How to Control Your Day

When my father passed away in the fall of 2008, I was reminded of the power of rituals and routines.

Each afternoon when I’d get home from high school I’d head up to my room to change my clothes for my after-school job. Before turning into my bedroom at the top of the stairs, I’d make a detour to my parents’ room and help myself to some of my father’s leftover candy. At night while watching television he’d snack on potato chips, chocolate bars, cherry licorice, or other treats. It was like having a convenience store in our house. 

This habit continued even when I went off to college. When I’d return home during school breaks, I’d head upstairs and make that right hand turn to visit my father’s candy shop.

After his funeral, I spent weekends visiting my mother to help sort through his affairs. During each visit I’d inevitably go up to my old room, and for months after his death I continued to make that right hand turn. Alas, the candy shop was gone, but the old habit was hard to break.

As you can see, rituals are powerful. We must harness them for good and create the habits we need to control our days and win our mornings, and to put them in place for productivity and progress in life. The right rituals and routines make the right actions automatic, no matter how chaotic things get.

I learned this from the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus. He teaches us to control what we can, and cope with what we can’t. Think about how this applies to your own life.

If your spouse or boss gets upset, there is no switch to turn them off.

If clouds gather and it starts to rain, you cannot wave the showers away.

You can’t control the external world.

But you can control your thoughts, words, and deeds. And that is all you can do. But when you do this, you can do remarkable things. You can write books, build companies, find the love of your life, lose weight, and grow your wealth.

It all starts with recognizing what is under your control.

You can control what time you wake up, what habits you start the day with, what temptations enter your life, and what systems you have in place for dealing with those.

You can control your belief in yourself. You can take more control over your schedule and energy than you might believe right now. And most importantly, you can control your morning and in doing so, win your day.

Whatever it is you seek, remember the advice of the ancient Stoic. Be clear about your goals, know what you can control, and then do what you have to do.

Perhaps the most important ritual in your life is what time you choose to get out of bed, and the best thing you can do is to start getting up 15 minutes early. This will allow you to attack your number one priority first thing in the morning.

Do not linger under the warm covers. That is for average people stuck in the struggles of ordinary lives. You are destined for greatness, you are set to overcome your obstacles, and you will not stand for failure.

You control your behavior. Your success is your personal responsibility. Take action. Do the first things first. Do what matters even if you don’t feel like it. Get up and give your number one priority the focus it deserves for at least 15 minutes every morning.

But what if you’re not a morning person, you ask? I get it. There is something romantic about being a night owl. But if you look at the great authors, artists, inventors… what do you find? You may be surprised, but the common thread is that they got their best work done in the morning.

The great German writer Goethe, for example, wrote that the morning was when he felt “revived and strengthened by sleep and not yet harassed by the absurd trivialities of everyday life.”

Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, rose at dawn, drank his morning coffee, ate two raw eggs, and then wrote until 11 a.m.

Beethoven, Schubert, and Mahler woke at dawn and composed until early afternoon.

Van Gogh began painting at seven in the morning.

The great architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, did his sketches between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m.

Dickens and Darwin did their best writing in the morning before taking long walks in the afternoon to fuel their creativity. And Hemingway, no matter if he was suffering from another legendary hangover, knew that it was best to write after the sun’s first light.

Even Stephen King, the American horror master, writes his chilling tales before noon.

Getting up 15 minutes earlier than you normally do, and spending that time working on your top priority, may be difficult at first. But this is how you control your day and make BIG progress in your life.