward.
“Think of a mindfulness session as rebooting the computer of your brain.”
Let’s assume you’re doing all the usual things—a quick shower, making your bed (right?), drinking some water (a “must” to jump start your digestive system—think of how long it’s gone without it!) In among that, see if you can squeeze in a quick mindfulness session. I won’t necessarily call it a ‘meditation,’ in case that word seems too ‘New Age’ for you.
When your computer, tablet or laptop gets overrun with apps; too many browsers open, full storage and more, it begins running slowly—or not working at all. What do you do? You restart the system. Think of a mindfulness session as rebooting the computer of your brain. It resets your mental system for the day ahead, clearing the cache of all the unnecessary data from yesterday—only keeping the really important stuff.
I’m not talking about a half-hour of zen here. You don’t have time! I’m talking about three minutes which you could, if you so choose, divide into three sections:
Presence (1 minute of pure presence, taking note of the sounds around you, your body and your breath)
Gratitude (1 minute of focusing on something you are extremely thankful for; anything from the sunshine coming through your window to the fact that you hung out with your friends last night)
Visualization and Affirmation (1 minute of positive visualization and affirmations. Do you have a big, scary test coming up? Take this minute to think positive thoughts; visualize yourself taking the test and acing it, reaffirm that you are capable).
Three sections—and with that you’ve completed a three minute meditation…ahem… a three minute ‘mindfulness session.’
In the next 5 minutes, do some form of physical activity. That could be 20 push-ups and jumping jacks in your bedroom (a great cardio booster). It could be a breathing exercise a la the Wim Hof Method or “priming” as demonstrated by Tony Robbins. It could be your walk to school if you live close (see if you can’t turn that ‘walk’ into a short ‘jog’, backpack and all). One way or another, do something to get the blood flowing through your body and to your brain. Your focus will improve and you will have long-lasting energy to carry you through the day.
Finally, take the last few minutes to prepare and eat a proper breakfast. So many teenagers skip breakfast or grab what they can from the cafeteria—which, in many cases, won’t have the healthiest of options (*however if your school is lucky enough to have a healthy food plan, and it works better for your timing, the cafeteria can be a great option). Make sure to include some fruits, fiber, protein and water. Overnight Oats have become a popular fad and this is something you could prepare the night before to cut down on your time in the morning, giving you more freedom and flexibility to get to where you need to be on time, alert and ready to tackle the day.
My recommendation is that almost everything you need in order to jump-start your day of school can (and should) be prepared the night before. Set out the clothes you want to wear the night before to cut down on any decision-making in the morning. Ready your backpack and homework before going to bed so that all you have to worry about when that pesky alarm goes off is taking care of you.