Nick asked me if I had seen a show from the previous night. I told him I hadn’t, and that I typically go to bed at 8 p.m.
“What? All of the best shows don’t come on until after 10,” he said.
“I get up at 3:45.”
This equally stupefied him. “Why do you get up so early?”
“Because that’s how long it takes to be ‘Bradford.’”
He laughed, but I knew my lifestyle required waking at hours inconceivable for many. I’m still convinced I would have made a great monk if I didn’t question authority so much. But I wasn’t always that way.
I had read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way more than 25 years ago. I had committed to my “morning pages,” which was 30 minutes of free writing before starting the day. It was mostly my protesting about people at my job or why this guy wasn’t paying attention to me. However, these morning pages managed to keep all my drama on the page rather than acting it out during my day.
Being an athlete all my life, I was used to moving my body most days. Exercise was a mental break for me, a time to put all my worries aside and allow my body to do what it does well. Eventually, it would become a daily habit necessary for me to function in my life.
When I started graduate school, a new world opened up for me. I was rather studious in undergraduate school, but my graduate program challenged me intellectually. I became enamored with learning new things, even if they were trivial to other people in my social circle. I found that I needed mental stimulation each day to keep me sharp.
We keep our lives in balance by refraining from extremes.
Stephen Covey called it “Sharpening the Saw” in his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I hadn’t read this book until just a few months ago, and I realized I had incorporated this habit into my life many years prior. He suggested that to keep life in balance, we should commit to a “Daily Private Victory,” which is spending an hour each day feeding the mind, body, and spirit.
I call it my “power hour.” Sometimes, it’s more than an hour, sometimes it’s less. Each day we visit the well to fill our mind, body, and spirit. We keep our lives in balance by refraining from extremes.
Here’s how it works, and it really is personal to you.
Start with one hour each day
It’s best to start the day an hour earlier than usual. This is difficult at first, but when you realize the benefits of this “habit,” it will become easier. It allows you to start the day with balance before it whips you into a frenzy. If we postpone it until the end of the day, our schedules or our energies might give us an excuse to abandon it. You’ll aim for 20 minutes each day for each practice.
A physical practice
Your power hour is less about fitness and more about lifelong wellness. If you are a habitual exerciser, this might give you the excuse to try something different, such as an easy 20-minute walk or tai chi practice. The body stores a lot of your trauma and drama, and physical exercise pumps fresh blood through these stagnant areas. As a lifelong athlete, 20 minutes of exercise isn’t enough for me, so oftentimes I will extend this to an hour because it feels fantastic. Mind you — I get up well before dawn.
A mental practice
Allow 20 minutes for reading, meditation, or any “mental exercises” that engage your concentration. This practice is personal, so if your mind is overstimulated, you could try a guided meditation to calm the excess chatter. If you are curious, your mind can be engaged by reading a newspaper or book. You could also participate in an online course to learn something new. Even writing can help engage your concentration and stimulate the mind.
A spiritual practice
Covey describes the spiritual component as “your core, your center, your commitment to your value system.” Although often overlooked, the spiritual practice is extremely important because it helps tie your intentions and activities together. When you engage in a spiritual practice, you begin to see connections you didn’t think existed. By reconnecting with your value system, you recognize where you might have missed the mark. A spiritual practice could be traditional, such as engaging in prayer. You could also reflect on works of literature or philosophy, which speak about values that transcend time. Writing, too, can be your spiritual practice. The key here is reflection, not condemnation.
These three components to a power hour aren’t mutually exclusive. In many cases, you could combine your physical practice with your mental practice, such as a walking meditation. You can read or write outdoors, pausing every few moments to allow nature to speak to you. Yoga practices might start with a physical session and end in a concentration practice. Some meditation practices like passage meditation combine mental focus with contemplation.
We start each day fresh, knowing that each day is an opportunity to revisit the well and begin again.
Starting our day with a power hour gives us agency over our lives. We might not be able to control the actions and intentions of others, but we can harness our own. Even if we feel our lives quickly spin out of control later in the day, we at least feel confident that we began it with purpose. We start each day fresh, knowing that each day is an opportunity to revisit the well and begin again.
When you commit to this daily practice of balance for a few weeks, notice how your priorities shift. Because you make time for this routine, you might notice that other activities that don’t serve your mind, body, or spirit don’t seem to matter. Eventually, you choose to spend your time and energy on activities that serve a greater purpose, bringing you a better sense of balance with yourself and the world.