Morning routines are often thought of as these perfect, Instagram-worthy, habits we should be doing. 

We’re breaking down this myth and giving you a framework for how to create a morning routine that makes you feel good (and that’s actually doable).  

We guide you through the process with journal prompts and real-life examples.  

If you’re ready to create a morning routine that actually moves the needle in feeling happier and healthier – especially when life is anything but routine – then this episode is for you!

here’s a glance at this episode:

  • [1:37] Understand the 80-20 rule and how it relates to a morning routine.
  • Use the journal prompts below to create a personalized morning route: 
    • [16:16] “How do I feel and how do I want to feel?”.
    • [17:09] “How do I bridge the gap between how I feel and how I want to feel?”.
    • [17:35] “What do I need right now?” and “What is the kindest choice?”.
  • [19:34] Focus on the small and simple tasks; consider cutting your routine in half to create more ease. 
  • [20:46] Learn from some personal examples. 

links mentioned in this episode

How to Cultivate Self-Compassion with Dr. Kristin Neff

3 Ways to Practice Self-Compassion with Dr. Kristin Neff

more episodes on morning routines

Routines for Unpredictable Schedules

How to Radically Simply your Morning Routine

15 Simple Self-Care Ideas for your Morning Routine

read the transcript

Robyn Conley Downs: (00:01)

You’re listening to The Feel Good Effect. We’re talking a morning routine for when you need a reset. Let’s make it happen.

Robyn Conley Downs: (00:13)

Radically simple and ridiculously doable. The Feel Good Effect will help you redefine wellness on your terms. Hi, I’m your host, Robyn Conley Downs. And I believe that wellness isn’t about achieving another set of impossible standards, but instead finding what works for you, drawing from cutting-edge science on mindfulness habit, and behavior change. This podcast offers a collection of small mindset shifts that allow for more calm, clarity, and joy in everyday life and allows you to embrace the idea that gentle is the new perfect. I invite you to listen in, as we cut through the clutter and find the small shifts that create huge changes in your life. Less striving, more ease. It’s time to feel good.

Robyn Conley Downs: (01:01)

Well hey, Feel Good Fam. I am so glad you’re here. Today we’re talking about morning routines, which we talk about a lot here. There’s a reason for that, you know, starting your day with some intention, with a little bit of focus by connecting to yourself and how you feel and how you wanna feel can actually really move the needle in your life when it comes to health and happiness. If we haven’t met I’m Robyn, I am the author of The Feel Good Effect, the host and producer of this podcast. And I also, uh, am the founder and editor of

Robyn Conley Downs: (01:37)

And one of the things I teach there and here is the 80-20 rule. The 80-20 rule, some kind sometimes called Pareto Principle is this concept that 20% of your actions yield 80% of your results. And I actually think that it might even be more like the 5-95, but let’s just take 20-80. And if 20% of your actions yield 80% of your results, it means we don’t actually have to work harder. It means that we can work smarter. It means that we can be content with doing enough, with not feeling like we’re behind all the time, or that we’re not living up to impossible expectations. I like to talk about the 20% as being brilliant at the basics. I write about that again in my book, The Feel Good Effect. And I think a lot of times we forget about being brilliant at the basics because there’s so much noise and there’s so much pressure and shiny objects. And we think again, that we have to do more and optimize everything. And really the simple things, the basic things are sometimes very much enough, but yeah, the things that we skip. And so I believe that a morning routine is a part of the 20%, but I also believe that the way that people approach morning routines and talk about them and teach about it, and coach is like totally backwards.

Robyn Conley Downs: (03:01)

The thing is a morning routine isn’t about productivity. It’s not a way to, again, optimize everything in your life and biohack your way to perfect health. It’s not about proving anything to anyone. And it’s certainly not about adding more to your to-do list. I was reading something online the other day, and the woman wrote about herself and her bio proudly that she didn’t have a morning routine. And I thought that’s interesting. I think that’s where that is coming from is this person feels like having a morning routine is required to be like this put-together productive person. But the bottom line is we actually all have morning routines and we all have habits, whether we want to admit that or not. And there is a way to focus and be intentional and it doesn’t have to be showy. It doesn’t have to be Instagram-worthy. And in fact, I think it’s rarely Instagram-worthy. The basic things are not the gold star things. They are really for you to help you feel the way that you wanna feel and be who you wanna be.

Robyn Conley Downs: (04:05)

So that’s why I teach it. That’s why I talk about it here and lately, I know many of you have asked me for a little bit of guidance on what to do when you need a fresh start or a reset or life continues to transition and change. I’ve done many shows about like routines for transition and transition week. I think we think that, um, that routines and habits should be held for when life is really predictable. And I think the opposite is true, right? That those foundational basic things are most important when life gets kind of wild and yet they’re often the first things to go.

Robyn Conley Downs: (04:45)

So that’s why I’m talking about a routine for a reset. And I wanted to mention too, that I feel like this word reset has gotten there’s a lot of baggage around it lately. I think it’s, you know, often used by diet culture to talk about dieting and restricting. So for some of you, it might feel triggering. Um, I’m not using it in that context. And I also will say that there is something, there is some science behind a fresh start. So, um, I love the work of Katy Milkman. She is a behavioral scientist, I think at she’s at the school of Wharton and an economists there. And she talks a lot about the fresh start effect, which is, there are actually times when we’re most likely to be able to create new habits and create change. So for example, the beginning of the year, a birthday, Monday, the, the start of a new month, and I talk, talk a lot about how you don’t have to wait that you can change now that you can start now. But I do think that sometimes we need a little bit of that fresh start effect, whether it’s a Monday morning or a new month where you think, gosh, you know, things have really just gotten away from me and I wanna refocus. So that’s what we’re talking about with this episode.

Robyn Conley Downs: (05:58)

And I wanted to start with a little story. So some of you know, my story, you maybe read it in my book or you’ve heard me tell it before, but if we rewind back to 2014, I had a two-year-old at the time. And, uh, I’d had a, a lot of miscarriages and infertility and difficult pregnancy. So I feel like I entered the difficult part of parenting or being a parent well before actually having my daughter. So we were going on maybe at that time, five years of just a lot of challenges having a two-year-old is challenging in its own way. And I like to say that I was like in this phase of always adding more, like I would add something to my plate and then I would just keep pushing through striving was the name of the gain. So not only did I have a fairly young child, I was working a 60 hour week job that for me was very high stress. It was more of a leadership role and a lot of responsibility managing budgets and people. And that stress was consuming me from the inside and I was in a full-time doctoral program. So I was going to school in the evenings and then had a full course load on top of it. And I don’t know why I thought that was sustainable, but that was the thing I just never stopped to ask, like, how do I feel, how do I wanna feel, am I taking on too much? Is there a way to let something go or hit pause or reprioritize? I wasn’t even on the list. Like I always say I wasn’t even on the list. And I think that maybe you can get away with that for a certain amount of time. I think I had, there had been many years where I could just, I used to work at least, I don’t know why I’ve always had many jobs. I would work like one and a half full-time jobs plus be in school, plus, whatever other thing I was doing, I think I thrived on it. I don’t know. Maybe it was just a distraction, but eventually, that cut up, put with me and it was sort of like the most epic burnout. I was crying every day before I’d go to work. I was overwhelmed with like getting everything together for daycare and then for myself and then to pump and all those things, actually, I mean, by two, I got, I was not pumping by that point, but I was still trying to do all the things and it was becoming the end of me.

Robyn Conley Downs: (08:27)

And finally, I really did have a rock bottom moment and asked myself, you know, what about feeling good? Like what is going on? I have one life and this is not how I intended to live it. And talking with my partner, my spouse now about it was like, well, this isn’t what we agreed to. This is what, what we thought we were signing, signing up for, in our relationship with each other. And so I made some really significant changes. The impetus in the start of all of this at The Feel Good Effect and of Real Food, Whole Life was making changes that really changed how I felt in my life and simplified things and made me feel good in my life as it is right now. And that I wanted to share that. So I started the website and I started, started the podcast and I wrote the book, but I’m, I’m telling this story again, because I have been reminded of that time of my life recently.

Robyn Conley Downs: (09:22)

So as I’m recording this, it is winter of 2021. And, uh, we’re having like whatever number surge of the COVID pandemic numbers, right. And who knows in the future, hopefully you’re listening to this in the future and this is like a distant memory and it’s it’s past us. But right now this is almost like this loop where we things get a little bit better and then they get a little bit worse and then kids are in school and then they’re out of school. And then you think you’re going on a trip and the trip is canceled again. Or you think your kid has school. And then all of a sudden they don’t and then they’re back and then they’re home. And while there’s significant differences between my life then, and the experience we’re having now, the parallel to me is this is this idea that I used to have, that if I can take care of myself when things are normal or, or when things become predictable again.

Robyn Conley Downs: (10:20)

And I remember saying that all the time, especially when I had a two-year-old, because if you have little, uh, little ones and they’re in any, any kind of daycare, then you know that they just get sick all the time. And then you get sick all the time. And, and this was even before the pandemic, right? Like now we take it even more seriously when someone gets sick. And so when I had that rock bottom moment and I started to do these things to focus on the 20%, that yields 80% to look at being brilliant at the basics to ask myself what about feeling good and how do I feel? And how do I wanna feel? I struggled those first few years, cuz I was so locked into the idea that it had to be like my life had to be predictable and to a certain extent, this is perfectionism coming in.

Robyn Conley Downs: (11:04)

Like if everything’s perfect, then I can do it. Then I’ll have my routine. Then I’ll have my morning routine. Then I’ll do this. Then I’ll start eating well. Then I’ll grocery shop. Then I’ll do this. And the thing is that that never happened. and it took me an embarrassingly long time to fully realize that I think the first few years of doing this and my lifestyle changes that I kept trying to like grasp onto when things are normal, I can do it. But when things are shifting and kids are homesick or I’m sick or we’re traveling, then I’m thrown off and then I’m off the wagon. So again, if you’ve been here a long time, you know, a lot of this is I teach the striving mindset and the feel-good mindset. A lot of that was perfection-based thinking and all or nothing thinking – I’m either all in or I’m all out.

Robyn Conley Downs: (11:51)

And I’ve really noticed that the last two years with so many of, of you and my coaching clients and across the internet is just the struggle with all-or-nothing thinking and perfectionism when it comes to maintaining a sense of self-care or habits or routines. Because we think that we’re on a path and we’ve got something going and then it changes and the change is not our fault, but I don’t think we have a lot of good skills to cope with it and to kind of re-reset without like that, not diet culture reset, just reset or fresh start and be here for ourselves every time something changes. Anytime something gets hard. Anytime we’re thrown off our routine that we stop saying, I’ll wait until everything’s perfect. And we say, how can I take care of myself right now and doing it in a way that’s not, not performative and it’s not for gold stars and it’s not for Instagram. Like it’s truly because if we feel good, we can do everything better.

Robyn Conley Downs: (13:04)

So of course I’ll give you a couple like tactical ideas, but really this, um, snackable episode is really about thinking about a morning routine for yourself that can survive and thrive through changes. So whether, you know, we have shutdowns or lockdowns or openings, kids are home or kids are at school or you’re traveling or you’re home, or you experience a family change or a hormonal change, like all things that change all the time that you’re able to have this foundational set of habits and routines that you, that hold you and stabilize you through all of it.

Robyn Conley Downs: (13:45)

I recently went on my first vacation in two years, I went on an actual airplane and it was amazing to me since I hadn’t traveled for so long. How many of like my core routine morning routine habits stuck with me even while on vacation? Um, I still did my morning walk every single morning, not because I had to, not because I was like trying to meet a goal or close a ring, but because it had become a habit. And because I know that when I walk in the morning, I feel so much better through the day. And when I don’t, I feel worse. And so it’s like not about motivation or discipline and it’s definitely not about willpower. It’s just like that such, it’s this clear, clear connection between how I feel and how I wanna feel and this gift that I give to myself. But the nice thing I have to say when I was on a real vacation was that I could just walk as long as I wanted, I was, I walked it like whatever pace I wanted, I stopped and enjoyed the views. I listened to music. It was lovely and it was a little less compressed, but it still stayed with me.

Robyn Conley Downs: (14:46)

Another habit I have in my morning routine is having veggies in my breakfast as part of breakfast, whether that’s on the side, whether that’s in a smoothie, we did have a kitchen and so Andrew and I did like a big veggie scramble after we got back on from our walk. Again, that’s part of my habit is I like to part of my routine, part of my habits, I like to do movement. And then I like to do breakfast after that, like later in the, in the morning after, usually after Elle has gone to school or after I’ve gotten her settled, I like to take the time to eat after kind of the chaos of the morning. So even on vacation, we held those two things constant. They were just, the timing was different.

Robyn Conley Downs: (15:24)

Same thing with drinking water. First thing, same thing with having like some, a little bit of mindfulness time. Um, so it’s really beautiful to see those habits come with me even when I didn’t quote-unquote, have to do it. I just did it because they were automatic. And also that the, the only the thing that can be flexible is like how much time we give things, how much space we hold for it, the pace, all of those factors.

Robyn Conley Downs: (15:50)

So if you’re in the need of a reset, when it comes to your morning routine, whether you have experienced a lot of change, transition ups and downs, unpredictability, whether you are new to morning routines or you’ve had one, but it’s just not like maybe working the way it used to. I’m gonna give you a couple of prompts. So I always like to start with questions. These, if you’re a journaler, um, I invite you to journal on these.

Robyn Conley Downs: (16:16)

Maybe someday. I’ve told you this before. I have a dream of having like a planner that incorporates prompts and is like intentional and helps you live simply I that’s not happening right now. So I just give you these prompts as an offering and like a put it out there. But in the meantime, just write it down. Any old journal that you have put it in a note on your phone. And I actually, before you plan anything, especially in my planners, I want you to stop, take a beat, take a step back. And I want you to ask yourself a couple questions. So first some of you are gonna know this one because it’s like our signature question and it, our signature, um, part of our program and our coaching program and the book, and it’s simply to ask: How do I feel? And, How do I want to feel? And, What is the gap between those two? And then the more like, and so that’s it, that’s the question, that’s the prompt.

Robyn Conley Downs: (17:09)

And then you could really ask, like, how do I bridge that gap? And those are the habits to focus on first. And it might take you a little time. Like if you don’t know those answers right away, that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong. It just means you might need to experiment a little bit.

Robyn Conley Downs: (17:25)

The second question is, um, really about tapping into self-compassion. It’s the way that I teach self-compassion with act out actually ever mentioning it to people, which is, um, from Dr. Kristin Neff’s work. We’ve had her on the show, we’ll link to, uh, two of her episodes. If you’re interested in learning like more specifically about the power of self-compassion, but the question’s really simple, which is: What do I need right now? And that can be transformative because most of us don’t actually ask. And if we do, we don’t take the time to listen. And that, that is like a whole nother episode. Right. But you might ask yourself, like, what do I need right now? What do we need in a morning routine? And I just, again, like journaling is so powerful, even if you’re not a journaler to just write that down and then write an answer just like free flow write and see what comes out. My verbal processing friends, you could also talk this through with a friend or family member, even leave someone like leave yourself a voice memo if you’re a talker, rather than a writer, but really asking like: What do I need right now from a morning routine? Do I need to be alone? Do I need to be connected? Do I need silence? Do I need, um, light? Do I need time in nature? Do I need to like stimulate my brain? Do I need to connect with my faith? Like not what you should do, but what you actually need, what is the kindest choice? And sometimes the kindest choice isn’t the easiest thing. Often the kindest choice is not easy.

Robyn Conley Downs: (19:08)

And then the last, uh, set of questions is, uh, focus, Feel, Focus, Fit. I’m like mixing them up, but you can do them in any order we already asked, like, how do we wanna feel? And then what do you wanna focus on? So I think that from those two questions before, like what’s the gap between how you feel and you wanna feel?, And what’s the kindest choice? You might a little list going and then like, what do you wanna focus on? Then pick one.

Robyn Conley Downs: (19:34)

Here’s the thing that’s really important. And I saved it till the end and I should put it in the beginning next time. The biggest mistake people make when it comes to anything: habits, routines, resets is that they try to do too much all at once. So whatever you’re thinking, you know, trying maybe cut it in half or maybe cut it in a fourth. Like it doesn’t need to be a long time. A few minutes in the morning is can do wonders. Like I’m not asking you to do an hour and I never do an hour. The other thing that you need to know is that your routine doesn’t have to happen all at once. So for me, a more, your, my morning routine ends up spreading through the whole day. And I, I teach this as well. It’s another framework that I’m not gonna mention right now cause I feel like I’ve mentioned a lot of frameworks in this episode, but like, you don’t have to do it all at once. You could do it throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be an hour. So like peel it back, focus on one thing at a time, focus on small, focus on simple. Get that locked-in, especially if your life is sort of in this up-and-down, start-and-stop. Like, it really needs to just get stripped down to the most basic things that actually move the needle.

Robyn Conley Downs: (20:46)

And again, for me, and I, I could probably do like an update on my morning routine one of these days. But for me, it’s really like getting movement outside. So getting a walk-in, which gives me like multiple things that help me throughout the rest of my day. It I’m alone, which is really important to me, uh, for a number of reasons, highly sensitive person, introvert. Like I need my alone time. I get to do some voice memos with friends. So I get to connect a little bit. I get to be a little bit in nature and I get some daylight on my face. So incredibly powerful, you know, 20 minutes does all these amazing things. I start first thing with a huge glass of water. And lately also outing in like a little glass of lemon water. And then I drink my coffee. And then the third is like breakfast with some, with veggies, whether that’s in a smoothie or in a veggie scramble or on the side, I love a good breakfast salad. I love a good breakfast taco. So, you know, anyway you wanna go, but those are my non-negotiables and I pretty much do those no matter what’s happening.

Robyn Conley Downs: (21:56)

So, so I know like some of you want like a prescriptive plan and I’ll, I’ll probably never give that to you because it won’t work. Um, and it just sets up this striving pattern loop again, where you try, fail, and feel like a failure. So what I’d rather have you do is ask those questions and like experiment, try something and see if it works. And if it’s not working, scale it back because those basic things like are what wellness is. That is what health is. There is not like another version that you are not doing. This is it. And you are exactly where you need to be.

Robyn Conley Downs: (22:32)

As always, I wanna thank you so much for giving this time for yourself and for listening and being part of the Feel Good movement. We always appreciate five-star ratings, whether it’s on the podcast, if you’re a Spotify user, by the way, they did add an op option to rate it’s super easy. You just go to the show and hit rate and it allows you to deliver, uh, like a star review. But yeah, five-star ratings on the podcast, on recipes, on the book, are a way if you’ve ever thought, how can we support this free content? That’s it. It makes a difference. Thank you again so much for listening. Until next time, here’s to feeling good.

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