My alarm is ringing. Bleary-eyed I grasp at my bedside table and press “snooze” on my phone, temporarily silencing its alarm feature.
Imagine this scene repeating every seven minutes until I give in, stretch and begin the day.
What is the first thing you consume in the morning?
There are people who swear by hot water with lemon first thing in the morning to help aid in digestion. Others, insist on tea or coffee. Still others are resolute in their needing to be awake for an hour or two before ingesting anything. Some people are pro-breakfast, others function better on an empty stomach.
Contrary to what some may assume given my outspoken love for it, I do not drink coffee first thing in the morning. I drink at least 16 ounces of water beforehand, even if that means I’m chugging a glass while the coffee is brewing. My body feels better that way, and it gives me a jump on staying hydrated throughout the day.
We are often resolute with the first thing we consume calorically each day – how many coffee drinkers do you know who are flexible in their morning ritual? But how many of us give much thought to the first thing we put into our consciousness each morning?
I want to paint this pristine and peaceful picture of my mornings for you, in which I sip my water; breathe slow, deep breaths and say my morning prayers. But if I’m honest, many mornings the first thing I tune in to is some form of social media. I wake up a solid hour before my husband does, so I frequently rise, brush my teeth, and while doing so I absently flip through the latest Instagram or Facebook posts. By the time I’ve made it to my water and prayers, I’m usually hyped up about whatever crisis has befallen humanity today…or I’m on my fifth video of baby otters befriending kittens. You know how it goes.
Psychologists have studied this phenomenon they call “priming.” Priming is officially defined this way: “A nonconscious form of human memory concerned with perceptual identification of words and objects.”* In other words, your mom was right all along with that whole “garbage in, garbage out” thing.
In their work with priming psychologists have examined things like, when someone is shown the word “yellow” and then a series of other words, how quickly do they identify the other words associated with yellow (like “banana”) versus words not associated with yellow (like “grapes”). The research shows that when we have one idea in our minds (like “yellow”) then we more quickly make connections with other, similar ideas (like “bananas”).
When the first thing I look at in the morning is someone’s curated, cropped and filtered life on Instagram, how does that prime my brain to react when I look over and see the yet-unfolded pile of two-day-old laundry on my bedroom chair, or when I sit down to eat my extremely-not-photogenic bagel for breakfast?
Or when the first engagement with another human being I have in the morning is arguing with a person I’ve never met from Alabama about healthcare or the environment or, really, PICK ANYTHING, how am I priming my brain to respond to every other human I encounter the rest of the day?
My phone is my near and dear companion throughout almost all of my day, I use it for an alarm clock in the morning, for a timer throughout the day, to listen to music or podcasts while working out and driving. (Ironically, the actual calling and texting features are what I use my phone for the least). More often than not, though, this incredible tool serves mainly to distract, numb and distress me, and it helps to prime my brain to respond to the rest of my life in whacked out ways as well.
If I get angry with a stranger (or a friend) on the internet, I’m more likely to be angry with my friend, child, or spouse in real life.
If I am reading articles about how we’re divided as a society, then I’m more likely to see the divisions in society as I go about my day.
If I am constantly looking at the hyper-normalized images on Instagram and Pinterest that have been staged, lighted, cropped, and filtered to perfection, then I am more likely to be hyper aware of how flawed my normal, good-enough life looks.
What we consume matters, and that doesn’t just apply to food and drink.
Before you freak out and think I’m calling for rotary phones and a full rejection of social media and snapping pictures of your sushi before you eat it let me assure you, I’m not advocating for that.
I love social media.
I think that our ability to connect instantly with loved ones who live far away, or with people from other cultures, walks of life or belief systems is amazing.
As the Incredible Spider Man reminds us, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
I find that I am much more grounded, and ready to engage – both on and off line – with grace, compassion and presence when I take time first thing in the morning to center myself. For me, this looks like prayer, silence, and Scripture. I know other people who practice yoga, meditate, journal or go for a walk alone.
We tend to think of these activities as luxuries, easily back-burnered by hectic work schedules or the needs of children, but the first moments of your day (whatever hour of the day that is) prime your consciousness for the rest of the day. Using those first minutes to invest in something nourishing to your soul isn’t a luxury, it’s as necessary as food and drink. We just tend to be more dismissive of our emotional and mental groaning than we are of a rumbling stomach.
This morning my alarm sang out, and as usual, I hit snooze a couple of times.
When I finally make the move to get out of bed, I made the choice not to flip first to Facebook or Instagram while brushing my teeth. I brushed in silence, looking myself in the eye. Then I settled in to the corner of the couch by the window in our front room for prayer, silence and Scripture. It’s not the easiest choice, but it’s a good choice. Like water before coffee is better in the long run for my body during the day, taking the time to ingest something valuable and centering in the morning sustains my spirit.
Do you have a morning routine? How do you spend the first moments of your day?
*Definition of “priming” taken from Psychology Today.
Megan Westra is on the pastoral staff at Transformation City Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She also blogs regularly at meganwestra.com. Megan lives with her husband Ben, and her daughter, Cadence Grace in the inner city of Milwaukee as part of an intentional relocation movement within her church. Megan recently began studying at Northern Seminary, pursuing a Master of Divinity. She loves to read, run, practice yoga and she’s an unapologetic coffee snob.