– W. Doyle Gentry, Happiness For Dummies
I choose to have an intense life
My life is far from slow paced. Forever ambitious, I’ve often found myself juggling more than I could handle. And on many occasions I’ve drop a ball, or few. Projects, personal commitments, even my health at times have suffered from mismanagement.
I had two options: lower my ambition and take on less, or optimize my life so I can continue to aim for more.
This article is about my choice for the latter: a few daily habits and rituals I’ve developed to help me take on the world. Below is a quick summary.
Table of contents
My morning rituals begin as soon as I arise at 4am. I’ve been waking up this early almost daily (including weekends) since early 2015. I love it.
It’s not hard
In no way is waking up at 4am impressive or difficult. Whatever time you’re currently accustomed to waking at, you can get accustomed to waking up at 4am. It only take a couple weeks, sometimes less, for your body to get used to it.
Successful people wake up early
Waking up 4am gives me 3-4 hours of personal time, before the rest of the world has a chance to get at me. I don’t use this time for client work or catching up on emails. This time is reserved for meditation, reading, writing, learning new things, and enjoying my own company.
You gotta give yourself focused love or you’ll go nuts – especially as an entrepreneur.
– Benjamin Franklin
Below are a few successful people that wake up early. Recognize a few?
|Sergio Marchionne, CEO||Fiat and Chrysler||3:30|
|Brett Yormark, CEO||Brooklyn Nets||3:30|
|Indra Nooyi, CEO||PepsiCo||4:00|
|Jean-Martin Folz, GM||Peugeot (former)||4:00|
|George HW Bush and George W Bush, presidents||President of America (former)||4:00|
|David Cush, CEO||Virgin America||4:15|
|Tim Cook, CEO||Apple||4:30|
|Padmasree Warrior, CTO||Cisco||4:30|
|Bob Iger, CEO||Disney||4:30|
|Bill Gross, Co-founder||Pimco||4:30|
|Howard Schultz, CEO||Starbucks||4:30|
|Bob Iger, CEO||Disney||4:30|
|Padmasree Warrior, CTO||Cisco||4:30|
|Dan Akerson, CEO||General Motor||4:30|
|Steve Reinemund, CEO||PepsiCo (former||5:00|
|Tim Armstrong, CEO||AOL||5:00|
|A.G. Lafley, CEO||Procter & Gamble||5:00|
|Ursula Burns, CEO||Xerox||5:15|
|Jack Dorsey, CEO||Square||5:30|
Last point on this
When I first started waking up at 4am, I didn’t know what benefits I would gain. I didn’t have any empirical data or research that lead me to the decision. I wanted personal time, and I knew Tim Cook did it, and he wasn’t the only successful person to do so.
We may not know the ‘why’ for someone’s success ritual, but we can easily learn it by emulating.
The first thing I do once I arise is make myself a cup of Bulletproof Coffee (BPC). The water is already boiled, and has cooled down to the perfect temperature. This is possible because I set a digital timer (for 3:50am) the night before.
What is BPC?
BPC is a coffee concoction made with ‘Upgraded Coffee’ beans, grass-fed butter, and ‘Brain Octane Oil’, blended to produce a drink that looks like a latte, and tastes like heaven. The recipe was created by Dave Asprey and first posted on his blog in 2009. I, however, am not using the branded ingredients. Alternatives are listed below.
- Branded Upgraded Coffee:
Nope. Locally bought, freshly roasted coffee beans
- Branded Brain Octane Oil:
Nope. MCT (Medium Chain Triglycerides) oil instead
- Grass-fed butter:
Yep. Local, organic, grass-fed butter
How I make BPC?
Step 01. Grinding with a Zassenhaus
I grind the beans the night before. I use a Zassenhaus “Guatemala” Wenge/Stainless Steel Coffee Mill. This is a manual, not electric grinder. I opted for manual as I love the ritual of physically turning the handle and feeling the beans being crushed.
Step 02. Brewing with an Aeropress
Super cheap ($29) to buy, and probably the best way to make your coffee. Wired Magazine gave the Aeropress a 9/10 rating. Did I mention it’s super cheap?
Step 03. Blending with Magic Bullet
So many reasons to use a Magic Bullet, including mixing your BPC ingredients. You can buy a Magic Bullet online, or at your local Walmart. A quick search yields a ‘Single Shot’ version for $59.94CAD on Amazon.ca.
Anecdotally, BPC works amazing for me. I don’t get the jitters I used to get from drinking regular coffee, I’m more alert, and I don’t have hunger pangs throughout the day. My Partner, Lan, told me about it a couple years ago, but I only recently fell in love with BPC this past spring after meeting many successful entrepreneurs and executives that swore by it.
However, all is not good in the realm of Dave Asprey’s BPC. To be fair, I’ve included a few links that are anti-BPC and not-so-pro-Dave-Asprey. Again, BPC works for me – but it may not for you. Also, I’m way past the point to believe it’s a placebo effect. Just saying.
Gizmodo.com: Bulletproof-coffee – Debunking the hot buttered hype
I will usually meditate between 12 to 40 minutes every morning, not to mention a few sessions during the day/evening. Meditation has been the single greatest contributor to balancing my intense life and bipolar personality.
Some benefits include, but are not limited to the following:
- Helps preserve the aging brain
- Increases mindfulness while decreasing the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts
- Helps with depression and anxiety
- Improves concentration and attention
- Helps break addictions
- And may even lead to volume changes in key areas of the brain.
You can read about my journey diving into meditation here: 40 days of meditation using Muse, the brain sensing headband.
As mentioned previously, I try to avoid work work, but rather focus on personal projects and catching up on my studies. I’m always into something new and exciting. Currently, it’s the neuroscience and emerging technology.
Some things include but are not limited to the following:
- Read on a variety of topics from space, time travel, neuroscience, business leadership, and more
- Blog posts
- Personal logs
- Working on a couple books
- Set goals
- Plan and strategize
By around 7-8am, I’ve clocked in a good 3-4 hours of personal time. I transition into the second phase of my day with a shower and personal care. Starting warm, and ending ice-cold.
“The mechanism that can probably explain the immediate mood-lifting effect of immersion in cold water or cold shower is probably the stimulation of the dopaminergic transmission in the mesocorticolimbic and nigrostriatal pathway…”
“…These dopaminergic pathways are known to be involved in the regulation of emotions. There is a lot of research linking these brain areas to depression.”
– Shevchuk, 2008 podcast with Neuroscene
A few reasons to consider ice-cold showers 
- Increases alertness
- Refines hair and skin
- Improves immunity and circulation
- Stimulates weight loss
- Speeds up muscle soreness and recovery
- Eases stress
- Relieves depression
There’s tremendous benefits in taking ice-baths, even more so than cold showers. Many athletes and peak performers do it. I have yet to build the courage, but Kobe Bryant has. Here’s Kobe immersed in ice-cold water.
01.^ Dummies.com: The importance of rituals in a happy life
02.^ Editor says, “It’s VERY impressive. It takes a lot of adjustment for a lot of people, time management from the night before and a good amount of discipline.” My response: “Yeah, the (mental) discipline is impressive I guess. But nothing impressive or unique regarding my body’s ability to adjust.”
03.^ I try to avoid client work, but sometimes it’s necessary.
04.^. Obviously, duh!
05.^ BusinessInsider.com: Successful people who wake up really early
06.^ Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Computers
07.^ “Water temperature between 195 – 205 degrees Fahrenheit [90.5 – 96 degrees celsius] for optimal extraction. Colder water will result in flat, underextracted coffee while water that is too hot will also cause a loss of quality in the taste of the coffee.” – National Coffee Brewing Association
08.^ FastCompany.com: What it’s like to drink bulletproof coffee every morning for two weeks
09.^ My research indicates that similar if not exact benefits can be observed with the alternatives listed.
10.^ Amazon.com: GUATEMALA Coffee Mill Stainless Zassenhaus
12.^ Wired.com: Coffee brewing
13.^ Bed Bath and Beyond.ca: Magic Bullet, black edition
14.^ I would get the jitters from just a quarter cup.
15.^ Important to mention that working out is a close second.
17.^ Forbes.com: Ways meditation can actually change the brain
18.^ Fastcompany.com: The scientific case for cold showers
19.^ MedicalDaily.com: Benefits cold showers – 7 reasons why taking cool showers good your health
20.^ PositiveHealthWellness.com: 9 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Cold Shower
During the day
Slow Carb Diet (SCD)
I’ve been on the SCD since late May. I have to say, I feel absolutely amazing. Not that I was eating unhealthy before, just that I’ve taken it to a complete new level. My body is processing less crap, and to my surprise, I don’t have cravings for bread, rice, or noodles. All things that I devoured before.
What is the Slow Carb Diet?
Aside from very light stretching and yoga, I’m currently not working out. This is not to say I don’t believe or understand its benefits,nor am I not interested or unmotivated to work out – just that I’m currently in the midst of a weird body experiment in which I’m purposely avoiding it. In an attempt to redeem myself here, I was hitting the gym every single day prior to starting this experiment. Yep. Every day. And before you preach to me the science of why hitting the gym daily is not good, hear me out. There’s a method to my madness.
Working out everyday
At the beginning of 2015, I was searching for new purpose. Something bigger and greater than servicing clients or throwing events. I wanted to dedicate myself to something huge. Something I could lose myself to. I realized it was important to work less and invest more time to observe, take in, process, and daydream. Hitting the gym daily became my goal until I found a better goal. here’s why:
- Overcoming resistance: Going to the gym is for most, a mental challenge that’s hard to overcome. I wanted to forever overcome that.
- A personal challenge: Do I have the discipline to go in when I’m tired, drunk, or just not feeling it?
- Build character:I knew that a crazy commitment like this would strengthen my character.
- Get in shape: Going to the gym daily may not be ideal, but it’s far better than the opposite. Knowing my body would need rest days, I would alternate between intense and relaxing workouts.
Yes, of course I’ll start working out again. But not for another couple months.
Project managing your workout
I wrote a post back in September 2014 on how I manage and measure my workouts. You can read it here: Project managing your workout
21.^ Wikipedia.org: Slow Carb Diet
You would think my morning routine is the most important part of my day, but it’s not. My evening routine is by far much more important. It’s simple. I don’t have a morning routine if I don’t prepare the night before. Tracking my days and evenings has proved this beyond a shadow of a doubt.
A glass of wine
In no way does having a glass of wine ensure I have a great next day. I simply enjoy winding down with a glass of Pinot Noir (or anything red and dry). This isn’t a regular ritual, but worth mentioning.
Avoid the screen = work, emails, and Facebook
I say avoid, as I still struggle with this from time to time. Sometimes I pick up my iPhone and open up the Facebook app, completely in autopilot. Evenings that I consciously avoid my phone and laptop, I go to sleep happier, more relaxed, and fall asleep faster.
– Charles Czeisler, Harvard Medical School, Brigham, Women’s Hospital
– The Organized Mind, by Daniel J Levitin, PhD, FRSC, Neuroscientist
I don’t tidy up, I clean the fucking-shit out of my home. Everything is absolutely sparkling clean, and living in its own dedicated home.
Waking up right
The last thing I need in the morning is to wake up to a messy home. I make sure this is not the case before I go to bed. I wake up to a clean and serene home.
Winding down ritual
Similar to a glass of wine, I find cleaning my home helps me relax. Regardless of how tired I may be, working with my body and hands is a nice change from my brain-intensive day.
– The Case For Working With Your Hands (book), by Matthew B Crawford
Also worth mentioning
In addition to cleaning up at night, I also clean up before I leave my home. Especially in more detail if I’ll be away for the whole day or more. The reason is simple. I don’t know the crap I’m going to deal with out there, away from my sanctuary, temple, and base. I simply have less control over circumstances and outcomes outside my domain. Whether good or bad, the odds are I’m coming home tired from day’s adventure. The last thing I want is to come home to a messy and disorganized home.
Scientists find physical clutter affects your ability to focus, process information
“When your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus. The clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information. Clutter makes you distracted and unable to process information as well as you do in an uncluttered, organized, and serene environment.
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and other physiological measurement tools to map the brain’s responses to organized and disorganized stimuli and to monitor task performance. The conclusions were strong — if you want to focus to the best of your ability and process information as effectively as possible, you need to clear the clutter from your home and work environment.”
Preparing for tomorrow
Further efforts to prepare myself for an awesome next day include:
- Fill 1.5 cups worth of water in kettle, plugged in to timer
- Ensure plug timer is set to boil water at 3:50am
- Grind one coffee cup’s worth of beans
- Place Aeropress, Magic Bullet, and grinded coffee beans on clean counter top
- Insert one incense stick incense burner
- Test lighter, and place beside incense burner
- Laptop and workstation ready to go. Close all work related browser tabs, including email
- Ensure Muse headband has enough battery power for minimum four 12-minute sessions. If not, plug in device.
- Set iPhone alarm to 4am, and make sure it has enough battery power for minimum four 12-minute Muse sessions. If not, plug in iPhone.
21.^ “Hashtag Data, baby” and “Whatchyou know about data, playa?”
22.^ LifeHacker.com: Screen reading before bed still bad for sleep and we all still do it
23.^ Emphasis totally needed here. You need to see me in cleaning mode to really appreciate.
25.^ Unclutterer.com: Scientists find physical clutter negatively affects your ability to focus process information
I’m not busy
Being busy has become a war-badge in our metropolis cultures; something that people seem to oddly be proud of. I, for one, am no longer having it. Choosing to have a lot on my plate is different from being ‘busy’. The first is empowering, while the second is about loss of control.
– Sean Blanda, Editor-in-Chief and Director of 99U
Busy is a mental disease that you need to overcome. We have no more and no less time than anyone else, including successful people. There isn’t some weird Star-Trek-like spacial anomaly ripping your quantum reality time-continuum to give you less time than Richard Branson, Tony Robbins, or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. If President Obama has time to have dinner with his family, we do too.
Mastering your environment
By properly setting up my mornings and evenings, I ensure that my day starts and ends right. This is especially important on intense, disappointing, and difficult days. I can always take solace knowing that my morning was amazing, and that I will end my night just as well.
How can I expect to achieve my dreams if I’m unwilling to master my days.
Having control over our environment starts from having control over our minds. My daily rituals have become a feedback loop. The more I dedicate time to study, meditation, and health, the more control I gain over my mind and environment. The more control I gain over my mind and environment, the more I am able to pursue and create new positive rituals.
– Source unknown
Once a hood rat…
My life has not always been one of discipline, focus, and happiness. I can’t pin-point the date, event, or decision that was the catalyst for better times. If I had to guess, I’d say it was a combination of many positive choices that accumulated to a tipping point. One day I woke up and realized, shit is much better. And though it was difficult and gradual, the realization was sudden and delightful.
I say this not to impress you, but to impress upon you, that if this awkward self-conscious ghetto child with bad acne and two left feet is able to find happiness and gain mild success – you undoubtedly can do better.
26.^ 99U.com: How Barack Obama gets things done
27.^ One of my favorite quotes, but I have yet to confirm its origin. Some credit Stephen Covey, some credit Gandhi.