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Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

A morning ritual sure sounds nice (if it didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this) but what’s the point of one? What’s it even supposed to accomplish?

No, you don’t have to eat kale or mechanistically begin planning your day according to some odd formula. You’re human. The first thing you need to do is get your head on straight. Get your feelings sorted. Your mood.

Research shows your mood in the morning affects your productivity all day:

Seriously, your mood is numero uno. Think you can ignore your feelings or fight them? Think again, Spock.

From The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking:

In fact, one of the biggest reasons you procrastinate is because of negative feelings.

From Temptation: Finding Self-Control in an Age of Excess:

So what does a morning ritual need to contain to put you in the right frame of mind to be productive? And happy? (Yeah, happy is important. This is a “morning ritual”, not a “mourning ritual.”) Just remember PCO:

  • Purpose
  • Control
  • Optimism

Why these three? What do they do? How do you turn these three nouns into a Tyrannosaur of a morning ritual that will make the Earth tremble at your approach?

I’m so glad you asked…

Read more: New Neuroscience Reveals 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy

1) Feel A Sense Of Purpose

You know what’s great first thing in the morning? To feel you’re on a mission. You have a destiny. Your life has meaning. You’re beginning an epic quest, Frodo.

And as motivation master and bestselling author Dan Pink explains, feeling a sense of purpose is one of the most motivating things in the known universe. Here’s Dan:

And feeling your life has purpose and meaning not only makes you feel alive, it also keeps you alive.

Researchers at Tohoku University in Japan did a 7 year study of over 43,000 adults age 40 to 79 asking if they had ikigai (a Japanese term for meaning in life) and then tracked their health. People with ikigai were much more likely to be alive 7 years later.

Via Pursuing the Good Life: 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology:

Feeling motivated and living longer isn’t enough for you? Seriously? Okay, how about this? It’ll make you sexy:

So how do you find purpose without getting a new job working for a charity?

Duke professor Dan Ariely suggests “reframing your experience.” You might not be able to change what you have to do but you can change how you see it. And when you look at it through the lens of how it can help others, you’ll often find more motivation.

From Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations:

The work won’t change. Your perspective can. You’re not “filling out boring paperwork.” You’re “helping people get insurance that could save their lives.” Focus on how you already help others.

(To learn more tips on living an awesome life, check out my book here.)

Okay, you’re filled with purpose. But “it’s the thought that counts” only applies to gifts. How do you get yourself in the mood to do something about it?

2) Feel In Control

Feeling out of control gets celebrated in pop songs but doesn’t fare as well in performance reviews or happiness research. (College is over. Sorry.) You want to be happy? Feeling in control is key.

From The Simple Secrets for Becoming Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise:

It has this other wonderful side effect I like to call “not dying”:

It helps you get stuff accomplished too.

From The Simple Secrets for Becoming Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise:

Okay, you get it. Feeling in control in the morning beats eating your Wheaties. But how do you do it?

Set goals for the day ahead. Having concrete goals was correlated with huge increases in confidence and feelings of control.

From The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

And this isn’t some random connection; it’s working at the neuroscience level. Your brain chills out when you make decisions and set goals. Start the day calm, not crazed.

From The Upward Spiral:

(To learn the four rituals neuroscience says will make you happy, click here.)

Alright, you’ve set your goals and you feel in control. But it’s still early and you’re gonna need more than a feeling of calm. You need some energy. Where’s that going to come from?

Read more: New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

3) Feel Optimistic

Researchers tested soldiers on endurance. Turns out it had a lot more to do with their head than their legs. The researchers put it like this: “Both hope and despair are self-fulfilling prophecies.”

From Maximum Brainpower: Challenging the Brain for Health and Wisdom:

Scientific research has come up with a very long list of benefits to being optimistic. Here are just a few:

  1. Optimism is associated with better health and a longer life.
  2. Research has shown that practicing optimism and gratitude causes (not just correlates with) an increase in happiness.
  3. The army teaches soldiers to be optimistic because it makes them tougher and more persistent.
  4. Being socially optimistic — expecting people to like you — makes people like you more.
  5. Expecting a positive outcome from negotiations made groups more likely to come to a deal and to be happy with it.
  6. Optimists are luckier. Research shows by thinking positively they persevere and create more opportunities for themselves.

So you might think you should take a few minutes in the morning to look in the bathroom mirror and say positive things to yourself. Too bad that doesn’t work at all.

From Learned Optimism:

So what does? Mental contrasting and implementation intentions.

In English: think about your goal, consider the obstacles, and then figure out how you might be able to overcome them. You’re more hopeful and persistent when you’ve considered the problems ahead and made a plan.

Via Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined:

(To learn the 4 scientific secrets that will make you lucky, click here.)

So you know how to PCO your way to a great morning. Let’s round up what we’ve learned and discover a simple ritual to do with someone you love that provides big, big benefits in the morning…

Read more: How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

Sum Up

Here’s the best morning ritual:

  • Feel A Sense Of Purpose: Ask, “How does what I do benefit others?” (Selfish people are doomed to lousy mornings.)
  • Feel In Control: Set goals for the day. (Your brain will thank you.)
  • Feel Optimistic: Consider the obstacles to your goals and plan ahead. (I am optimistic that one day I will find a funny joke to put in these parentheses.)

So what’s a wonderful ritual with big benefits that you can do with someone special? Well, you may already be doing it…

A hug and a kiss.

Hardly groundbreaking, I know, but you may be skipping this vital ritual and that is an affront to science. And to your happiness.

Hugs are powerful. Sometimes they tell someone you love them even when you’re not ready to say the words. And they have impressive effects on stress — for both hugger and huggee.

From The Simple Secrets for Becoming Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise:

And a morning kiss goodbye can extend your life and boost your salary by 30%. (Click here to learn how to be a better kisser.)

Via The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us:

So some PCO in the morning can lead you to a happy, productive day.

Or just give somebody a big hug and a kiss. It always makes me optimistic about the future. And love is a pretty good purpose in life. That said, too much hugging and kissing can get out of control…

But that’s a good thing.

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This article originally appeared on Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Buy Barker’s book Barking Up The Wrong Tree here

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