One could say that life is composed of the things that occur between a series of bookends.  Our first bookend is established on the day we are born, and the last will be on the day that we die.  But if you think about it, there are many other bookends within that span.  We have yearly bookends that are noted by both our birthdays and the new year.  Sometimes we have the bookends associated with starting a new job and eventually ending that relationship to begin another.  Even relationships can have bookends.  However the bookends that are the most common are our daily rituals of awakening and then going to sleep.  For most of us, these bookends are repeated 365 days a year.  So how can we get the most out of them so that we maximize the opportunities that occur between them?

I’ve discovered that there is no shortage of literature regarding the best way to start and end your day, however a common theme is this, the manner in which we start the day sets the tone for what will follow. Likewise, the manner in which we end the day impacts our sleep and the level of energy we will have to face a new day.  Based on everything I’ve read, I created five ideas for you to consider as you plan your morning and evening routines.  While they might not all work for you, they can certainly help set the stage for a day and night that will be productive and personally fulfilling:

  1. Practice Optimism and Gratitude:  Did you know there were people who went to bed last night fully expecting to get up this morning and greet another day?  They didn’t, but you did.  For that reason alone you should smile and be grateful.  Smiling signals your brain to release the feel-good neurotransmitters which improve your mood, lower heart rate, and relax your body.  As you smile, reflect on something (other than being alive today) for which you are grateful. Studies have also shown that practicing gratitude also reduces stress hormones and improves mood.
  2. Stay Unplugged:  One of the worst ways you can begin your day is by rising, checking emails, text messages and social media.  To top it off, many will also turn on the TV to check the morning news programs.  These activities all serve to foster a reactive mindset.  The beginning of the day should be your time to be proactive in planning and preparation.
  3. Exercise:  It could be some simple stretches, a brisk walk with or without a pet, some crunches and push-ups, or an all-out workout at the gym. Beginning the day with some form of physical activity serves to increase blood flow, improve metabolism, and quiet the mental chatter.
  4. Eat and Hydrate:  Your body is in need of hydration and energy.  Start your day by drinking a warm glass of water with lemon.  It serves to remove toxins that have accumulated overnight, provides Vitamin C and supports weight loss.  A healthy (includes proteins, healthy fats, and whole grains) breakfast will provide the energy needed to support focus and concentration.
  5. Morning Journal:  Take a few moments to seclude yourself and jot down a few ideas.  The journaling process fosters both clarity and inspiration.
    • Creative ideas that may have been considered soon after waking (Research confirms that the brain is most creative and readily active immediately following sleep)
    • Expressions of gratitude:  Who will you reach out to first thing this morning to express your gratitude for their assistance or a job well-done.
    • Three challenges that will be embraced and accomplished today.

The other bookend, our evening activities, are no less important.  There are many who insist the secret to having a good work day lies in what you do the night before.  In fact we can revisit our morning list, but put an evening twist to it.

Practice Optimism and Gratitude:  Like many others, as a child I was taught to say an evening prayer before going to sleep.  Today I both reflect and pray.  Take a few moments and reflect on your day.  What were the best parts?  What did you accomplish?  Who was there to lend a helping hand.  Focus on the positive; gratitude and optimism serve to reduce stress and anxiety and foster a sounder sleeping experience.

Exercise:  Ending the day with exercise has many benefits similar to those achieved through a morning workout.  The level of intensity is up to you.  It can be 15 minutes of stretching or walking, or two hours of weights and cardio in the gym.  Regardless, evening exercise serves to de-stress, increase sleep-time metabolism, and facilitate a deeper, sounder sleep. 

Stay Unplugged: It’s bedtime, but you just remembered you need to send a quick email. After you send it, you instinctively check your Facebook, Instagram and Linked In accounts. Before you know it, you’re texting with friends and it’s an hour after your original bedtime.  Sound familiar?  Unplug everything 30 minutes before going to bed.  This is your time, or time for you and your significant other. What can happen?  You will wake up more alert, refreshed, energized, and possibly a bit more connected with that person who slept with you for the past few hours.

Eat and Hydrate:  While eating a healthy breakfast and hydrating are essential in the morning, the same is not true before going to sleep.  Your final meal should be at least two hours prior to going to sleep.  Likewise, limiting fluid intakes before bedtime will enable you to sleep through the night without those midnight trips to the bathroom

Evening Journal:  During the period that you are practicing Optimism and Gratitude have your journal by your side.  Read your morning entry and make note of the day’s accomplishments:  Jot down a few ideas.  Remember, like the morning experience, evening journaling can foster not only clarity and inspiration, but serves to put yesterday, today and tomorrow into a new perspective.

When we talk about work-life balance, one cannot consider simply the number of hours we spend working on-site .  Today, many bring the work home or actually pursue their work from the home.  What is critical to remember is this, You cannot serve, care, lead or help others unless you are willing to do the same for yourself.  Being cognizant of how your begin and end your day is an investment in self-care.  What better way to set the stage to serve others?

Embrace the Challenge