My ideal morning: themes

I’ve written about how to design your ideal day, how to recognize false choices that can hamstring you when you’re contemplating change, and how to set resolutions, but there’s something I haven’t written about yet.

My own ideal day.

So without further ado, I’m going to explain how I followed steps 1 and 2 in this post to analyze my ideal day and identify key themes.

Step 1: Break it down.

I’ve broken down my ideal day into three blocks — morning, afternoon, and evening — and I’m beginning by making changes to my morning.  The morning sets the tone for the rest of each day, and it’s also a time of energy and hope, so it seemed like a natural starting point.

Step 2: Identify themes.

Here’s my ideal morning:

  • Wake up at 6:45 am.
  • Take a cup of coffee out onto my porch/deck, which has flowers around it and is serene and maybe near a body of water. Read, think, talk with [my significant other] a bit. Maybe take a short walk (in my pajamas) on my property to see the water/welcome the day.
  • Take a shower around 8 am, spend very little time getting ready because I look fine from sleeping and eating well.
  • Write for ~4 hours. Have a light but refreshing meal (fruit & yogurt with nuts & seeds, for example) when I’m hungry.

This couldn’t look much more different from my average morning. In my real life, it never feels as if I have enough time in the morning. I shower, I put on makeup, I dry and straighten my hair, taking sips of coffee from a mug that’s perched dangerously on the rim of the sink. By the time I’m ready to head out the door, I’m five minutes late and I’ve forgotten to eat breakfast. All in all, my morning routine feels nasty, brutish, and short. And then, of course, I have a bear of a commute to get to the office.

In comparing my ideal and real mornings, I identified a few key themes:

  • Spaciousness. I hate rushing. Hate, hate, hate. So why do I do it every morning? I’ve always told myself I’m not a morning person, I’m a befuddled dragon before my first cup of coffee, etc. But maybe I’ve been making my mornings unpleasant by waking up at the last minute, rushing through my routine, and running to the train station in my flip flops—rather than allowing myself the time and space to greet the day.
  • Access to the outdoors. This was one of the great surprises of writing out my ideal day. I hadn’t even noticed how much I missed being in nature until I realized that my perfect day would start outdoors.
  • Attuned eating. I tend to eat when I think I should or when I’m bored/stressed/anxious rather than when I really want to. One day I allowed myself to work up an appetite before dinner, and I was surprised—almost embarrassed, really—at how much more I enjoyed the food. Do I really never let myself get hungry? To clarify, this theme isn’t about eating less or eating differently (I could lay off the garlic knots, but I love them so). Instead, it’s about cultivating and paying attention to my appetite.
  • Writing. I love to write. But sometimes I hate it: specifically, when I procrastinate until the day has gone by and it’s time to get ready for bed but I’m trying to jot down a few paragraphs and my head hurts and none of my ideas seem good anymore and all I can think is maybe Im not cut out for this. If I intend to fill my days with activities I really want to do, I should start with writing. No excuses.

Now that I’ve identified my key themes, it’s time for me to set small, manageable resolutions that will help me honor* them in my daily life, and my next post will be about just that.

Again, my goal isn’t to make a radical departure — I’m not going to quit my job and leave my boyfriend and start a goat farm in New Zealand (although I’d respect your decision to do so, if that’s your dream life!). Big, sudden changes aren’t my style, and — for me at least — they usually turn out not to be sustainable. Instead, my goal is to use daily resolutions to build a bridge between my current routine and my ideal day, plank by plank.

*What do you think, dear readers — is “honor” too grand or hippy-dippy a word to use here?


False choices: On not second-guessing yourself

I’m going to be honest: My ideal day looks very different from my average day. My current routine includes a 2.5-hour commute, a job that I enjoy but that doesn’t satisfy my creative impulses (writing), and more hairstyling, makeup applications, TV watching, procrastinating, complaining, clutter, and downright negativity than I’d like to admit.

Until now, this disparity frustrated and discouraged me. I balked at making any changes–even easy ones–because I was trapping myself in false choices.

In the name of being rational, I was talking myself out of positive changes. I hamstrung myself before I even let myself move past square one.

Do you recognize any of the following?

  • I’m a realist, not an escapist. 
  • I want to learn to be happy with what I have, not spend my time wishing things were different.
  • If I’m going to pursue the career I really want, I need to leave my current job.

flower sidewalk

Gretchen Rubin explains how to recognize and sidestep false choices in her book The Happiness Project and in her lovely blog. She suggests that our minds invent false choices because they reduce “a bewildering array of options” into a “few simple possibilities.”

We create false choices in order to give ourselves an easy out. It’s easy to say, “Sure, I’d love to be an artist, but I have to stick to my real job.” If there’s a disparity between our dream career and our current career, it’s really, really hard to spend nights and weekends doing what sustains us–what we want to do–and then figure out how to make some income from it.

But once we realize that the hard choices we’ve created for ourselves–either I marry this guy or I’ll be single forever–don’t really exist, new possibilities open up. They may well be bewildering, but they exist. We can have our cake and eat it too.

I know what I want to do. I want to figure out–day by day–how to make time for what I really want to do. I want to stay grateful for all the good things in my life but not let myself get complacent or ignore the daily things I can do to improve my happiness, productivity, and creativity. I intend to do fantastic work at my job, and there’s no getting out of that 2.5-hour commute, but maybe I can use that time more productively. And maybe I can come home and write and create and throw dinner parties and spend time with the people I love, having conversations I’ll remember forty years from now.

Every time I feel as if I have to choose between work and play, relaxation and productivity, gratitude and the desire for change, I’ll remind myself: false choice! And I’ll move on with my  not-at-all-bad day.