3 morning habits to help you be happier and more productive at work, according to psychologists

We’ve all heard it before: A morning routine is essential to a successful life. For decades, scientists and CEOs have extolled the benefits of establishing an early morning ritual. Some get up at 4:30 a.m. every day and complete a workout before the sun rises; others savor the quiet of mornings with a hot cup of coffee and reading.

But mornings are hard. It can be far too tempting to hit “snooze” on your alarm when thoughts about all you need to do during the day flood your mind or you’re cozy under a pile of blankets, especially during the winter, when mornings are colder, darker and drearier.

There are science-backed benefits of having a morning routine: Past research has shown that a consistent morning routine can reduce stress, boost energy levels and improve your productivity at work. If you want to cultivate a pre-work morning routine and don’t know where to start, consider these three recommended practices from psychologists:

Set an intention for the day

Psychologist Jessica Jackson warns that your to-do list might be doing more harm than good. Checking your emails, calendar, or to-do list soon after you wake up “immediately starts the day off on a stressful note and tells your brain to go into panic mode,” Jackson, who is also the clinical strategy manager of mental health equity at Modern Health, tells CNBC Make It.

Instead, Jackson recommends all her clients start their day with an intention meditation: taking a few minutes to sit in silence, take a couple of deep breaths, and choose a single word or sentence to be their “north star” for the day.

“You can tell yourself, ‘My intention for today is to feel successful’ or ‘I want to be comfortable today’ and think about what you can realistically accomplish in the next 24 hours to feel that way,” Jackson explains. “It can also be a powerful word like ‘gratitude’ that will guide how you react to and reflect on whatever happens throughout the day.”

Setting an intention each morning before work can help you better align your actions with your values, stay focused on your priorities, and, most importantly, get excited about the day ahead instead of dwelling on every task you need to complete that day, Jackson says.

You can choose an offline ritual and stick with it.

Debbie Sorensen, a Denver-based psychologist, says that unplugging from technology in the mornings is the best reboot you can give your brain. Sorensen points out that looking at your phone or computer right after waking up primes your brain for distraction and can trigger your stress response if you see or read something negative.

Instead, you can find an offline activity that recharges you, such as reading, writing in a journal, walking, or attending a workout class. The benefits of doing a relaxing, offline activity in the morning will last throughout the day, Sorensen says, because you’re starting the day off feeling “more grounded and recharged.” “It gives you sustainable energy to help you power through the day and keep stress in check,” she adds.

Sorensen likes to spend her mornings reading with one of her kids on the couch or catching up over a cup of coffee before the rest of her family wakes up. “It’s a lovely, quiet moment of quality time that I look forward to, and it rejuvenates me before I plunge into work,” she says.

Make mornings fun

Fun is a critical yet undervalued part of the wellness equation, Laura Pendergrass, an industrial psychologist who advises Fortune 500 companies, says. Find one small thing that will make you laugh or smile as part of your morning routine, Pendergrass says, to boost endorphins and set a positive tone for your day, whether it’s a 3-minute dance party while you’re getting ready for work or calling one of your funniest friends to say “good morning.”

“Self-care in the form of fun is just as important as anything else we do to take care of ourselves,” she says. Pendergrass says she will often spend a couple of minutes before work watching uplifting nature documentaries, a practice that makes “a huge difference” in her mood.

“We recognize the importance of recess for kids and build it into their school time, but we forget the importance of play as adults,” she says. “It’s up to us to create enrichment opportunities to do something fun or creative and inject color into what could otherwise be a gray day.”

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