The Myth of Miracle Mornings

Recently I’ve been listening to podcasts. While I am listening, I like to argue as if they can hear me. Hey, it passes the time.

So I was listening to Pat Flynn’s interview with Michael Hyatt. I don’t know who Michael Hyatt is exactly, but I’m sure he’s some kind of a bigwig because that’s the type of person Pat Flynn has on his show.

They’re talking about building out their organizations. How productive this makes them. Their “miracle mornings.”

The Myth of Miracle Mornings

Have you heard about these miracle mornings?

Miracle mornings are high-powered routines that people do to get all their ducks in a row. For instance, you’d get up, hit the gym, do some meditation, then some writing, then have breakfast. Then you’d do some other high impact activity before you allow yourself to be dragged into email and meetings. Or whatever. The point is, you’re highly conscious to do only the most important stuff before you put your attention onto the urgent stuff.

Do I think miracle mornings are a great idea? I sure do. Do I think they are critical to success? I sure do not.

[Tweet “Do I think miracle mornings are a great idea? Sure. Do I think they’re critical to success? Nope”]

‘Miracle’ is a pretty high standard

For one thing, miracle mornings are kind of a high bar. Do you need any more high bars in your life? Because I don’t. You and I both know that shit needs to get done. Miracle mornings are a way to arrange to get shit done, but they’re far from the only way.

Plus, I want to just take a minute to imagine this in your life. Who’s taking the kids to school? Who’s getting breakfast? Your idea of a “miracle morning” probably one you get to sleep though. For me, I don’t mind so much getting up, but to me the pinnacle of my morning is just sitting drinking coffee with my husband, reading each other the absurd headlines of the day. I could meditate, do yoga, carpe diem some project or another, but I just want to have some quiet time with my husband without thinking about chores. To be fair, some people do mention time with family in their morning routines. But not many.

The takeaway here is, for god’s sake, don’t waste a second’s agony on whether your morning is miraculous or not. Just do what you gotta do. There may come a time when “what you gotta do” encompasses an overhaul of your routine, but until that point, just do yo’ thang.

[Tweet “Don’t waste a second’s agony on whether your morning is miraculous or not. Just do what you gotta do”]

Getting things in place

Back2Work, another podcast which seems to be Merlin Mann talking about whatever he feels like, has rediscovered the term mise en place, which he apparently learned from Ratatouille. Anyway, he’s fascinated by this word. (He keeps calling it a word. It’s a phrase. Obviously.) And one of the things he was about, back in the day, was learning your software shortcuts and basically just taking the time to learn things that would make your job easier. You’ll notice I leaned rather heavily on this technique in the 1% Challenge.

(Merlin Mann was a big time blogger, ran 43 Folders, a massive community of GTDers, in the Aughts. No relation of mine.)

This, to me, works better as a talking point if you want to talk about ‘miracle mornings.’ I guess I get annoyed by people talking about routines as if the routine itself would make you productive.

Of course it doesn’t. The routine is an opportunity, perhaps the best opportunity you’ll get, to be productive, but it does not, in itself, make you productive. For instance, if I decided to work out at 6am because then I don’t have to think about it for the rest of the day, then that’s me, getting things into place (mise en place) to solve a problem for myself.

[Tweet “The routine is an opportunity to be productive, but it does not, in itself, make you productive”]

And then, when I’m already up, and completely awake, I might think, this is a perfect opportunity to write. I might even lock myself out of my email in order to reduce the temptation to do something other than write.

I could make a point of staring out the window as I wait for my coffee to brew, noticing the way the light is different in the early morning. I might even call that meditation, but really it’s more like being present. And when you’re present, you notice the stuff that’s going on in your brain and realize that you want to write about it. So that’s something else that prepares the way for something else. Mise en place.

So it isn’t fair of me to get grumpy at a trendy shorthand for something I actually do think is a good idea, but I just can’t help but think that the aspects of a ‘miracle morning’ that they emphasize makes it harder, not easier, to do it in a way that’s going to genuinely be useful. And not just another “good habit” you can’t get into.

Don’t ignore a leaky boat

Getting back to the Michael Hyatt thing. Well, he’s a corporate dude, he’s got that mindset that organizations>people. Which they are, for his purposes (measured as global impact.) He spends about 10 minutes talking about how you “can’t be an entrepreneur until you have a team. Until then you’re just a solopreneur.” Gosh, I had no idea a solopreneur was an inferior form of entrepreneur. But Hyatt also thinks that anybody can be a leader, so basically, we have quite a few points of fundamental disagreement.

[Tweet “The ‘miracle morning’ aspects they emphasize makes it hard to do it in a way that’s genuinely useful”]

So he’s talking about how you should work on your strengths not your weaknesses. Which I don’t disagree with, actually, but I do want to point out one often overlooked point: If your weaknesses can sink you, you’ve got to deal with them. You have to at least get them to where they are neutralized.

For instance; if you are never punctual, either fix that, or somehow arrange your life in such a way that punctuality is not so important. If you have anger management problems, you need to work on those, or you have to be so incredibly brilliant that people overlook it. (Hello, Steve Jobs!) It’s probably just easier to take the classes. If you’re dyslexic and you read at a 3rd grade level, well, I’m sure you have some mad coping skills but remedial lessons are probably still in order. Especially as a solopreneur you don’t get to just hire someone to make up for your weaknesses. I mean if you’re not the best manager then that’s one thing. But if your follow-through is completely lacking, well, that’s something you need to deal with. It doesn’t ever have to make to be one of your strengths, it just has to stop holding you back.

[Tweet “If your weaknesses can sink you, you have to at least get them to where they are neutralized”]

And if you take the time to structure your routines in such a way that they support you through your weaknesses (like executive function a 5am is anyone’s strong suit) then it stops mattering whether, for example “you’re an organized person.” Because your mise en place makes you an organized person. It’s not a friggin’ miracle.

Why ‘Miracle Mornings’ Focus On The Wrong Thing

In Zen Buddhist thought, there’s a concept called ‘finger pointing at the moon’

“Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger” ~ Zen Parable

What irritates me about miracle mornings isn’t that the practices of, for example, meditation, gratitude, journaling, exercise, reading are at all bad. It’s that they are the finger, not the moon.

You could argue that if people focus on the finger, at least they’re aiming in the general direction of the moon, and that’s a good start. But in my opinion, people already focussed on the finger are unlikely to spontaneously have a shift in perspective and suddenly ‘see’ the moon. It’s not a Rubin vase.

[Tweet “If you structure your routines so they support you, your mise en place MAKES you an organized person”]

Look at it this way: When you do something because it’s deeply meaningful to you, you bring a different part of yourself to it than when you’re simply killing it and checking things off your to-do list like a machine.

The Miracle Morning set up risks being too checklist-like. Whereas, for example mise en place is more internally focussed. It requires you to check in with yourself, ask yourself what you need, and then mindfully construct a setting where what you need and want unfolds in a supportive way.

Meaning Is Not Found In A Ticky-Box

It’s easy to feel good about a metric-driven life. I love my systems and checklists, and I’m the biggest cheerleader of concrete, measureable efforts focused in a precise manner.

And yet.

Without that inward-facing shift on a regular basis, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the fierce surge of winning and forget that all you’re doing is checking off boxes.

You’ve got to make sure the moon is in your sights.