I pride myself in being both a scientifically-based psychologist and a very religious person. This combination has provided me with some huge, practical insights into improving my life. I have found it wonderfully rewarding when I realized how the science of psychology and the traditions I have received from my religion work together to make meaning and purpose. I truly believe that there are lessons here that every human being on the face of the globe can apply benefit from.
Many people will readily agree that that first hour of two of the morning will set the tone for much of the rest of the day. If you implement these guidelines I can assure you that within two or three weeks you will feel a significant improvement. There are seven steps that can make a significant improvement in your life.
A great morning starts just before you go to sleep. It is really difficult to have a great morning if you haven’t started the night before. There are two exercises which are really important before retiring at night. While I learned of these from religious writings dating back hundreds of years, they’ve been given specific names and forms to the modern science of positive psychology.
The first one is called the “Gratitude Journal.” Every night, at the beginning of my bedtime routine, I write in a journal three things that happened during the course of the day that I am thankful for. Next to each item I write some reason that the event occurred. It makes no difference whether it is a big and important event in your life or is a minor one. Also, it makes no difference whether or not the reason that it happened is a logical reason or one that other people would understand. What is important is that it makes sense to me.
Many people who start with a gratitude journal find it difficult at first. If this happens to you, be persistent. It just means that you are training your mind to focus on positive and happy events. Everybody that I have worked with has gotten the hang of it within a week or two.
The second step could be called “the forgiveness journal.” According to my religious tradition, I express my forgiveness to people who have wronged me immediately prior to going to sleep. The idea is to end the day with a clean heart. In positive psychology terms, is another portion of a journal in which you can note three people who you can forgive for something that occurred to you either today or prior to today. I have found this to be occasionally pretty tricky. Too many people think that they must start forgiving others for major wrongs or major hurts. It is important to start by forgiving people for things that you’re absolutely ready to forgive them for. Forgive your child for throwing a tantrum in the supermarket. Forgive your mother for reminding you too many times to do something or another. Way down the road you will be able to forgive your big brother for bullying you when you were 12 years old.
The third step in preparation for wonderful morning is to go to sleep with enough time to wake up rested. (That is a skill that needs to be discussed in a separate blog post.)
Step number four for a great morning actually occurs in the morning. Wake up early enough to get everything done even when things go wrong. I always wake up with enough time to avoid any stress. I know plenty of people who get out of the house in 10 or 15 min. I give myself a minimum of one hour. You might not need that much time. But it is important to budget enough time for emergencies.
Step number five is to dedicate a minimum of 15 minutes to some spiritual activity. I will spend a minimum of 30 minutes in prayer. On a good day, I can spend 20 minutes in meditation and 45 minutes in prayer. This sets the foundation and perspective for all of the activities for the rest of the day. If I am able to do this properly, I will be able to use just a few minutes of reflection later on to refocus and to gain proper perspective. In positive psychology terms, this is called giving meaning to your life. This foundation can be found in humanistic psychology and in 12 step programs, as well as almost all religious traditions.
Step number six is to put on a positive intellectual armor on before going out into the world. Read something positive. It seems that thousands of people read quotes from famous people. I typically learn a portion of the Bible, say a few chapters of Psalms, and learned some Chasidic philosophy. While the most proper suggestion is to do this prior to leaving your home, I must admit that most of the days of the week I will implement this stage on the train to work. With consistent effort you can learn to use some concentration while doing this reading and it will work wonders.
Step number seven is relatively easy. Prior to immersing yourself into the trials and tribulations of your daily grind, pull out your gratitude journal and read your prior entries. That is really good way to put yourself in a frame of mind to meet the challenges that inevitably appear.