Want to know the secret of personal and professional advancement?  It is such a crucial element in the recipe for success that the vast majority (if not all) of the big achievers, go-getters, and high performers will not compromise or substitute this single component of their day.

If you make this one investment, you’ll have the best chance of reaching your goals and making your vision a reality. The good news is that it’s an exchange that will not empty your bank account.  In fact, it won’t cost you a single cent!  It’s an asset you already own.  You might not currently realize its true value; you might not be putting it to use at all, or maybe you just aren’t using it to its full potential.

The Secret Lies in Your Morning

Are you still in bed while the sun is rising? Are you still waiting for the alarm clock to ring?  If the answer is “yes,” that’s one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the way of your success.

If you want to succeed, then you’re going to have to sacrifice a little.  If you prefer snoozing in, then you’re missing out on the most powerful time of day just waiting to be seized. If you’re serious about succeeding and attaining your goals, then one of the first things you’re going to want to kiss goodbye is some of that “head on the pillow” time and all those mornings of sleeping in.  Why?

Morning Is When the Magic Happens

Seriously, amazing things can happen when you get up early, and start the ball rolling in the right direction!  Anyone who is sleeping away these critical hours of the day is missing out, and when they do wake up, they are more likely to be running before their feet even touch the floor.  They open their eyes, and their minds are already racing and busy with thoughts of what to make for breakfast, what’s clean in the closet and ready to wear, how quickly the kids can get dressed and off to school, when they can squeeze in dropping off the dry cleaning and picking up some groceries, and the list runs on.  All of this is racing through their minds, and they haven’t even made it into the bathroom yet!  They’ve begun their day in defense mode.   They are setting themselves up to be re-active rather than pro-active.

The bottom line is that if you’re not waking up early enough to start that ball rolling and guide it along the course you choose, then the day will take control of you rather than you controlling it.

Direct Your Day Before It Directs You

I’m sure you can recall a day (or days) when you just couldn’t get ahead and you felt like you were being pulled from one task to another without a chance to even breathe.  Most likely, if you could remember how that morning started, you probably woke up with just enough time to do what needed to be done to get out the door.

But you’ve got to decide.  Who’s in charge here?  Are you going to be at the mercy of a clock racing tirelessly throughout the day trying to get everything done?   Or are you going to own the day by conquering your to do list in a controlled fashion leaving you with time to spare? The choice is yours.

One thing is clear: those who make things happen in their lives, those who positively impact the world around them, those who are consistently high achievers are not chased by the hands on the clock nor in a state of constant rush.  They are making calculated moves to get where they want to go in life.

That’s the difference between waking up early and owning your morning or sleeping an extra hour and a half only to be startled awake by the alarm alerting you that the fight is on.

Morning Rituals and Habits Are Critical

Now let’s be honest, just waking up a few hours earlier isn’t going to turn you into a success story.  You can’t wake up early and turn on the phone, scroll through FaceBook, watch a bunch of cat videos, send out an endless string of Tweets and claim to own your day.

You’ve got to put those early hours to good use.  And one of the most effective ways to do this is by establishing a solid morning routine.

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to morning routines.  So, you’ve got to see what works best for you, and sometimes that means going through a process of trial and error.  And that’s okay; you can tweak your morning routine as much as necessary.  Even if you don’t get it right the first time (and you probably won’t), the fact that you are doing something different is going to get you better results than doing nothing at all.

So how do you get started, and how do you know when you’ve got it right?

The Fundamental Elements of a Rewarding Morning Routine

It puts you in a positive, confident, and determined mindset for the day.

Some of the morning activities or rituals that many successful people incorporate into their mornings include gratitude practices, repeating verbal affirmations or mantras, envisioning their goals or looking at their personalized vision boards, reading motivational material, or actioning a process of reflection whether it be praying, meditating, or something similar.  These types of activity are calming and help to reduce stress.  They create a flow of positivity that you can carry with you into the day.

It gets the blood flowing and the body invigorated.

Physical exercise is the obvious point of focus here.  But how long and how much you physically push yourself is up to you.  Some might choose a calming stretching routine, while others opt for a more rigorous workout.  It is up to you, but the goal is to get your body revved up and physically pumped up to face the day.

It nourishes you and gives you physical energy, because no physical energy usually means no mental energy.

Yes, this means breakfast!  We’ve heard it repeatedly, and true is true: breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  So, don’t skip it!  Of course, before eating, it is a best practice to hydrate your body with water and lots of it.  If you enjoy it with lemon, then go for it, but don’t leave the water out of your morning.  For your actual breakfast, choose what you like, but choose wisely.  If you’re passionate about your smoothie in the morning, go for it!  If you prefer more solid food, then by all means!  Just take great care to avoid breakfast foods high in sugar, because if you reach for those, your blood sugar – and your energy – will be taking a nose-dive long before noon!

It focuses your direction and energy towards your self-defined purpose.

This is where your planner and having clearly set goals and known desired outcomes enters into play.  Let’s be honest, chances are that if you don’t write it down, it just won’t get done.  The planning format of choice will vary from person to person.  Some prefer the convenience of an electronic calendar that can be synced between multiple devices, yet others still choose the more old-fashioned method of pen and paper.  It doesn’t really matter as long as you’ve got all your goals and responsibilities collected into one place for reference.

The other aspect that will vary here is whether your actual planning process is part of your morning or evening routine (yep, evening routines are important too, but we’ll leave that discussion for another time).  Finding your best time for planning is going to be trial and error. Try scheduling planning in the morning and try it in the evening as well, and see which one works best for you.  Those who plan in the evening like the idea of waking up already knowing what’s in front of them.  But even if you choose to plan in the evening, you’re going to want to pull that planner out in the morning and set your compass for the day.  It will give you direction and focus to help you get what’s important accomplished.

It begins a sense of forward momentum.

Forward momentum is that satisfying feeling that you’re actively moving forward and heading where you want to go.  It is the exact opposite of feeling like you’re sitting still, stagnating or worse yet, that you’re falling backwards or losing ground.  When you start the day feeling like you have accomplished something, like you have already taken a step or two forward, then chances are that you will continue moving through the day in the same way.

You can get your forward momentum started in the morning by creating something or taking one small baby step towards attaining your big goal.  It could be as simple as writing a post or a paragraph or a page in your book.  It could be outlining your idea for an on-line course.  If you’ve gone through the process of identifying your big goal and the smaller monthly and weekly goals that will get you there, then you will have an idea of the baby steps needed to reach each mile marker.  (If you haven’t gone through that process, then do it!  It’s important.)  Schedule those baby steps, and start your day off making those steps happen.  No matter how small those steps might seem, they are significant in the overall process of attaining your goals.  What’s more is that by starting your day off in this process of creation, you are building that positive momentum to carry you forward through the day.

You will know when you’ve fine-tuned your morning routine to best suit you when you feel “successful” from the beginning of the day.  A truly successful morning routine gives you a sense of direction and purpose, gets your physical and mental engines started, and starts building positive momentum in a forward direction.

Consistency, Dedication, and Loyalty to Your Morning Routine Are Crucial

You must make your morning time untouchable.  It must be a sacred time that—barring any real emergencies—remains off-limits and uncompromised.  It is the key to your success, so unless you’re willing to give away your dreams and your goals and push them to the back of the shelf, then don’t ever give up or give away your morning routine.  Continue to practice and improve it, and you will find yourself numbered among the successful who begin their day with the taste of achievement and inevitable victory on their tongue.  Your future is determined by the days that come before it, and today is the first of those days.

So, what are you waiting for? Go make your mornings magical.