How to Create a Morning Routine to Boost Your Mental Health

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Being a Navy SEAL is definitely not for me, but I’m fascinated by their discipline. I’ve watched just about every documentary I can about what SEAL candidates must endure in their “hell week” testing. During these tests, called “evolutions,” the drill sergeant’s entire job is to push candidates beyond the limit, past what they believe is physically possible, to teach them one very important, life-saving truth: When your mind says you’re done, you’re really only about 40% done.

The reason your mind is so quick to tell you you’re done is because neither your body nor mind want to do anything hard. Both have been molded through evolution to conserve resources, minimize exertion, avoid threats, and stop when it hurts. Sometimes these defense mechanisms are useful, but oftentimes they are not and can even work against you.

For example, your body wants you to eat junk food for the extra calories, it wants you to be lazy to save energy, it wants you to stay inside to avoid danger, and it wants you to depend on others for protection. There’s nothing wrong with any of these behaviors in moderation, but abusing them can condition you to have a “give up” attitude and even an addiction. Then, after enough self-hate, self-harm, self-abuse, and self-disgust, you’ve properly dug yourself into depression.

If you’re experiencing this depression, know there’s nothing wrong with you. In my experience, I just needed to start conditioning myself in the opposite direction. Instead of attempting to conquer depression as a whole, I found a far more efficient strategy was taking a few small steps at a time. To do this, it’s useful to have a good morning routine. The details of the routine can involve whichever “evolutions” work for your needs. However, if you don’t know where to start, try some tips from Navy SEAL training, so when your hell week comes, you can attack the day with flying colors.

The first thing Navy SEAL candidates do is make their bed. This seems counterintuitive because it’s not a useful skill to practice, nor does it produce value to themselves or anyone on the team. Despite this, military divisions across the world enforce it because it teaches candidates the priceless skill of being faced with a problem they might not want to do, but they do it anyway, and they do it well.

Countless times in life, we will be required to do something we think is silly, useless, or unproductive. Many of these times, we will be tired, distracted by short-term rewards, able to avoid it, procrastinate, and maybe even cheat. When these situations arise, it’s important to do the task anyway and move onto the next. The sooner I learned to treat myself with honor and integrity, the sooner I saw that if I do the easy things in life, my life will become harder, but if I do the hard things in life, my life will become easier.

A perfect example of this is hitting the snooze button. It’s such a simple action that makes us feel good, and yet, it takes away so much of our power. It’s counterintuitive, but sleeping in often makes you sluggish. If you are familiar with this phenomenon, it’s time to do the exact opposite. Set your alarm early and wake up before the rest of the world. Not hitting the snooze button is a pretty good entry-level obstacle when starting a new lifestyle. It’s predictable, you know how it works, and you have experience with it. If you succeed and get out of bed, you will have taken the first step in the right direction and feel one step ahead instead of countless steps behind.

Becoming a Navy SEAL takes a lot of steps in the right direction. The physical requirements alone are brutal. To become the best of the best, their training involves progressive overload.

Fitness, especially in the morning, is one of the greatest things a person can do for their mental health. It’s a relatively mindless activity, and it doesn’t matter if you choose running, weight training, or a combination of the two. Furthermore, it’s an easy way to find your breaking point, practice being better than before, and reach higher goals. It’s also very easy to measure your progress regarding muscle gain, weight loss, endurance, speed, or various other metrics. With these in mind, every day you can challenge yourself with progressive overload and constantly improve your peak performance level.

SEALs maintain their peak performance levels by spending much of their time in training simulations. This training often involves unexpected challenges, which are specifically designed to create a familiarity with being in the unknown. This skill is vital because when they are confronted with unexpected chaos in warfare, they need to remain calm and work the problem. They also regularly practice being in dangerous situations, so during a real mission, they instinctually move toward the target despite the threats. With both of these skills, they remain in control, and when unexpected dangers arise, they know what to do.

To exercise the same control over your fight-or-flight response, take a cold shower. Cold showers are very uncomfortable and may make your body panic for escape. If you resist your mind’s desperate urge for flight, soon you will see how easily you can calm yourself when your body is in panic mode. Furthermore, practicing your ability to do something uncomfortable every day will build your resilience toward doing things even when your mind tells you to run away, give up, or cheat. On top of that, cold showers will boost your immune system and give you extra energy.

To further boost your energy, refrain from drinking so much coffee or soda. Your body is 60% water and therefore, you should be drinking that instead. So often when we feel fatigued and want a stimulus for energy, we resort to some kind of chemical. Your body doesn’t want any more chemicals. It wants water. Chug two glasses and see if that fixes your fatigue. If it doesn’t, at least you’ve drunk two glasses of water, and you’ve again proven to yourself you can do things even when your mind tells you not to.

As you practice your own morning routine, each skill will empower the others. Building the power to reject the snooze button is the same power to reject not exercising. It’s the same power to not eat junk food. It’s the same power to not binge another show. And it’s the same power to not hurt yourself. When you are hurt, life will hit, and it will hit hard. In the middle of your hell week, your mind will do anything to convince you you’re done and it’s time to give up. Fortunately, with all your evolution training, you will know not to believe everything you think. Instead, you will be comfortable being uncomfortable, your dedication will override any lack in motivation, and you will have the self-control, confidence, and strength to keep going, keep your head up, and never give up.