Editor’s Note: UPDATED as of October 16, 2016 for relevance and accuracy.
As an engaged Jewish community professional and the founder/leader of several nonprofits, my days are packed with phone calls, emails, board and donor meetings, and events that can go late into the night. Balancing my professional commitments with the needs of a growing family is a beautiful challenge; but it is easy to get distracted by the multiple constituencies that demand my full attention.
To be prepared for my inevitably hectic days at the office, I’ve learned how to create a morning routine that is meaningful: one that is filled with action that prepares me for the day ahead.
How To Create a Morning Routine from Rabbi Yanklowitz
1. Morning Prayer
Every morning, I awake with a prayer on my lips: Modeh Ani Lefanecha— I offer thanks to You. Saying this prayer is an imperative and a philosophical challenge. When we wake up, we are blessed with another day—another chance—to make a difference in the world. Uttering these holy words alters my mindset, giving me a fresh slate for a day of action.
The goal of this ritual is simple: find an affirmative phrase and make that the first thing you say each morning. In the particular words you choose, be they religious, secular, or just spiritual, you can find the clarity to see each day as an opportunity to do something of consequence when you create a morning routine.
2. Eating a Healthy (Vegan) Breakfast
As builders of a more just world, thinking about big issues starts with something as simple as eating breakfast. So, when is eating breakfast more than simply eating breakfast? For many of us on the run, we choose the most convenient options: greasy bacon sandwiches, carb-filled waffles, sugary cereal, etc. But what does the cost of convenience mean?
What we choose to consume is indicative of the type of people we want to be. As a committed activist for animal welfare, my wife and I chose to follow a vegan diet. We find that it personally works for us, and indeed, that means consuming products and foods that are free from cruelty. It is our hope that by following this lifestyle, we can not only lessen the suffering of countless beings, but also bring attention to the rampant exploitation in those industries.
In this way, eating a healthy breakfast reminds me how our local actions, no matter how small, have broader repercussions all around the world.
Exercise is an important component of starting a busy day. Including it when I create a morning routine shifts my mindset from one of passivity (checking emails, reading the news), to one of endeavor. Going out for a run, or spending time at the gym, refocuses nervous, pent-up energy into something positive.
Working out gets my heart racing and shifts my mind into gear. For those who are sluggish in the morning, think of modest increments to your activity. Begin to take pride in yourself and know that the cosmetic changes that stem from regular working out are secondary to the internal improvements it brings.
4. Driving My Daughter to School
As my children begin going to school, it is important that our relationship grows through communication skills. My oldest daughter recently started preschool. Though she is just beginning her formal education, it is vital that I am there to guide and provide her with extra love.
For all of us, having open communication with our family is key to providing a friendly place for discussion and play. This is crucial for young children during their formative years. In this space, they will learn the communication skills needed to be successful in the world.
But it is also a two-way street. When I take my daughter to school, I’m seeing her learn about the world, which puts me back into that mindset to learn more.
5. Early Morning Parenting
Being a parent is hard, especially in the very early morning. As the father and guardian of three little babies, they begin draining my energy sometime before 5 in the morning. I’m usually with them until 9 or so, which is when I go into work.
For a while, it was an emotionally draining exercise: it is difficult to balance three children who are totally dependent on you, while also trying to find the strength to care for them without much sleep. But, over time, I’ve started to create a morning routine with them to work on my own character, especially the traits of patience, compassion, and humility. I needed to learn that they are not a distraction from my temporal purpose (going to work), but the keys to my life purpose.
Raising a family allows me to cultivate my character. Addressing my children’s basic needs helps me prioritize my life goals. Doing this helps me learn that each morning of my day, indeed my life, is not about me. It starts with the other. Young children require us to address their needs constantly. We should feel grateful to start a day with such a consciousness: preparing to give more than we take.
6. Learning Torah
Most vital to my spiritual and ethical development is learning Torah each morning. This doesn’t mean the Bible per se. Torah, as a general descriptor, can mean the encompassing works of Jewish philosophy and ethics. For those who are not Jewish, or not even religious, learning something of value will suffice.
The overall goal is not to make one more religious (unless that is the goal), but one more intellectually and spiritually awake. Learning something of an ethical nature in the morning sets the tone for the day cognitively and effectively.
Whether reading a worn copy of a philosophical treatise, or subscribing to a favorite educational podcast, learning something of value when you create a morning routine is a step towards being a proactive, productive person throughout the day.