12.5 MIN READ
Raise your hand if you’ve read an article in the past week about how you can dramatically improve your life and/or career by being more mindful? Or if you’ve listened to a podcast about how to supercharge your productivity by spending “just five minutes” each morning following a specific routine.
Now keep your hand up if you’ve actually followed through with any of these mindfulness-focused routines.
If your hand is still up in the air, good for you! Pat yourself on the back, you’re a warrior of self-improvement.
If you’re anything like me, on the other hand, you’ve probably tried one (or many) of these activities. Here are just a handful that I’ve test driven over the last year or two:
- Meditating for five minutes each morning
- Writing out a list of my goals for the day
- Practicing yoga immediately after I roll out of bed
- Drinking green tea in the afternoon instead of coffee
- Waking up two hours earlier to journal, enjoy my cup of coffee, and “sit” with myself
- Tracking my time throughout the day so I knew how long everything would take, and ideally schedule accordingly
- Blocking off my calendar into clear-cut tasks
- Writing my personal mission statement on sticky notes and put them around my mirror, computer, and anywhere else I’m regularly drawn to
- Hydrating with a glass of room-temperature water
- Exercising before the sun comes up
- Checking email on my phone before I get out of bed
- Not checking email on my phone before I’m at least two hours into my day
- Tracking my energy levels throughout the work week and try to plan tasks accordingly
- Meditating for five minutes before bed
Overwhelmed yet? I know I have been. And that’s the opposite of how these activities are supposed to make us feel. I’m all for mindfulness practices. I’m totally down for developing an “ideal” morning routine. But you know what I don’t like? The idea that we need to conform to the specific, often trendy, habits of other “successful” people.
I believe we each need to find a mindful routine that allows us to truly thrive. That means knowing what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. Trying to do anything and everything that you read about, or that’s touted as one of the habits of highly successful people, will burn you out—and you deserve better than that. You deserve to find a practice and routine that fulfills you.
So, let’s talk about mindfulness, routines, and the best way to incorporate self-care into your day.
What is "Mindfulness" Anyways?
Mindfulness is defined as the practice of maintaining a non-judgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis. The practice itself is often seen as a little “woo woo,” but at its core, mindfulness is a way to focus on yourself: what you think, how you feel, and what’s going on around you.
The concept is actually pretty cool and can be an incredibly beneficial learning opportunity. In a world where we’re often swept up in focusing on tasks, running our businesses, and coping with how others are feeling and acting, it’s a positive thing to occasionally look inward in a non-judgemental way.
As a financial planner, you work in a service-based industry. The majority of your energy is spent serving others, which can often leave you feeling drained and like nobody is truly taking care of you. Even if self-care or a mindful routine sounds amazing, it often feels impossible when we take a look at our busy schedule. This is where we get caught up in one of the thousands of articles, podcasts, and books on how you can obtain all the benefits of mindfulness by doing one simple task every day.
In today’s world, we’re all about the quick fix. I’m no exception. The idea that I could achieve mindfulness, better productivity, heightened communication, and more in just five minutes a day sold me immediately. One article I read even said, “Mindfulness is but an early step on the path to ending, forever, the attachment, anger and indifference that are the root causes of your suffering, but it is a VERY IMPORTANT step.”
Woah. I’m going to forever end anger and indifference, the root of all my suffering, with one step? Sounds pretty darn good to me.
My Ah-Ha Moment
If I’m being honest, I’m still completely sold when I read about a new morning routine or habit-forming guide. I, like you, genuinely want to better myself! I want to grow, learn, and improve. Unfortunately, there never seems to be one “right” answer out there. Friends will recommend a specific pattern or routine, or I’ll find a blog post by someone I like and respect that outlines a particular program they adhere to. So I give it a shot, hoping for the best.
Sometimes the routine works. I don’t want you to think I’m 100% down on mindfulness activities, because I’m absolutely not. I think they’re a very important part of finding your focus, taking care of yourself, and putting things in perspective. I know I’ve found specific practices, habits, and mindful routines that have positively impacted my life, and I actively make an effort to stick with them (even, or rather especially, when life gets busy).
But the vast majority of what I try doesn’t work. The process is always the same: I hear about a new routine that supposedly will change my life forever, I try it consistently for a week or two, even though I don’t really feel the positive benefits, and then, it slowly gets phased out of my schedule. I feel disappointed in myself for not being able to see it through. I end up blaming myself for a lack of grit and focus when, in reality, maybe that routine just wasn’t the best fit for me.
My “ah-ha” moment came when I was talking to a friend about an article she read on the habits of successful business owners. The article covered several different big-wigs across varying industries. They each had clearly individual routines, yet the author was trying to promote an idea that a few consistent activities is what made the lives of these individuals so much more successful than ours. My friend was frustrated. She had tried to stick with a variety of habits—prayer journaling in the mornings, an afternoon cup of tea and meditation, waking up early to exercise, ending her day with listing why she was grateful. You name it, she had tried it.
“If I tried to do everything I’ve ever read I should be doing,” she said, “it would take me a minimum of two hours a day. I don’t have that kind of time.”
That’s when a lightbulb went off for me. Our culture is extremely entrepreneurial and we often focus on self-care, self-improvement, and self-reflection. All of these are critical components to defining success for yourself and achieving it. But pushing ourselves to conform to someone else’s definition of success, or adopting the habits that work for them, will only hurt us in the long run.
We need to be creative and willing to try new things, but also be willing to walk away from something that’s taking our time and zapping our energy without any positive results. Mindfulness is important, but knowing how to incorporate it into your life in a way that feels good is more important.
What “Mindful Actions” Can You Take?
There are so many different ways you can incorporate mindful actions into your day. You might find that a daily morning routine works best for you, or you might find that focusing on something a few times a week rather than daily works better.
Below are a handful of ideas to get you going—please don’t feel obligated to try any or all of these! Instead, think honestly about what will work for you both in life and in business. The point of forming positive habits is for those habits to impact you positively—they should excite, not overwhelm, you!
Meditation is incredibly popular, and for good reason—it works for a lot of people. Personally, I struggle with it a little bit. The five minute meditation concept simply doesn’t work for me, but it might work great for you. I’ve heard wonderful things about both Calm and Headspace if you want some help with guided meditation practices.
Sometimes self-care and mindfulness are as simple as stretching for a few minutes after you wake up, during the afternoon, or before you hit the hay. Take a second to notice how your body feels. What’s sore? What part of you needs some extra attention?
Try a Slow Morning
I personally love to enjoy my mornings. I don’t like to rush them. I have a specific morning routine that I love and I run through the whole practice before I even think about starting my day.
Maybe a slow morning is the little boost of self-care you need to jump-start your day (talk about an oxymoron). If you need to wake up earlier before everyone in your house starts their day, do it! If that’s not working, try to reverse it and have a slow evening after everyone else goes to bed. Read the paper, have a glass of water, put your feet up, and reflect on life a little bit.
This one might seem obvious, but it’s still worth throwing in here! Try to set a reasonable fitness goal for yourself if you’re incorporating exercise into your routine, and really show up when it’s time to do it. Allow yourself to be fully present whether you’re at the gym, on a hike, or riding your bike.
Read and Write
I know a lot of people who love reading and writing. This might mean journaling or it might mean writing down your to-do list or schedule for the day to come. Reading may mean taking 30 minutes before bed to unplug and read a book or it may mean grabbing the morning paper and reading about what’s going on in your community with a cup of coffee.
Practice Intentional Goal Setting
Whether you’re just starting your RIA, or you’re an established advisor, goal setting is key. It can also be helpful to take a step back, look at the big picture, and set some long-term goals that are rooted in intention. These may be for your practice, but they may be for your personal life. Set goals that feel good to you and that reflect your values.
Focus on Creativity
My recent experience with creative days has really opened me up to the idea of focused creativity. Giving myself creative space helps energize me, allows me to focus on the big picture, and opens me up to new ideas and possibilities. Creative space has also allowed me to reflect on what’s working in my world, and what’s not, and has given me an opportunity to come up with thoughtful solutions on how I can improve.
This is a big one for me. I tell all my clients that even when they’re busy, eating well is important. Taking the time to prepare meals ahead of your work week or to block off part of your day for making (and eating!) a healthy lunch is a big part of staying energized, taking care of yourself, and being mindful about what you need to succeed.
Time tracking can be a fantastic way to stay mindful about how you’re spending every hour and minute of your day. If you want to be specific, you can use a site like Toggl or RescueTime to track your tasks throughout the day. If you’d rather be more general, track what tasks you enjoy doing at which times of the day, or during which days of the week or month, in a planner. Work to build your schedule in a way that prioritizes tasks and allows you to do the work you love doing when you love doing it, or are at your most productive.
Taking time throughout your day to really focus on your breathing can help slow you down and take stock of how you feel, and can give you a new perspective as to what’s going on in your world. Every time you start to feel overwhelmed, try taking 5-10 deep breaths.
Turn off your phone. Grab a plug-in like Boomerang to pause your inbox while you work. Uninstall your work email from your phone or tablet, or put it in the other room when you “clock out” for the day. Disconnect from technology and focus on conversations with friends and family, or put your mind to the task you’re working on in the moment.
One excellent way to shake things up and be more mindful is to go outside. It sounds simple, but how much of our days do we spend indoors? If you’re like me, probably a lot. There are some days where I may not even head out of my house because I work from home. While I love working from home, I also love getting some sunshine and fresh air. Connecting with the world around us allows us to take a breath, slow things down, and put things in perspective.
My Mindfulness Routine
One routine in particular has really stuck with me for the past few years. Try as I might to test drive other morning habits, mindful practices, or self-care rituals, this is the only thing that stays constant. It’s called the Three G’s. It takes me a maximum of 10 minutes every morning, and I love it. The Three G’s are:
- Glass of water
Every morning, I start my day with a glass of water. I always strive to drink at least eight glasses of water a day (or a few full water bottles) to keep my body hydrated, on track, and working at its maximum capacity. When I’m still groggy after rolling out of bed, a cool glass of water helps give me the energy boost I need to find the coffee pot, grab a newspaper, and sit on the couch with my two favorite cats in the world (shout-out to Bridger and Wilkerson).
After I have my cup of water and am waiting for the coffee pot to brew, I take a moment to be grateful. I try to be consistent with this because when I get away from the practice, I notice a huge difference. Studies have shown that five minutes of concentrated gratitude can increase your long-term well-being by over 10%. That’s huge! Similar studies have found that increasing well-being by 10% can also be achieved by doubling your income. Which is easier to do: be grateful for five minutes or double your income?!
I don’t usually write down what I’m grateful for. Instead, I prefer to look out the back window, watch the deer hanging out in our yard, and just sit with what I’m grateful for.
Finally, I do some goal setting. This can be overwhelming sometimes because just like everyone, I go through seasons where my goals list feels as though it’s a million miles long. That’s why I focus on just one goal each morning.
I ask myself, “What’s the one thing I need to accomplish today to feel successful?”
With that goal in mind, my mindful routine is complete and I can start my day feeling refreshed and focused. It’s not revolutionary, but these three steps keep me on track. I’m not saying they’re going to rock your world. In fact, they may not even work for you! But I wanted to share what worked for me to show you that we’re all different and there are many unique ways to incorporate mindfulness and self-care into your day.
Taking Care Of Yourself is Work, But It’s Worth It
My mindful routine is simple, but it still takes work. There are mornings when I wake up and the last thing I want to do is sit on my couch and think about prioritizing goals. There are even days when I don’t feel particularly grateful, and trying to drum up a modicum of gratitude feels like trying to ride my bike with a 50lb bag of flour tied to the wheel.
Other days, I just get too busy. I’m traveling, visiting a conference, or I have an unexpected morning meeting to prepare for. I forget to go through the routine that’s proven to work best for me and I’m always miserable as a result.
Self-care, self-reflection, and self-improvement all take work. They all require emotional labor. When we’re already feeling busy, it’s tempting to skip past the labor these require and go straight to the easy stuff. But being overwhelmed by your to-do list, following the same bad habits that are hurting your productivity and happiness, and wallowing about a bad situation that only you have the power to change won’t get you far.
Taking the time to find a mindful practice or a self-care routine that works for you will take some effort. But you know what? It’s worth it. Don’t be afraid to “try before you buy” and test things out for a few days to see how you feel.
If you don’t like them, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, move to something new until you find the routine that jives with you. Pay attention to what clicks and pursue those activities and never force what doesn’t feel right.
The things that are worthwhile in life are often the same things that require a significant amount of work. The key is to find a practice that pushes you to be mindful, take care of yourself, and reflect in a way that ultimately energizes and excites you. Don’t get caught up in what you “should” be doing to be more mindful or successful in business or your personal life. Find a path that works for you, then stick with it!
About Arlene Moss, Executive Coach
Arlene gets a kick out of helping financial advisors get over being overwhelmed and take on their frustrations so their businesses soar. Arlene works to ensure XYPN members are able to help their clients prosper while creating a sustainable business model. Through XYPN Academy and one-on-one coaching, members get the support they need to grow their businesses and overcome the challenges that come their way.