I’m going to take you back five years. I was a three year qualified vet, struggling deeply with imposter syndrome and scrambling to ‘better myself’.

There I was, reading yet another self-development book. This time, a chapter on the morning routine. So far, I understood that I needed to get up at 5:00 am, have a cold shower, meditate, set my intentions, recite affirmations, read, make a super-green smoothie, visualise my successes and then go for a run. Presumably, I’d have to follow this with yet another shower, and then head out to work at 7 am for a 12-hour shift.

I genuinely hoped this would set me up for success. I planned and tried to do this. Day one, I dragged myself out of bed at 4:30am, bleary eyed and definitely not bushy-tailed. I chanced a drizzle of cold shower before quickly getting dressed. I switched on Headspace, whilst fighting not to fall back asleep, rushed through some affirmations, and realised that I’d forgotten to buy ingredients for a smoothie. It was drizzling and miserable outside, I put on my running clothes and chanced a kilometre before returning home and declaring it was a bad idea. I jumped back in the shower, this time warm and familiar – and got dressed for work.

Then it started. That negative critic “well, you cheated there”, “you didn’t put enough effort in”, “you weren’t very prepared”. I set the day up feeling deflated, self-deprecating, and honestly, pretty tired.

I tried for a few weeks, and ultimately listening to that negative narrative, I gave it up as a bad job. Another thing to add to the ‘reasons why I’m useless’ list. It would always find the one thing that I didn’t manage to do ‘properly’. I decided that morning routines were exhausting, and somehow for a rare breed of superhumans, me not being one of them.

Then I learned something important: that we don’t have to believe every thought that we have, and that we can choose a better narrative. When we consciously look for all the reasons why a morning routine is a bad idea, or we haven’t done it correctly, the reticular activating system in our brains sees to ensuring we find all of the evidence that we need. I reflected back more kindly on my previous experiences. I also shifted my story from trying to better myself, to attempting to set myself up better to channel my inherent potential.

I realised that I had changed too much at once, and I was trying to fit into someone else’s routine. Years later I heard James Clear say that ‘small habits are the compound interest of self-improvement’, wow was he right. Rather than a complete overhaul, I made life easier and set myself up for success. I started with getting up 10minutes earlier every day, and hence my morning routine eventually started at 6:45 am instead. I looked to add in one change every 2-3 weeks until they became habits. I started with doing 5minutes of Headspace, then a gratitude list, always followed by a shower and nutritious breakfast. I didn’t make it complicated. I tried to add new things in and see if I saw a positive difference, if I didn’t after a few weeks, I stopped. I also set myself up to succeed by getting things ready the night before.

Instead of listening to that inner critic, that would still attempt to berate me for anything I’d ‘missed’, I switched my focus onto what I’d done right and how it helped to set me upright. When those critical thoughts popped in, I’d think “no, I got up much earlier than I would have years ago, and still ate a good breakfast – thanks.”

Morning routines can be really helpful in terms of reducing stress, gaining time and improving selfcare. They don’t have to be complicated or long, and they’re certainly not a one size fits all approach.

Do you have a morning routine? If you were to write it down, what does it look like? What tasks or rituals set you up for a good day? What causes stress? How can you reduce those things? What small tweaks or changes could you make?