How Three Minutes in the Morning Can Make Your Day Better

If you're like most people – like me – the first few minutes of the day are a blur.  You're awake – barely.  You might be a bit stiff or achy, and you could use some caffeine.  Maybe you have children to take care of, a job to get to, or you just need to find some way to make the day worthwhile.

We're awake approximately 1,000 minutes each day.  We have 1,000 minutes to use or to waste.  1,000 minutes to feel positive and worthwhile, or 1,000 minutes to feel less than our best.

What if you could take three minutes each morning to make the following 997 minutes better and happier?  Would you choose that?

a few minutes

Better mind, better health

A little over a century ago, a French pharmacist named Émile Coué discovered what eventually came to be known as the placebo effect.  He noticed that when he praised the value of the medicines he dispensed, his patients had a quicker recovery.

Eventually, Coué developed a method of helping patients to believe and imagine that they had power to improve their health (or not) by their own mindset, in addition to the course of treatment prescribed by their doctors.  His affirmation, "Every day in every way I am getting better and better," became famous around the world, and influenced people like Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale, and Robert Schuller.

Today, we have a better understanding of how our emotions affect our immune system, but the idea that how we think can influence not only our health but our entire life experience dates back to ancient times.

  • Gautama Buddha said "We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think."
  • The Bible exhorts us to think about things that are lovely, excellent, and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8), and reminds us to "be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts" (Proverbs 4:23).
  • Stoic Marcus Aurelius (also a Roman emperor) wrote "The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts."
  • And this quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln does match his brand of wit:  "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."

How positive thoughts work

I'm not saying that positive thoughts have magical powers.  But optimistic thoughts lead to productive behaviors, which increase your chances of a successful outcome.

For example, if you tell yourself over and over that you're shy, it's likely that every time you're part of a social gathering you'll plant yourself alone in a corner.  You create a situation that will reinforce what you think (psychologists call that confirmation bias).  When no one comes over to speak to you, you use that experience to strengthen your belief that you're socially awkward.

However, if you tell yourself that you can successfully introduce yourself to one person and find some topic of conversation with him or her, you're far more likely to act on that thought, make an effort, and engage with someone else.  That small success can help you toward other positive interactions, and so on.

Your thoughts created the first situation, and they created the second.  You chose the outcome – it wasn't set in stone by something outside of yourself.

Start with gratitude.

morning notes
Dr. Robert Emmons is a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, and the world's leading scientific expert on gratitude.  In several studies, he and his colleague Dr. Michael McCullough found a strong correlation between a conscious gratitude practice and improved social, emotional, and physical well-being.  They discovered that a person who writes down five things they're grateful for, once a week over a 10-week period, is not just happier than another person who documents five weekly hassles or problems, but also physically healthier.

It's important to be specific in the practice of gratitude.  Vague, repetitive items – family, friends, home, family, friends, home – have little meaning.  But small, significant things, consciously noted, make a difference.

I live about 40 miles north of Sacramento, California, and our summers are very hot and dry.  So I'm thankful that the high today was only 92° F (33° C).  The early morning was cool and this evening there's a breeze coming up from the Sacramento River delta.  Also:

  • My husband volunteered to make the bed this morning
  • Local strawberries are still in season.  (Two miles down the road!)
  • I enjoyed a "just wanted to see how you're doing" call from my sister-in-law.
  • My new 3rd edition of The Minimalist Wardrobe is selling well.*

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

Taking the time to notice and record these small events increases my positive feelings, my energy, and my overall health.

Related article:  Journal Your Gratitude

Release the negative.

Humans may be hardwired to pay more attention to negative events than positive ones.  It's a survival mechanism – we're on the lookout for threats so we can avoid them or defend ourselves.  That's why we'll fixate on the car going 90 and weaving in and out of traffic, and fail to notice that the vast majority of drivers are behaving sanely.

Most of us don't usually need to be hyper-vigilant in our environment, so this negative tendency is counter-productive, making us crabby and impatient.  We spend way too much time complaining about minor things, like traffic, weather, or how long we wait for service.

Complaining triggers the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that impairs our immune systems and shrinks the hippocampus, a region of the brain that's involved in emotional control, memory storage and recall, and learning.  It's bad for our mental, emotional, and physical health.

And complaining never solves a problem.  It only keeps our eyes on what's wrong with the world.  It's fine to notice potential difficulties, but better to think of ways of dealing with them rather than ranting or fretting.

Counteract overload.

crape myrtle
You need one more thing to build a better day, especially if you're feeling stressed about everything you need to do.  Work projects, home care, child care, and more can leave you feeling weighed down.  That's why I also write down one thing I want to be sure and do each day.  Just one thing to focus on.

It might be "Write a rough draft of a blog post" or "Balance the checkbook" or "Make that phone call."  Simple and straightforward.  At the end of the day, I can feel successful and productive when I cross off that one most important task.

I notice that if I don't write the job down, I may think about it off and on all day, but I won't necessarily get it done.  Writing it down solidifies the decision to act.  I choose to focus on it, and I accomplish it.  Whatever else is going on, I know I took care of that one priority.

The morning practice

It's just three minutes.  I use a tiny 3x5-inch notebook, one page per day, and jot down:

1.  I'm grateful for...

I'll list a few specific things, like savoring my first cup of coffee as the sun rises, the two pounds I lost, the color of the blooming crape myrtles outside my window.

2.  I will release...

These are complaints that have been bothering me lately.  I choose not to obsess about a political message I don't like or the multiplying weeds in a neighbor's yard.  If the situation is something I can change, I try to think of possible solutions.

3.  I will focus on...

I set aside all the things that might be clamoring for attention and choose the one thing I need to accomplish.  I'll get it done, cross it off, and feel happy and successful.

Try this three-minute practice and see if it doesn't improve the other 997 minutes of your day.  I think you'll start to feel that you're "getting better and better" as you cultivate positive thoughts, release negative ones, and help yourself focus.


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