US Navy Admiral William McRaven said, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”
He was right. We’re not Navy SEALS. This is not the military. We are addressing the topic of anxiety, not warfare. But what Admiral McRaven said can help us make better choices.
When you start your day with a challenge, no matter how small it may be, you will often find yourself in a noticeably better place come afternoon and evening. One small action first thing in the morning can help bring about bigger and more consistent changes later.
Starting your day by meeting even a small challenge sets the tone for the rest of the day. Laying in bed thinking about how you feel is not helping you. Get up, put your feet on the floor, and go brush your teeth, no matter how you feel. Do not start your day just thinking about how you can’t possibly handle anything. Start your day by actually handling something, even if that something is just basic dental hygiene. SHOW yourself that you are capable of doing this small task when you wake up.
Dread and anticipation are often the main themes of an anxious morning. Dread and anticipation light the anxiety fire. Starting the day by meeting a challenge takes the heat out of that fire. Taking some positive action first thing in the morning helps to break the anticipation and dread cycle.
Get up, get yourself ready, then go do your first exposure or handle your first life task, even when you hate how you feel while you do it. This is far better than waiting, thinking, and despairing over what lies ahead.
Having a purpose when you open your eyes matters. Having a pre-defined plan to execute matters even more. A person in the grips of anxiety and panic is often confused, unsure of themselves, and has difficulty making decisions and choices. An unstructured day that starts with a totally blank slate often adds to anxiety and fear when the anxious person can’t think of what they should do next to feel better. Building structure into your day starting with a pre-planned morning action means you don’t have decide what to do when you wake up and you’re feeling afraid and unsure.
Meet a challenge to start your day, even though that is hard to do.
It often makes for a better day where you feel more confident and in control. It can lead to being more satisfied at the end of that day. You’ll likely find yourself a bit more motivated and less susceptible to negative judgment about your progress. Even if you have a less than desirable afternoon or evening, you will be able to counter that with the knowledge that you were moving forward for at least part of the day rather than passively wishing and hoping another full day away. If things get bumpy - and they often will - starting the morning off right helps you to look forward with hope and some sense of power and influence rather than with despair.
The morning matters. Use it to your advantage as best you can.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the power you can find in a very small space.
(I wrote about the morning effect in chapter 5 of The Anxious Truth - A Step By Step Guide To Understanding And Overcoming Anxiety, Panic, and Agoraphobia)