In September 2010 I took my first ever yoga class. Soon after, I bought my own mat, and supplemented the weekly session with a few more in between at home, to gain more practice.
On October 1st 2010, I decided that I’d like to practise yoga for a minimum of 20 minutes every day. For the next 1000 days, at least.
Today is the half way point. I’ve just completed my first 500 days of yoga.
As well as yoga, I do a few other things each day too, a small series of habits that together form an even more powerful stack.
I wanted to share some of the reasons why this stack – this daily practice – has been so powerful for me. Hopefully you can take something from it too.
First, about the stack as it now stands.
My day begins with an alarm just before 5am. I get up, visit the bathroom, drink a glass of water, make another glass of juice, turn on some suitable music, unroll my yoga mat, and begin.
Around 30-35 minutes later, I follow the yoga session with what I call daily gratitudes. I simply sit calmly and name five people or things I’m grateful to have in my life right there and then, and why.
This is followed by a 10 minute meditation. I lay on my back, let my body sink into the mat, and begin a simple bodyscan – imagining my body as an empty vessel, and focusing on each part gradually filling with light from the toes upwards.
After this, the mat gets rolled up, and my laptop gets opened.
I spend the next 60 – 70 minutes writing whatever needs to be written.
It might be a new blog post (like this one), content for a new course or book, personal coaching emails, or something else. Whatever is most important, and the best use of my writing time that morning.
This is my morning stack, and those two hours are often the most effective, productive and beneficial of my whole day.
A word about the idea of a stack of habits.
Individual habits and daily practices can be very powerful. Once you have the first one mastered (which takes far less than you think – maybe 14 – 28 days) it’s so much easier to plug in others, and begin building the stack.
You could think of this like a meal. If you had a small, one course meal each evening, it would be much easier to add a dessert to that existing meal, than to clear everything away after the mains, then prepare the dessert at a later point in the evening.
Once you were happy with your mains and dessert meal for a week or two, then you’d add a starter, and so on. The whole meal is more enjoyable as a whole meal – and easier to prepare – than trying to have three separate courses at three separate times in an evening.
Once you show up at the dinner table, the yoga mat, the page, the canvas, or wherever else you need to, it’s so much easier to extend the practice a little, than to leave, pack it all up, and try to show up again some time later.
For me, four elements in the stack feels optimum at the moment.
Any more, and maybe it’d make the stack unstable, and feel like I was trying to do too much.
For example if I had eight elements in my stack, I know I might rush through the first few (or the shortest few), just to get through them, knowing there was so many more to complete.
I don’t want to be rushing through – that completely defeats the object. Especially when it’s yoga and meditation!
So I don’t overload myself. Four elements works best right now.
In my experience, the single most important key to daily practice is committing to it ahead of time.
I don’t wake each morning and think: “Do I feel in the mood for a little yoga today? What about the meditation? Should I do one and not the other? Should I just write instead? Or maybe I should just spend the two hours I spend in my stack just sleeping?”
This kind of internal debate is exhausting.
I’m pretty lazy, so I want to avoid all the extra mental energy drain that kind of analysis requires. I have many more valuable uses for my mind.
So I decide ahead of time (in fact, in terms of today’s practice I decided 500 days ahead of time) what I’m going to do, and when. Then I just do it.
My alarm going off is simply the trigger, or the switch.
I hear the alarm, it’s time for my morning stack. The process begins. That’s the end of the thought process.
Which frees up my mind to think about those other more useful things. Like what I’m going to next be writing.
This is another reason why, for me, a morning stack is so effective.
If I was trying to do this in the evening, I’d have the whole day to come up with excuses!
In the morning, I just wake up, and get straight to the stack. Two hours later, as I said before, I’ve already done some of the most important, productive and beneficial work of the day. And it’s only 7am.
Whatever else I do that morning, it’s already been a great one. That is both very freeing (I don’t spend the rest of the morning debating whether I’ve spent it wisely enough, or wasted it), and very motivating (the energy and momentum of the morning stack sends me into whatever I do next with an attitude of gratitude, positivity and creativity).
Finally, a few words on why daily practice of anything is so powerful.
When you show up to create once a week, say, that’s great if you stick to it. But if you miss a session, then you haven’t created for two weeks. Miss another session and it’s three weeks. That can be a long time to be out of practice, and makes it harder to get back into.
Plus, as I touched on above talking about the advantages of having a morning stack, the more space you give yourself in between to conjure up excuses, the more likely you are to do just that.
Twenty one days is a lot of time to invent and consolidate some very convincing excuses!
If you create every day, and miss a day, or a couple of days, it’s not a big deal. You just pick up again the day after.
Over a month, six months, a year, missing a few days here and there is insignificant.
You have far less time in between to lose any momentum, or make any excuses. A few days back in the daily flow and you’ll have forgotten you missed a day, it’s not important.
Possibly the single most important and powerful benefit of daily practice is this:
When you commit to a daily practice, you not only do your best work more often, but your best becomes better.
You could think of this as living near a vast lake, and your aim is to become as strong a swimmer as possible, and to dive down in the deepest parts of the lake, and see what treasures await you.
If you visit each day, dive in and start swimming, you almost instantly remember the swimming of the previous day, and the one before that, and the one before that. Your mind remembers, your muscles remember.
It’s familiar, and effortless, and you get a long way out into the lake without thinking much about it.
If you hadn’t been to the lake for a few weeks, then returned, it’s likely to be harder. Your limbs will be more stiff, the water might feel colder than you remember, you might be overwhelmed with inner questions about why you’re at the lake, whether you should come back at another time, or why you should even try to swim at all when you don’t believe you’ll ever be any good.
Swim each day and all that gets bypassed.
You won’t swim your absolute best every single day. There will times when the lake does feel a little colder, your body feels less willing, the weather might be less favourable, and so on.
But because you’ve been to the lake every day for the last however many days, you’re showing up today not with the momentum of a single day, but the accumulated momentum and energy of all those previous days too.
You’re showing up today not with the fitness of someone who has decided to try swimming for the first time in years, you’re showing up with the fitness of someone who swims every single day.
By showing up every day, you always swim well, and you swim at your best, more often.
Also, your best gets better. Sometimes in tiny increments, sometimes in more visible breakthroughs.
One day, a few months in, you get farther out in the lake than you’ve ever been before, dive as deep as you can go, and find treasures you wouldn’t have believed were there.
You couldn’t have possibly done this on your first, tenth, maybe even fiftieth visit to the lake.
It needed that accumulated energy and motivation and confidence to carry you this far.
It needed the fact that your best, and your deepest, gets better, and gets deeper, through daily practice.
As you probably already knew before today, I’m a great advocate of daily practice.
My morning stack is one of the most important parts of my life, and at the core of how healthy and creative I feel today.
I hope this helps you see why in a little more detail, and in ways you can apply to your own creative life.
What kind of daily practices do you already have in your life? (I guarantee you there are already some, even if your first reaction is “I don’t have any“).
What beneficial new practice could you start today?
Do you have any questions about my daily practice? Just join the conversation and ask.
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