A solid morning routine can set you up to have a great day, but it doesn't need to be all about rising at dawn to run 10 miles and make a 'grammable smoothie bowl. Here's the morning ritual I can't start my day without.

By Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN
Updated: September 04, 2018
Photo: jamjam_e / Shutterstock

As a dietitian and health coach, I'm a big believer that what you do first thing sets the tone for the day. A morning routine can help you step into the day feeling grounded, focused, and more fully present. Now, this doesn't need to be a rigid, lengthy routine that requires rising before dawn; it's all about being in touch with what you, personally, need in order to be the best version of yourself that day.

Whenever clients or friends ask me about my own a.m. routine, though, I feel like I'm supposed to say something about a fancy supplement, a hard-core workout, or a green juice. But the truth is, I've totally skipped that 7 a.m. class in favor of sleep, and I honestly can't remember the last time I woke up wanting to bust out a juicer (I don't even own one). Sure, I feel best when I stick with my usual healthy habits, but many of them are things I do later in the day. The one thing I just can't go without in the morning, though? Journaling. (Related: All the Ways a Worry Journal Could Make Your Life Better)

I've been keeping a journal since I was in the third grade (yes, I still have them all), and I just don't feel right in the head if I skip a day. I remember getting in trouble in grade school for writing during class, and I almost bombed AP English senior year of high school because I was way more invested in decluttering my brain in the morning than in the assigned reading. Let's not even talk about me and calculus.

When I read Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way at 19 and learned about the concept of morning pages (aka writing three pages first thing in the morning), I no longer felt pressure to get a handle on my journaling habit. Instead, I started looking at it as a tool that could benefit my professional and personal life. (See: How a Bullet Journal Can Help You Reach Your Goals)

Of course, as the years went on and I had more responsibilities (internships, jobs, grad school, partners, pets...), I had to find ways to fit journaling into my day without it taking away from other things I had to do. I would often write on the subway or bus. I actually loved clocking in early at my clinical jobs when the nutrition office was quieter so I could take a few moments to complete a thought if needed before diving into a day at the hospital. I even carried a small notebook in my lab coat pocket for when I just needed to jot something down.

Even now that my work schedule is very different, morning journaling helps me in my business and in my private life. It helps me deal with my emotions more constructively by getting to the heart of them. Sometimes while writing, I'll get clarity on a problem I'm having in my business. Or I'll come up with a solution to a client's issue that I may not have gotten to otherwise.

On days I get thrown off course or don't get that morning check-in time for whatever reason, I feel cranky, foggy-headed, and unfocused. My work and interactions with others suffer because my head is still full of lots of random thoughts.

Because it's rarely realistic for many of us (myself included) to sit and free-write three pages every morning, I've found that having a structure of short prompts helps me focus fast. I keep it to a short morning check-in where I set a few goals for the day, jot down a few things I'm grateful for, and write down a couple affirmations. Then, at the end of the day, I look back and note what I'm glad I did and what may not have served me so well. I also try to say something nice to myself. Cheesy? Maybe. But it makes a big difference in my mindset right before bed. If I feel the need to pick up my notebook at some other point in the day and just write, I do.

My clients are surprised sometimes when I recommend they write down their thoughts and feelings and not just their food and workouts. It can be an amazing tool to help with things like stress eating or overcoming anxieties around food. I've also seen people get a handle on personal life issues that were holding them back from making progress towards their goals.

These tips make journaling easy:

Choose a journal you'll actually use.

Your journal needs to suit your lifestyle. If you're always on the go, for example, go for something lightweight that fits in your purse.

Decide how much time you plan to devote.

A few minutes? Longer? Will it even be every day? Just Mondays? As with any goal, you need specifics if you're going to achieve it.

Give yourself some guidelines.

I know journaling can feel daunting, but giving yourself a structure can limit your risk of writer's block. Start with a few questions, like "What do I want to accomplish today?" or "How do I want to feel today?"

Don't overthink it.

No one needs to see this but you, so don't pressure yourself to have perfect handwriting. No one is spell-checking or comparing your version of the truth to someone else's. Just write.

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